One of my favorite conversations to have with customers is the difference winter tires can make to them on a practical level. I wasn't always employed here, and was extremely skeptical before I purchased my first set. Now having been a convert for the past ten years, I get very excited this time of year, because the move to a set of winter rubber offers the most dramatic benefit to a vehicle's winter readiness.
Being a tire geek, I often have very in depth conversations on what amount to nuanced differences. Sure, the differences are there between Tire A and Tire B, but really, most of the time, we are talking about slight personality changes that one has to really look for to notice. With a winter tire, the change is dramatic and immediate. We have all sorts of data to back that up (In fact, here are a bunch of links, if you are so inclined: This is a great video demonstration. If you are video challenged on your machine, this might help.) However, the best experience is actually doing it yourself.
When I first happened upon the potential of winter tires, I was not employed here, and was confronted with a Northern Indiana winter in a my brand new, lightweight, rear wheel drive car. I drove it twice in light snow, and decided that something had to be done, or I was quite simply going to have to sell the car. I've been a car guy all my life, and honestly thought I knew what I was doing, however I had never thought about winter rubber, as I remember the pointless products of my youth-Dad would put two of them on our car when I was a kid, and it really offered no benefit that I could see. In fact, after a while Dad simply stopped doing it since they didn't work anyway.
After calling The Tire Rack, and listening somewhat suspiciously to the salesperson tell me about the benefits, I almost begrudgingly gave him my info to get a set. He made some good points (They last for around three seasons, the cost is typically less than the insurance deductible on the car, the summer tires would last longer, etc), however I honestly was at the end of my rope, as I had almost ended up sleeping the previous night at work because I was afraid to drive home.
I put them on a few days later. It was as though I had been living in the dark, and some one had turned on the lights. I could actually drive without fear! The car stopped. It turned. I moved away from intersections without the rear end hanging out to the side. To say that the transformation was amazing was understatement. It made my little rear driver a snow mobile-It was life changing, and I was now a winter tire evangelist.
However, some did not want to hear the gospel of the modern winter tire. The main combatant was my father. Dad is a great guy, who is an engineer by profession, and as such is very grounded in empirical truth. He cannot be swayed by verbal argument, but demands demonstration. He dismissed my claims of salvation from lake effect snow as the ramblings of his young son, who was simply wrapped up in consumerism and trying to justify this recent purchase. After all, he as the elder and wiser had experienced "snow tires" and found them to be a waste of money. Things could certainly not have improved that much without his notice (Authors note: Just making fun of my dad here-Not older people. As I age, I am slowly turning into my father, so I am allowed...)
Dad had discovered the wonders of all wheel drive by this time, and was then enthralled by the improvements it alone made in the wintertime. As such, I made him a challenge: We'd take my rear driver with winter tires and his all wheel drive to the high school parking lot next time it snowed. We'd set up a basic course that we both would drive in first our own cars, and then the other person's car, and compare what we found-It wasn't even close.
Dad is now two cars beyond that experiment, but he and mom favor the Michelin winter offerings. This year he says he will try the new WS-60's from Bridgestone that I suggested. But, as dad says now as he is telling his friends about them, "It's such a night and day difference, that once you drive them you never want to be without them." I can't say it any better.
Whatever winter tire you choose, if you drive in the snow or ice, you will be thrilled with your purchase. Yes, times are tight and specialized tires don't seem like something that one absolutely needs, however they only have to save you or a loved one once to make them worth it.