Do I Really Need Four Winter / Snow Tires?

While tire and vehicle manufacturers state winter / snow tires must be installed in sets of four, I am still frequently asked if two is acceptable on a front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicle. Just like seat belt use, car seats for kids and helmets for bike riding, it doesn't make sense to go with the old-school approach.

Using a rear-wheel drive BMW on hard-packed snow and a front-wheel drive Honda Civic on ice, we tested the benefits of using four winter / snow tires compared to only two.

The Honda when equipped with both winter / snow tires and all-seasons was as follows: When four winter / snow tires were equipped on the vehicle the setup was as follows: The rear-wheel drive BMW in the test was using the following setup:
Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02
Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02
Bridgestone Blizzak WS60
Bridgestone Blizzak WS60
Bridgestone Blizzak WS70
Bridgestone Blizzak WS70

Acceleration is the area most drivers make their case for only using two tires. The thought is to just put them on the drive axle and the snow traction problem is solved. This is absolutely true when looking at making the vehicle go, however you also need to stop and turn. For those situations, drive axle traction doesn't quite get the job done. 

During the cornering tests on our snow-covered test track, the RWD BMW with all-seasons on the front slid off the track at a mere 25 mph. The rear tires had plenty of grip and in fact they pushed the car right off the pavement since the front tires could not gain traction to complete the turn. When we tried the FWD Honda on ice with all-seasons on the rear the car spun out when traveling only 11 mph. This is due to the front axle having ample grip to keep the front end planted and the rear end releasing when the all-seasons' grip is exceeded.

The braking exercises showed that both the BMW and Honda had a shorter stopping distance when equipped with winters on all four corners. On the snow-covered track, the BMW saw about a 20 foot decrease in stopping distance when equipped with four winter / snow tires. This test was a 30 to 0 mph run. The Honda, when tested on ice, saw a 12% decrease from 11 mph.

Installing four matching tires, be it a summer, all-season and especially in this case winter / snow tires is really the only way to go. As demonstrated in our testing, four of a kind always beats two pair.

Watch "Why Gamble With Winter Tire Selection When Four of a Kind Always Beats Two Pair" and "Mixed vs. Matched Tires" for full reports.


Monday, January 13, 2014 by don wissink

on a 2007 lexus ls 460 rdw do I need 4 snow tires or can I get by with two on rear?? thanks don
Tuesday, January 14, 2014 by Hunter

Always install in sets of 4
Monday, January 1, 2018 by James

Did you intentionally test the front wheel drive car on ice instead of snow because you knew how unimpressive the differences would be on snow? Seems like a pretty obvious attempt to undermine the well documented advantages front wheel drive cars have in poor driving conditions over rear wheel. Why not test four all weather tires on a front wheel drive on snow against two winter tires on the front, and see what the difference is. That would be a much more honest test.

Leave a comment