Shopping for Snow Tires
Outstanding traction and brake response over snow, ice, and just plain cold roads.
Here's an all-too familiar winter driving scene: the roads are dusted with slippery, powdery snow and the all-season tires that came with your car seem to be getting the job done. Until your back wheels start to fishtail. Or you brake for a traffic light -- and your car keeps rolling (skating?) toward that icy intersection for several more seconds.
Opt out of those nerve-wracking moments this winter. Get snow tires. Get your brakes, your traction (and your confidence) back.
Snow tires (also called winter tires) provide better traction and braking on winter roads compared to all-season tires, summer tires, or performance tires. The main advantages of snow tires come from cold-friendly rubber composition and precipitation-friendly tread design:
Deeper Tread Depth: Snow tire treads can grip though surface snow and slush.
Groovy Tread Patterns: Snow tire tread patterns have more grooves, to increase the surface area for traction.
Wider Siping: Snow tire edges often feature more open channels called siping to evacuate water.
Softer Rubber: Snow tire rubber is formulated to stay flexible in temperatures below 45 °F / 7 °C (where other tires may develop cracks and premature wear).
Winter tires come in studded and studless types. (Technically, studdable tires are also on the market -- with holes in the tread to install your own studs.) Studded tires offer extreme traction, but give you a bumpy ride the rest of the time. Plus, studded tires damage roads. They’re only legal during winter in most of Canada and the U.S. -- and banned outright in some states. Studded snow tires were once the state of the art in snow tire design and many of us grew up with them. Studless snow tires are the standard winter tire choice today, thanks to decades of advances in tread design and rubber formulation.
Do I really need snow tires if I have all-season tires?
All-season tires are not a substitute for snow tires. They’re designed to be a compromise between winter traction and warm-weather performance, comfort, and fuel efficiency. Both summer tires and winter tires outperform all-season tires in their areas of strength. And depending on where you drive, snow tires may be a requirement:
Vehicles registered in the province of Quebec must have four snow tires from December 1 to March 15 -- and they must be either studded or marked with the three-peak mountain snowflake (3PMSF) symbol. (Learn about 3PMSF tires.)
In several U.S. states, local officials have the power to mandate snow tires (or chains) during harsh weather or on snowy roads. New to an area with serious winters? Check with your state transportation department -- or your local Midas tire expert -- for current tire laws.
Do I really need snow tires if I have off-road tires?
More and more off-road and all-terrain tires bear the 3PMSF “mountain snowflake” symbol indicating that they are snow-rated, but these tires aren’t a substitute for snow tires. They’re designed to include snow in the types of terrain they can handle, but most aren’t made of cold-tolerant rubber and they aren’t optimized for the full range of winter challenges -- such as icy streets when you aren’t driving off-road.
Off-road driving can complicate your snow tire options. Trust Midas to help you find your perfect winter tires.
Learn more about all-terrain tires.
If winter temperatures in your area regularly drop below 45 °F / 7 °C, snow tires are well worth the extra expense - no matter how much (or how little) snow falls.
1. Snow tires offer better cold-weather traction whether it’s snowing or not, because they’re made of more cold-tolerant rubber than other tires. So “snow” tires offer peace of mind all winter -- even when there’s not a cloud in the sky.
2. Snow tire treads really do outperform all-season tires on snow and ice. In a test of multiple tire brands, Consumer Reports found that winter tires reduced braking distance on ice by an average of six feet, and improved snow traction by an average of 34%1.
Here’s another reason snow tires are worth the money: Keeping your regular tires off the road and safely stored during the winter months will extend their life for another two or three years.
Four matching snow tires are recommended for all passenger vehicle types. Your vehicle’s brakes and traction control are designed for all its tires to have the same traction capability. If you only change your front tires to winter tires, the back of your vehicle may spin out as the back tires grip the road loosely compared to the front. If you only install winter tires on the back of your car, you may find it difficult to turn your vehicle as the front tires encounter resistance from the back tires.
Winter tires excel in temperatures below 45 °F / 7 °C, and summer tires rule the road in warmer weather. It’s not just about snow -- it’s the rubber, too. Summer tires can grow brittle in cold weather, risking premature cracks and wear. Winter tires can become too soft in warm weather, increasing rolling resistance, compromising fuel efficiency, and wearing down your tire edges prematurely.
Snow tires should not be used when the temperature regularly exceeds 45 °F / 7 °C. Snow tires are made of softer rubber than other tires to counteract the brittleness that rubber takes on when cold. A winter tire used in warm weather becomes too soft, causing uneven tread wear and risking premature breakdown. The tread wear pattern on a snow tire used out of season looks much like the wear pattern on an under-inflated tire.
A set of snow tires that is properly used, maintained, and stored will provide most drivers with three to four seasons of superior winter traction. After that, the tires may be usable for several more winters, but without the full benefits of winter tires. Your tire manufacturer may offer guidelines, and the actual life of your snow tires will depend on your mileage, your driving conditions, and how you care for your tires. You can extend their life by using your winter tires in only cold weather, storing them properly in warm weather, maintaining proper tire pressure, and following a regular schedule of wheel alignment, tire rotation, and tire balancing.
Replace your snow tires if they sustain sidewall damage, or when they’ve worn down below acceptable tread depth. In the U.S., 2/32” is the legal minimum tire tread depth, and some manufacturers encourage drivers to keep their tires until that point. (Tip: When your tire wear bars show visible wear, you’re there. Replace those tires as soon as possible.) But 4/32” to 6/32” may be a better tread depth for snow tires. In a test of multiple winter tire brands at 5/32”-6/32” tread depth, Consumer Reports saw a 14.5% decline in snow traction during acceleration, and a 7% increase in wet stopping distance2.
How to measure tire tread depth with a U.S. or Canadian coin.
Your local Midas technician can inspect your snow tires during the season switch, or whenever you have your tires serviced. You’ll get objective advice on when it’s time for replacement tires.
In warmer weather (temperatures regularly above 45 °F / 7 °C) store snow tires away from heat, light, air, and moisture to protect them from rubber breakdown and dry rot.
- Choose a cool, dry, preferably dark location to store your winter tires. First choice: A climate-controlled storage area. Second choice, a basement.
- Clean and dry each tire.
- Place each tire in a plastic garbage bag.
- Remove as much air as possible from each bag.
- Store each tire upright if space permits.
- Shield the tires from light: Ensure that the storage area is kept dark, or place light-blocking materials on and around the tires.
- Consumer Reports tested 53 models of all-terrain, all-season, and dedicated winter/snow truck tires, and published the results on March 16, 2017. Read the test results here. ↩
- Consumer Reports tested 50 models of winter tires after removing 50% of tread from the tires (resulting in testing tread depths of 5/32”-6/32”), and published the results on February 10, 2018. Read the test results here. ↩