Why winter tires (snow tires) make a difference and keep you safe.
Winter tires can keep you alive. I learned this lesson during my first hunting season in Nebraska. It was actually April in Nebraska and opening weekend of turkey season. I had run up to central Nebraska to spend a couple of days hunting with the guys from Heroes Hunting and we were chasing spring gobblers. I got up late to the hunting area on Saturday and the guys were already out hunting so I hit the local public spot and took a gobbler in my first 10 minutes of hunting. We hung out that night and hit it hard on Sunday. We had a storm rolling in and it started to get ugly so we all bugged out early.
The winds picked up, the snow started to accumulate, the roads got icy and I had three hours of driving to get home safe. My truck did not have winter tires; I didn’t even have great off-road or all-terrain tires, to be honest. It was white knuckle all the way and then it happened – I got blown off the road. I was going straight and the next moment I was 25 yards off the road. I had hit a wind pocket, I was on basically sheer ice and I was lucky to be alive with all four tires still under me and not upside down or worse. I drove out of that field and I learned to pay better attention to weather. I started to pay better attention to my truck and keeping it in tip-top shape. A large part of that process, after speaking with my mechanic, was making sure that I had proper winter tires on my truck and all-terrain tires or on/off-road tires in the other seasons.
This year, I was due to purchase new tires. I reached out to Woody Rogers, one of the Product Information Specialist’s at TireRack, after seeing how easy it was to do all of my shopping and research on their website.
How important are winter tires for small trucks?
Every vehicle, large or small, benefits from the improvement in snow and ice traction provided by a real winter tire. Small trucks, such as a lightweight 2WD truck can realize significant benefits. I drove a 2WD Toyota Tacoma Prerunner on dedicated winter tires for 10 years in South Bend winter, where we averaged an annual snowfall of 70”. I was never stuck, and even used the truck to get some cars unstuck. Early on I tried conventional wisdom of adding weight to the back of the truck to improve acceleration traction and it helped a little. But I could quickly feel the other impact of adding weight to the bed, through longer stopping distances and especially poorer turning ability. It’s easiest to feel the frustration of poor acceleration traction, so that’s why people add the weight to help press down on the tire for better contact with the road. But that extra weight, even a few hundred pounds, means there is more weight to stop and turn. With weight in the back it shifts the weight balance rearward, which takes precious weight off the front axle, reducing the ability of those tires to do their job. I took the weight out after just a few weeks, and have never looked back. Never been stuck, never had an accident, drive with total confidence.
What is the value of winter tires in inclement weather?
The best tire for the worst winter weather is a dedicated winter tire. People often tell us their “vehicle isn’t good in the snow” so they stay home when it’s bad, or drive very slowly. The foul weather traction enhancement of good winter tires is liberating. The only mobility limitation becomes visibility (as during a blizzard) or ground clearance. I liken winter driving on winter tires to driving in the rain, not white-knuckle like with all-season (or many all-terrain) tires.
Then there is the improvement in traction and your ability to control the vehicle better, or respond to sudden or emergency maneuver situations with greater control and higher traction levels. In simple dollar terms, if you can avoid one small bumper tap at an intersection during the 3-4 seasons your winter tires will be in service, you have paid for their cost by avoiding your insurance deductible. Most all-season tires are decent in the snow, but some are downright terrible. On the ice, none come close to matching the traction of a dedicated winter tire on the order of multiple car/truck lengths even at urban road speeds. At highway speeds, the difference grows exponentially.
As just one data point, we assisted PickupTrucks.com with a snow test and found that on a 30-mile per hour ABS stop on snow a regular set of m/t tires took 150’ to stop, an all-terrain tire took 97’ to stop, a highway tire took 108’ to stop and a winter tire took 85’ to stop. Those extra feet are what are going to save your life in an emergency situation.
Check out the following articles and videos:
All–Season tires vs. Winter tires on Snow
And while you are driving on the winter tire your “summer” or non-winter tires are resting in the garage with no miles accumulating so they will last more chronological time.
Check out the following articles and videos:
What makes a tire a winter tire?
Every tire needs three basic things to do its intended job – tread pattern, tread depth, and tread compound. The right type of all three work together to deliver the tire’s traction, whether it’s a racing slick, long-wearing highway tire, or the A/T tire that can get you through any off-road situation.
Winter tires have tread patterns that feature smaller, widely spaced tread blocks packed with sipes, those tiny slits in the face of each tread block. Together these provide the biting edges to help grab at whatever the surface is.
Winter tires typically feature deeper starting tread depth than their all-season road-going counterparts to help take bites out of the snow rather than just nibble at it.
The real secret of today’s best winter tires lies in the tread rubber compound. Flexibility at cold temperatures is one critical element to providing great winter traction. The tread rubber in winter tires remains flexible at cold temperatures, conforming to whatever macro and micro texture is on the road surface, so the rubber interlocks or keys into the surface. Highway all-season, all-terrain and mud-terrain tire tread rubber doesn’t remain as pliable at cold temperatures, therefore not conforming as well and not able to grip the surface as well.
In our research, it was really clear that getting winter tires and snow tires for your vehicle can keep you safer during the winter season. It was an easy process using TireRack.com for our research as well as our purchase. The tires arrived within a few days and it was easy to take them to my favorite mechanic to have mounted on my truck. The stability and traction control on winter tires provide me the confidence to go where I want to go, hunt when I want to hunt and get off road to where I want to be.
Our hats off and appreciation goes out to TireRack.com. They were very gracious in helping answer our questions and provide us the research we needed to learn and share with our readers.
Check out our review of the Trac-Grabbers