When to use winter tires

The decision of when to use winter tires can become difficult to make with the ever increasing availability of all weather or all season tires produced by almost all tire manufacturers.

The following information is meant to help understand when to use winter tires instead of all weather or all season tires.

As all drivers would agree, for a vehicle to be safely driven on the road, the tires play an important role by providing sufficient grip or traction between the rubber and road surface. Should there be a layer of water, sand, slush or snow on the road surface, the tire needs to be pliable enough to disperse or cut through this layer to ensure rubber and road contact is maintained failing which directional control of the vehicle is compromised.

For better understanding, let us take a close look at the characteristics and operating conditions of all weather or all season and winter tires.

All weather tires

  • Can be used in spring, summer, autumn and winter.
  • More suited for use in hot and wet climatic conditions.
  • Suitable for use in road conditions with light snow operating above 7 degrees centigrade.
  • Rubber compound will harden when used in temperatures below 7 degrees centigrade.

Winter tires

  • Suitable for use in winter conditions with heavy snow.
  • High silica special tire compound used for good road grip.
  • Rubber compound remains pliable when operating below 7 degrees centigrade.
  • Construction features give good road contact on dry, wet, icy and slushy conditions.
  • Block and stud tread design to cut through heavy and slippery snow covered road surfaces.

Based on information gathered, we can safely say that it is not advisable to use all weather tires in heavy snow conditions due to the hardening effect of the rubber compound in extreme temperatures resulting in loss of grip, loss of traction and increased rolling resistance.

Operating in heavy snow terrain

There is no substitute to a good set of winter tires for vehicles operating under heavy snow conditions as these tires play an important role not only in providing straight line traction and grip but also provide good steering response during braking and cornering.

All wheel drive(AWD) and 4 wheel drive(4WD) vehicles are no exception. While these vehicles cope well in getting out of slippery or soft ground, their mechanical features cannot compensate for any loss of traction and grip during braking and cornering. Equipped with winter tires, these vehicle are a plus for heavy snow conditions.

Vehicle safety features

In present day vehicles, manufacturers are incorporating safety features such as anti-lock braking system, electronic brake force distribution and traction assist stability control. And in some more expensive vehicles, pre-collision auto braking is also employed. Such safety features function well based on the degree of traction available between the tire and the road surface. Again, there is no substitute to a good set of winter tires with good traction as far as safety is concerned.

Driving in icy conditions

`Safety First` should always be practiced when driving in snow keeping in mind that the road is slippery.

Understanding when to use winter tires is one step closer to a safer journey during the winter. Another step that we can all take as responsible drivers is to adhere to some simple safety guidelines.

  • Keep well within speed limits. This will give ample time for the tires to keep traction in check. Loss of grip on the road surface will mean loss of directional control.
  • Keep a safe distance from the car in front. In icy conditions even with winter tires, the stopping or braking distance can be longer when compare to dry weather conditions. A safe distance during winter driving would be to keep double the distance you would keep away from the car in front when driving in dry conditions.
  • Check the tire pressures regularly. It is important to check tire pressures regularly to bring it up to manufacturers recommendation. During cold weather, air molecules will contract and tire pressure changes will occur. There will be at least a 3 to 5 psi change in tire pressure when temperatures get colder. It is therefore important to monitor pressures regularly in order not to run on under inflated tires.

Should there be a concern or a question that you would like to raise, I would be most happy to communicate for a better understanding of this topic on when to use winter tires.






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