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What are Winter Tires?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 23, 2024
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Winter tires are automobile tires that have been tested for use in winter driving conditions. Winter tires are used to provide improved traction and control when driving on snow and ice covered roads. Snow tires are recommended by both government and automobile safety associations to reduce the number of accidents on the road during the winter. Winter tires are sold by all tire retailers in areas where snow is likely to occur. They range in price from $35 to $150 US Dollars (USD) each. Price differences are based on the size of the tire required, brand and rubber quality.

In order to be considered a winter tire, the tire must meet specific performance based standards and maintain a traction index of 110 or more on lightly packed snow. This rating system was created in 1999, by the Rubber Manufacture Association (RMA), and it designed to assist customers when selecting a winter tire. Tires are tested by the American Society for Testing and Materials in a series of independently conducted trial. The final ratings are provided to the manufactures and are available from the tire retailers upon request.

When selecting a winter tire, you must first determine the size of your current tire rims. Winter tires can be installed on the standard rims, or specific winter rims can be purchased. Review the options and select a winter tire based on your driving habits, weather conditions in your area and your budget. Winter tires should be installed by a tire technician to ensure correct level of inflation and installation.

Don't wait until the first snowfall to install your winter tires. A good rule of thumb is to install them after five consecutive days of freezing temperatures. The first snowfall of the year usually results in a higher than average number of car accidents, due to the lack of snow tires.

Remove your snow tires in the spring when the temperature is above freezing for a minimum of three days in a row. Driving on your snow tires in warmer conditions will wear out the tread and reduce the useful life of the tires. When storing your winter tires, make sure to rinse any salt residue off first and let them dry first.

Winter tires can be stacked up to five tires high in your garage or basement. In some locations where winter tires are mandatory, tire storage firms are available to store your tires during the summer months for a flat, low fee. Winter tires are not inexpensive, but they are necessary for driving safely in the winter months. If budget is a concern, buy four cheaper winter tires rather than two better quality tires. If all four tires are not winter tires, they don't work effectively and are essentially a waste of money.

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Discussion Comments
By Ruggercat68 — On Jan 28, 2015

When I got my first job in Chicago, I wasn't accustomed to bad winters. Someone told me I needed to get winter tires for my car, and I thought they were just pulling my leg, like sending me out to buy a glass hammer or something. I found out he was serious, so I had to find some cheap winter tires. The tire store offered to install them for a decent price, so I went ahead and let them do it.

I'm glad I did. I had to drive to work during a bad snowstorm one time and I noticed I had a lot more control over the car. The first year I was in Chicago, I still had summer tires during the winter months and I started slipping and sliding all over the streets. I eventually bought some better Goodyear winter tires when I had the money.

By RocketLanch8 — On Jan 27, 2015

It was a yearly ritual at my house in Pennsylvania to switch from summer to winter tires. Sometimes my dad would take his car to a local garage and pay to have it done, but other times we would all get out and help. Someone would roll out the winter tires from the garage, then someone else would jack up the car behind each wheel well. My dad would use a pneumatic wrench to remove the nuts, then pull off the old summer tire and put a winter tire on. He'd change out all four tires, then switch out the spare.

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