Last month, we wrote about how you can winterize your car. In that article, we wrote about the benefits of switching all-season or summer tires for winter tires in the colder months. Today, we’re expanding on that with a deeper look into how exactly winter or snow tires work, the benefits of adding them to your car, and some of the most popular models on the market right now
How Do Winter Car Tires Work?
Winter car tires use a different rubber blend than all-season or summer tires. That material composition enables them to stay soft when other types of tires would harden up in cold weather, allowing them to grip road surfaces more easily. That makes a difference – a car equipped with winter or snow tires can have a stopping distance up to 30-40% shorter than one with all-season or summer tires. That’s a big deal when you’re trying to halt at an intersection or stoplight on icy roads.
Winter tires aren’t just useful in freezing or sub-freezing temperatures – they become more effective than all-season and summer tires starting around 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius).
Winter tire technology has changed a lot in recent years. Pirelli, an international tire manufacturer, has developed over 300 compounds in its search for the perfect winter tire rubber blend. Manufacturers have also made significant changes to tread patterns in recent years. Older (or less expensive) models typically have deep, grippy treads. While those treads can give a vehicle better traction on snowy roads, they compromise on comfort and stability.
On the other hand, newer models tend to use shallower, closely-spaced grooves that address those issues. Snow and ice melt under the heat friction generated by tires in motion, and those grooves channel away the leftover slush and water – allowing the tires to either “bite” into leftover snow and the road underneath more effectively. Meanwhile, small slits in the tread pattern (called “sipes”) open as they touch the road, providing yet more traction. Some tire treads also use micro-pumps next to the sipes that pick up “water film” – a thin layer of water that can form on ice or damp asphalt – to make driving on snow and ice even safer.
Long story short, there’s a lot of science behind a pair of good winter or snow tires.
Should I Get Winter Car Tires?
If light snow and ice are the norm where you live, winter tires are probably a worthwhile investment. If you deal with heavy, deep snow, looking specifically for snow tires – essentially heavier-duty winter tires – could also be a good idea.
People often believe that heavier cars, such as SUVs, handle better in the snow – and as such, have less need for winter or snow tires. While it is true that heavier vehicles tend to have more traction on ice or snow, weight cuts both ways. Stopping a heavy car on a slippery surface can be harder, and cars with uneven weight distribution (like a pickup with an empty bed) tend to spin out more easily. As a result, putting winter tires on a heavy car is still worth it if you’d rather be safe than sorry.
The Benefits of Winter Tires: Better Gas Mileage, Fewer Accidents
Better handling is the most obvious benefit of using winter tires on snow and ice. A study from Canada found that universal winter tire usage resulted in 5% fewer road-accident injuries, and 3% fewer deaths and serious injuries. The faster you can stop your car – and the better it handles in snowy or icy weather – the easier it is to stay safe.
Increased traction and maneuverability also means less workload on the engine, meaning that vehicles with winter tires often have better gas mileage in cold weather or on ice and snow.
How Much Do Winter Tires Cost?
Costs for winter tires vary. Budget models can cost as little as $80 or less per tire, while premium tires can run upwards of $200 per tire. Generally, winter and snow tires for larger vehicles (like SUVs and trucks) cost slightly more.
When it comes to winter car tires, you get what you pay for. Premium tires are your best bet if you want to maximize comfort and safety. That said (or, more aptly, written), winter tire technology has progressed significantly in recent years. Mid-end and budget winter tires are better and more affordable than ever, making them a more justifiable purchase for many car owners.
The Most Popular Winter Tires for 2022
Thinking about investing in some winter or snow tires? These models are particularly popular right now:
- Michelin X-ICE ($145-260 per tire). Michelin tires are known for their performance, and the Michelin X-Ice tires are no exception. Michelin X-ICE tires come in a range of sizes suited for vehicles from passenger cars to SUVs, and are Green X certified – rolling resistance offers increased fuel efficiency. They can struggle a bit in season-long deep snow, but they’re a fantastic all-rounder.
- Bridgestone Blizzak W290 ($99-240 per tire). Bridgestone’s Blizzak tires have gained quite a lot of traction (ha, ha… no?) since their release as some of the best, so seeing them here should come as no surprise. Although reviewers report more road noise from Blizzaks than the X-ICE, the Blizzaks also purportedly provide more comfort and grip, making them a great option.
- Goodyear Ultra Grip ($83-90 per tire). The Ultra Grips are one of the most popular budget options. While they have a limited range of sizes and lack the universal traction of more premium options, they’re a good generalist tire for cold weather.
- Continental Viking Contact 7 ($144-230 per tire). Commonly reviewed as one of the best snow tires, the Contact 7s are a great option if you live in an area with lots of deep snow.
- Nokian Hakkapelitta R3 ($107-472 per tire). Rated by reviewers as some of the highest-comfort winter models, the Hakkapeliitta R3s are great for a smooth ride, although they lack the speed threshold of our next (and last) mention.
- Pirelli Ice Zero FR ($117-242 per tire). Well-known as industry innovators, Pirelli tires are often a go-to choice for fans of sports cars or other faster passenger vehicles. Great for fuel efficiency and rated for speeds up to 130 mph, the Pirellis are a great choice.
There you have it! A bit of history on winter car tires, their benefits, and some of the most popular models in 2022. Want more car care tips, tricks, and auto industry news? Stay tuned!