Everything You Need to Know About Winter Tires

Everything You Need to Know About Winter Tires

Winter is around the corner. As much as we all love the holidays, eating delicious food, sipping hot chocolates, and devouring snowman-shaped cookies, the cold season comes with its fair share of difficulties – perhaps none bigger than driving on snow-covered/icy roads!

This can be especially difficult if you travel long distances to see family. You need to make sure you’re taking extra precautions to ensure your safety on wintry roads. When it comes to navigating on snowy or icy roads, investing in a good set of winter tires is the best thing you can do.

Being as how you currently have a good head start, it’s probably time to look into winter snow tires. Winter tires are crucial for all drivers who experience cold/snowy weather. Additionally, you don’t always have to break the bank to get them!

Keep reading this comprehensive guide to learn everything about buying your first set of winter tires, including what the different kinds are, how much they cost, what to do with winter tires in the summer, and why weather-specific tires are so important for everyone’s safety.

Data About Crashes Due to Snow and Sleet

Although many have heard of snow tires and/or winter tires before, they often consider the benefits to the vehicle before they consider how impactful they can be to other drivers on the road.

Between 2007 and 2016, there were over 1.2 million weather-related crashes, and roughly 18 percent of the crashes were due to snow and sleet alone. Another 13 percent can be attributed to the icy pavement and 16 percent to the snowy or slushy pavement.

Keep in mind that over 70 percent of America’s roads are located in snowy regions. It’s extremely common for people to spend their winters driving on snowy or slushy roads, and over a thousand people are killed annually in these conditions.

Some other winter crash statistics include:

  • More than 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slush, or icy pavement annually.
  • Roughly 70 percent of accidental deaths that occur in the winter time happen in automobiles.
  • Every year, about 900 people are killed in crashes that occur during snowfall or sleet.

At the end of the day, the price of winter tires is small in comparison to the level of safety they provide on the road with the right kind of grip and traction for the winter conditions.

What You’ll Learn in This Winter Tires Guide

In this guide, we plan to cover a vast array of topics concerning snow and winter tires. We’ll tackle topics such as:

  • All season vs winter tires
  • When to install or put on snow/winter tires
  • Snow tires in the summer
  • The average winter tire cost
  • How to choose winter/snow tires

By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know everything there is to know about winter tires and why they’re important. Additionally, you’ll feel equipped with enough knowledge to pull the trigger and buy your own set of new winter tires for a decent price.

What Are Winter Tires?

First things first: before we can dive into the best tires for snow and the different aspects of winter tire ratings, we need to properly explain what winter tires are.

In a nutshell, winter tires are designed to maintain good traction on snowy, icy, and slushy roads in extreme cold temperatures. The rubber construction of the tire is meant to stay flexible and has deeper tread depths and special tread designs to better grip treacherous winter roads.

You’d be surprised by how many people don’t know there’s a difference between all-season and winter tires.

Why Can’t Regular Tires Handle Snowy Conditions?

If you’re wondering why regular tires can’t handle snow, ice, sleet, or slush very well, take a look at the tires’ tread patterns. Regular tires don’t have the tread patterns specifically designed to keep their grip on ice and snow.
winter tread explained

How Much of a Difference do Winter Tires Really Make?

According to a recent survey by Michelin, about 67 percent of respondents don’t believe they need winter tires as long as they have all-season tires.

However, the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada has found evidence to support the following claims:

  • Winter tires can actively help prevent collisions and fatalities on the road.
  • Winter tires can reduce costs associated with hospital emergencies and emergency responses during the winter.
  • Winter tires can lower insurance payouts, both in size and frequency.
  • Winter tires can reduce traffic congestion during the cold months.

Furthermore, it’s been found that winter tires can decrease braking distance in wintry conditions by up to 35 percent. This gives you a lot more time to react to dangerous situations on the road and protect others (and yourself) from harm.

What Else Is Different About Winter Tires?

One of the biggest factors that make cold-weather tires different from regular tires or all-season tires is that they are made of a different kind of rubber. You might not be able to tell with a naked eye, but winter tires have a special kind of rubber that makes them work differently.

Normal tire rubber hardens as temperatures drop, making it difficult for them to stay safe and grip the road. Most tires begin this process as soon as the weather drops below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius), which it does in most parts of America for at least some part of the year.

Snow/winter tires, on the other hand, are made of a special rubber that stays flexible during cold weather so it can better grip the road. Although this does provide more safety, it has a drawback: this flexible rubber softens and wears out faster than all-season tires.

Many people already resist facing the price of snow tires, and they’re even less impressed when they realize that they don’t last as long as all-season tires. However, even cheap winter tires can still maximize your safety and make a huge difference when driven in dangerous cold weather.

Also, this flexible rubber will last long enough if you only drive your winter tires during the winter. Don’t waste the special material on summer roads, even if switching back to your all-season tires at the end of the winter months is a pain.

Understanding the Difference Between M+S Tires and Winter Tires

In the 1970s, the M+S marking was introduced to help consumers understand which tires had extra mud and snow traction. Although the tire might have met the standard for that time period, it might not today.

Still, we now use the M+S certification system as a benchmark for determining if a tire even has a basic level of snow traction. We’ve evolved beyond that system (as most all-season tires these days have the M+S rating), but it served as a great starting point for designing and evaluating winter-specific tires.

In the 1990s, the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) updated the standards to differentiate between “winter tires” and standard “all-season tires.” Now, the Three Peak Mountain snowflake on the side of a tire is the best indicator that it’s truly intended for use in the harsh winter months.

Difference Between Winter Tires and All-Season Tires

When people hear that their regular tires are “all-season tires,” they instantly think that the claim is true: the tires can handle ANY season that comes their way. After all, that’s what the name implies.

Now, we don’t want to discredit all-season tires. Technology has come a long way in making these tires incredibly effective. However, navigating severe snowy and icy roads requires a tire that was specially designed for winter, not a tire designed to be versatile. That’s where the true difference between snow tires vs all-season tires comes into play.

All-season tires can definitely work adequately in wintry conditions, and the newer the tires are, the more likely they have improved technology to help with this. However, they are a jack-of-all trades option, which means that winter tires are more specially designed to handle severe conditions safely.

Think of it this way:

If you are hiking up a snowy hill, what kind of shoes would you want?

Sure, your tennis shoes might get the job done, but you’d be much better off with a nice pair of winter boots. The chances of you slipping and falling in your tennis shoes are MUCH greater than they would be with winter boots.

The same concept applies with tires.

In the simplest terms, snow or winter tires are designed uniquely to handle the roads in harsh snowy and icy conditions. Regular tires are not fully equipped for the extreme challenges, even if they say they’re “all-season.”

The Big Differences

Let’s break down the biggest differences between winter tires and all season.

Rubber composition

Winter tires have flexible rubber components that don’t harden when it’s cold. All-season (or regular) tires generally do not, which means your tires can constrict and harden when you need them to stay pliant and grippy.

Tread depth and pattern

Winter tires typically have a tread that is deeper and more specifically designed for removing moisture and making contact with the ground in comparison to regular tires. All-season tires have regular tread depth and patterns.

Sipes

Not only are the tread patterns designed to be deeper to remove moisture, but they also have sipes or little slits in the tread, that act as biting edges to grip the ground in snow and ice. Regular tires have less siping and therefore less grip.

How Do Winter Tires Work?

nokian nordman 5 non-studded tires
See Prices

When browsing the winter tires for sale, you’ll likely want to check out the special tread right away. As we said before, how winter tires work is by gripping the road with special, flexible rubber and unique snow tire tread patterns.

Now, we’re going to dive a bit deeper into this explanation for those winter drivers out there.

Summer tires typically have solid ribs that are separated by wide circumferential ribs. However, many of the newer styles are changing from the smooth solid rib model and are adding in sipes and enhanced tread patterns. Most importantly, the compounds in summer tires freeze and harden in colder temperatures. This is no bueno what you want when you’re trying to deal with cold weather and potential snow and ice.

Winter tires have something called “high sipe density”. When a tire stays flexible, the sipes open as it rolls and the two edges bite the snow/ice. As winter tires are designed to stay flexible in cold temperatures, the high density of the biting edges provides added traction for stable acceleration and braking.

These are commonly designed in a zig zag at angles that oppose the tread pattern for enhanced grip.

In the image above, the sipes run across the tread and are positioned in a way that will help control forward motion and acceleration, grip while driving, and aid in braking. While the tread itself has varied angles and edges designed for traction, the sipes work with the tread to design to provide the enhanced stability.

When to Put on Winter Tires

Although winter tires work best in certain cold conditions, you should install them far before you hit that first patch of ice or see the temperatures plummet to the teens. As soon as you see the temperature move into the low 40s, go ahead and switch your tires out so the winter tires can do their job before it’s too late.

Keep in mind that winter tires aren’t just a good choice for drivers who face snow and ice on a regular basis. They’re also just safer for cold, dry pavement. As we said before, cold temperatures alone (without the addition of moisture) can cause other types of tires to harden and lose their grip on the surface.

Depending on where you live, you may need to install your winter tires as early as September or as late as November. It just depends on the climate and how quickly the temperatures drop.
Also, remember that winter tires aren’t just for getting better traction on snow; they help with cold weather conditions like ice, sleet, or slush.

Different Types of Snow/Winter Tires

Traditional Snow Tires

“Traditional” snow tires are not generally produced these days.  Traditional snow tires were focused on delivering excellent traction on snowy roads.  They retained good traction and balanced performance on snowy roads, and usually had a combination of big lugs or tread blocks to bite into deep snow; however, they did not perform spectacularly on ice or in extreme cold temperatures.

Modern High-Tech Winter Tires

Technology has helped winter tires become even more efficient in traversing snow, ice and freezing dry roads. The modern winter tires have engineered  rubber compounds, highly specialized tread patterns and grooves, and high sipe density in the tread to perform in all sorts of wintry conditions – snow, ice, freezing temperatures, etc. The sipes themselves can even be technologically engineered to produce the highest amount of grip on winter roads.

You will even see such features as fuel economy, quiet ride, ride comfort and styling as features of new winter tires.  And it is not just the high dollar winter tires that have these features.  Even the lower priced, entry level tire brands have good technology being engineered into them to provide drivers with safety and dependability.  Many of both the traditional and newer high-tech tires come “pinned for studs,” which means they can have studs added if desired. We’ll talk more about what studs can do for your vehicle later on.

Winter Tire Safety Tips

When you’re driving with winter-specific tires, there are certain steps you should take to make sure you’re staying safe on the road. These steps will decrease your chance of a wreck, even if you’ve installed cheap winter tires after hours of browsing snow tire reviews.

Tip #1: Check Your Tire Pressure Frequently

Although most modern vehicles will now tell you when your tire pressure is off, it’s a good idea to double check the pressure on a regular basis. Find out what your vehicle’s recommended pressure level is, then fill your tires accordingly whenever necessary.

Keep in mind that cold weather does tend to make tire pressure change more often, so your tire pressure light may come on several times during the winter when the temperatures drop. For every 10-degree drop in temperature, tires typically lose about a pound per square inch of tire pressure.

An underinflated tire can cause your tires to wear out quickly and cause irreparable damage. That’s the last thing you want to deal with when tackling slippery or icy roads.

Tip #2: Brake Slowly
Even if you’re driving with studded snow tires, you still need to brake slowly, especially when taking turns on the road. You should also wait until you’re done turning before speeding up again.

To avoid braking suddenly on the roads, leave extra room between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Remember that it’s advised to double your space between other cars in wet conditions and triple them in snow.

Keep in mind that freeway speeds are often reduced up to 13 percent in light snow and up to 40 percent in heavy snow. People drive differently (and brake differently) in wintry weather, and you need to adjust your own driving habits accordingly.

Although driving and braking slower does lower your chances of getting into an accident during the winter, keep in mind that you’re not the only one on the road. Others can still drive too fast or recklessly, which is why you need tires that have great traction on top of excellent driving habits.

Tip #3: Install Winter Tires on All Four Wheels

You might think that putting cheap snow tires on at least two of the wheels is better than nothing, but regardless of what kind of performance tires you choose, it’s always best to put them on all four wheels. This will ensure that your car stays balanced, even during bad weather.

If you mix your tires, either between brands or seasons, you can increase your chances of skidding or sliding. That’s the last thing you want to worry about on a road that’s already slippery.

Tip #4: Check Your Tread Depth Often

Without adequate tread, your chances of hydroplaning increase dramatically. All tires, winter or regular, should offer enough tread depth to provide traction for roads during cold weather.

Although you can check your tread depth on your own, it’s also a smart idea to talk to professionals if you’ve had your tires for a while. They can advise you on when to change winter tires so that you always have enough traction.

Tip #5: Don’t Forget to Rotate Your Tires

Regular tire maintenance doesn’t stop just because you have special winter tires. Tires should still be rotated at least every 6,000 miles. Otherwise, they can wear unevenly, and that can cause problems for even the sturdiest of tires during the winter months.

FAQs on Winter Tires

To some extent, winter tires are easy to understand. They’re built to help you maintain extra traction on roads that are snowy, icy, covered in slush, or simply just cold.
However, we still get a ton of questions about the specifics on winter tires and how to install them. That’s why we want to include some frequently asked questions about winter tires, as well as our answers to them.

What are winter tires?

Regardless of how cheap or expensive the winter tires are, as well as whether they’re studded or not, these tires are made to help drivers stay safe in cold weather conditions. The rubber remains soft and flexible, which helps the tire conform to the road when temperatures plummet.

Additionally, special tread depths and designs make sure that they provide excellent traction in snow, ice, slush, and rain.

Do I need winter tires?

The answer to this question depends on where you live. If you rarely face wintry weather and can usually wait until the roads are clear to head outside, then you might be fine driving all year with the good all-season tires you already have on your car.

However, if you live in a state where winters are intense and there’s frequently ice, slush, or snow on the road, it’s smart to put winter/snow tires on before temperatures begin to plummet. Be sure to check your state’s requirements as some dictate you must switch to winter tires and by what date.

Far too many accidents occur each year from weather-related issues, and it’s your job to do everything in your power to lower the risk of dangerous driving during the winter. Only 16 percent of drivers in Northern states use winter tires, and yet it’s been shown that winter tire usage can actually decrease winter road accidents and injuries.

Can I use winter tires all year?

Technically yes. However, we don’t recommend using winter tires year-round. Here’s why.

The flexible rubber tread of winter tires grips the road extra well during cold temperatures. During the summer, this flexibility isn’t needed on the warm, dry pavement and can reduce the performance of your vehicle.

Although nothing bad will probably happen if you use winter tires year-round, they will wear down faster – meaning you’ll have to replace them quicker. Additionally, they could compromise your vehicle’s gas mileage on the road during the warmer months, and no one wants that!

What’s the difference between snow tires vs winter tires?

In the industry, we call them “winter tires.” However, many consumers start their tire search with “snow tires”, not realizing that it’s a somewhat outdated term.  The original snow tires handled snow well, but didn’t function as well on ice or freezing dry roads.

Snow tires had super aggressive treads design to cut through snow with big lugs and deep, wide grooves. The downside was the tires would harden in colder temperatures and struggle to perform on ice, and were not very comfortable to drive on.  Safety was the main deign objective.

Technology and tire designs have improved significantly in recent years to tackle all sorts of wintry conditions. Winter tires generally have more closed tread patterns built to stay flexible in colder temperatures and project biting edges to grip ice. All in all, winter tires are built to handle ALL of the winter conditions adeptly – not just snow.

How much do winter tires cost?

If you’re expecting to pay an arm and a leg for winter tires, you might be surprised by how affordable they can be. Yes, they’re still expensive, but they’re not out of range for most people who desperately need them during the winter months.

On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 – $120/per tire for passenger car tires and $70 – $180 per tire for truck and SUV tires. Installation fees will be an additional charge and vary per installation shop. Depending on how much you drive, how much wear you put on the tires, ad the original quality and milage warranty of the tires you purchased, you can get 3 to 5 seasons out of a set of winter tires.

What are studded winter tires?

Studded winter tires have little metal or plastic studs embedded within the tread that help dig into ice. This can be incredibly helpful when driving across an area that’s completely covered in ice.
However, this added traction on even the best studded winter tires can pose problems for your vehicle if you drive on roads that aren’t covered in ice. The studs can damage the road, which is why it’s only recommended to use studded winter tires unless you really need them.

What does it mean if a tire is “all-season”?

As we discussed before, just because a tire says that it is equipped for all seasons doesn’t mean that it can provide the same level of safety in extreme weather conditions as it can in regular environments. If you’re at all worried about facing snow, ice, slush, or other dangers on the road during the winter time, it’s much smarter to invest in a winter-specific tire.

How many winter tires do you need?

Although we’d love to tell you that you can save some money by only installing two winter tires on your vehicle at a time, that simply isn’t the case. Any tire installer will tell you that you must install four winter tires at a time in order to keep your vehicle safe and balanced.
It doesn’t matter if you have a car that has four-wheel drive or two wheel drive – you need to invest in those extra two tires so that you can accelerate and brake without concern.
Additionally, you shouldn’t use multiple kinds of winter tires on your vehicle at once. Their tread depths and patterns could vary, leading to an uneven driving experience and other problems.

Are winter tires necessary if your vehicle has traction control?

If you have a relatively new car, you might notice that it has extra traction control. This makes people wonder if they really need winter tires for that additional traction during the winter months.
The answer is yes, you still need winter tires if you’ll be facing snowy or icy road conditions. Although you might have extra traction, your all-season tires still don’t have the same capability to appropriately handle the extreme low temperatures and icy roads.

Are winter tires noisy?

This answer depends somewhat on the brand and tire you select. Some winter tires are noisier than others, and some are hardly noticeable. If noise is important to you, pay attention to winter tire reviews that mention sound.
Keep in mind that studdable models are often noisier than options without studs. The studs literally claw the ice, which can be noisy and potentially leave scratch marks on your driveway and roads.

Do I need winter tires if my car has ABS?

At the end of the day, nothing will improve your car’s safety more than having the right kind of tires for certain conditions. Yes, ABS can certainly help you stop during winter weather, but adding winter tires will still give you that extra dose of protection you need to avoid an accident.

Will I feel a difference when driving my car after installing winter tires?

Hopefully, yes! Many drivers praise the exceptional handling and improved traction they feel after installing winter tires and taking on the cold/snowy roads. You should feel safer and more confident taking on snow and ice if you have the appropriate tires on your vehicle.

How do you store winter tires?

When determining how to store winter tires for your vehicle once spring rolls around, make sure that you can put them somewhere cool and dry. Sunshine and moisture can cause them to experience damage, which could make the winter tires unsafe to use next season.

This often means that you should not store your winter tires in a moist basement, , or a hot attic. However, as long as the area doesn’t receive lots of direct sun exposure or freezing/blistering temperatures, you can most likely store your tires there for months at a time. Many customers put their tires in winter tire storage bags, in their garage, to further protect from sun damage and keep moisture away from the tire as well.

Where can I buy winter tires for a good price?

When deciding where to buy winter tires, we recommend starting with us. At Giga Tires, we have a wide selection of tire brands from all over the country and do our best to give you a comprehensive look at the pros and cons of many different winter tires.
Additionally, we make it easy for you to compare prices between different snow tires for sale so that you can feel confident that you’re getting the best deal on the market.

What month should I install my winter tires?

Knowing when to install winter tires depends on where you live and what the winter months are like. You definitely shouldn’t wait until winter is in full swing to install them. As soon as the temperature drops below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius), go ahead and make the switch. Check your state regulations to understand any winter tire regulations on install dates.

The Best Snow and Winter Tires

Here at Giga Tires, we want to encourage you to pick out the top snow tires and the top winter tires for your particular circumstances. That’s why we’ve rounded up some of the best traditional and high-tech winter tires on the market.

Take a look at the two lists of the best winter tires below to learn how our top contenders vary. Remember: not every vehicle benefits from the exact same kind of winter tire, so you need to pick the best snow tires for your specific car and circumstances.

The Best Winter Tires on Giga Tires

1. Nokian Hakkapeliitta

nokian hakkapeliitta tires
See Prices

There are various styles of Hakkapeliitta. It’s a premium snow tire that comes in both studded and unstudded versions in select sizes. It’s also known as one of the most comfortable, fuel efficient winter tires you can install (when compared to all-season tires).

This tire’s price can be as low as $65 per tire, which is a remarkable price for such a competent, fuel-efficient winter tire option.

 

2. Nexen Winguard Winspike

Nexen Winguard Winspike tires
See Prices

Like the Nokian Hakkapeliitta, Nexen has similar styles of winter tires depending on the size you need. To narrow down your options, enter your tire size and see which of the Nexen Winguard Winspike winter tires is right for you.

This tire’s price typically starts around $50, which is fairly low for a winter tire of this caliber and ability.

 

3. Cooper Evolution Winter

Cooper Evolution Winter tires
See Prices

This option is another mid-range, studdable tire with traditional winter tread design and compound. What’s surprising is that even though this tire is studdable and aggressive, it’s still relatively quiet. The Cooper Evolution Winter offers excellent braking capabilities as well as a smooth, safe ride during wintry weather.

This tire’s price typically starts around $71, a fantastic value considering the tire’s capabilities and popularity.

4. Vitour Polar Bear

Vitour Polar Bear tires
See Prices

One of the cheapest winter tires available, the Vitour Polar Bear has outstanding traction and wear life if properly maintained. You won’t have to worry about accelerating with this winter tire due to its water evacuation capabilities and directional tread design.

This tire’s price typically starts around $55, which is a fairly average price, especially for a tire with great acceleration and wear life.

The Best High-Tech Winter Tires on Giga Tires

1. Michelin X-Ice Xi3

Michelin X-Ice Xi3 tires
See Prices

This tire provides maximum protection in winter conditions and is often used for off-roading. Surprisingly, it also offers excellent fuel efficiency and wear life. You can trust that the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 will get you where you need to go, even when it’s snowing or sleeting outside.

This tire’s price typically starts around $98, a decent value for a tire with stellar reviews and excellent fuel efficiency.

2. Hankook Winter I-Cept

Hankook Winter I-Cept tires
See Prices

The Hankook Winter I-Cept offers similar high-tech features as brands like Michelin and Bridgestone, but at a more affordable cost. They asymmetrical tread pattern provides excellent traction for any kind of vehicle, from a family sedan to a fancy sports car.

This tire’s price typically starts around $55. It’s certainly got amazing reviews and capabilities for this price range.

3. Firestone Winterforce 2

Firestone Winterforce 2 tires
See Prices

The Firestone Winterforce 2 features an aggressive directional tread pattern, which gives it excellent traction in snow and ice. It’s also a fairly low-priced buy considering the value of the tire and its safety. It’s like buying a premium tire without the huge price tag attached!

This tire can start as low as $54, making it a well-priced tire with exceptional value.

 

4. Milestar Weatherguard AW365

Milestar Weatherguard AW365 Tires
See Prices

This tire incorporates the latest in tread design technology fused with an advanced silica-rich compound. The result is a tire that has reduced noise, great tread life, and the ability to handle all snowy conditions.

This tire starts at $60, which is a bargain given the added value!

 

 

5. Antares Grip 20

Antares Grip 20 tires
See Prices

This tire is surprisingly affordable considering the hundreds of biting edges it has in the center ribs and shoulder block of the tread. With this pattern, the tire easily makes it through deep snow and slush.

This tire also starts at $60, making it a great choice for drivers on the hunt for a good deal.

To learn more about any of the tires listed above, feel free to contact us at any time. We’ll help you understand exactly which tire can fit your vehicle and lifestyle the best, depending on where you live and what your budget is.

We know you want to find the best value when buying cheap tires, and we’re here to help you do just that!

In Conclusion

If driving in snow and ice is a regular occurrence for you during the winter months, now is the perfect time to start looking into winter tires. You should always be prepared to switch out your tires so you can tackle the road with a sense of safety and confidence.

Refer to this guide to help answer your questions about winter tires and pick the right product for your vehicle! By learning more about driving in the winter and using the right kind of tires, we can all help prevent cold weather related accidents and keep our cars in top condition.

As always, our knowledgeable team at Giga is always happy to provide guidance. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with any questions or concerns!