Best Tires For Snow & Ice
Top end winter tires from Nokian, Bridgestone, Michelin, Hercules, Dunlap, and Continental will all allow you to winter roads.
Tires matter a lot in winter driving. Remember that coefficient of friction physics lesson discussed above? In short, “It’s friction between two forces. For our purposes, the tires and the road.”
If your tire be a slipp’n, your vehicle be a slide’n.
The coefficient of friction is lowered the better the tire adheres to the road. Understanding what allows a tire to better adhere to a surface of snow and ice will help give you the knowledge to pick out a great tire.
Let’s get familiar with the parts of a tire that most effect traction. There are many construction aspects of a tire that impact wear and durability. We’ll ignore these because snow and ice tires look at durability as a secondary or tertiary objective. There are others that impact a tires lateral movement or slip angle, but generally, snow and ice tires are built to maximize specialty designed tread areas to stay in contact with the road. So these tires use construction techniques to optimize negative impacts of slip angle. Not using them results on poor results during test drives.
Parts of A Tire Most Critical In Snow & Ice Driving
Quick tip: look for material optimized for winter cold; hard materials embedded in tread rubber to increase friction
Tire materials have evolved over time. There are now literally hundreds of materials that manufacturers can use. These include elastomers (natural and synthetic rubber), reinforcing fillers (carbon, silica), plasticizers (oils, resins), vulcanizing agents (sulfur, metallic oxides), reinforcement materials (metal, textiles) and other chemicals (secret formulas used for various effects).
Tire materials are incredibly important. Tire material optimized for warm weather is very likely to turn brittle in cold. Brittle material cannot adhere well to slick surfaces. Brittle rubber is know to crack. In cold weather, tire treads need to be and remain soft enough to stay in contact with the road.
What manufacturers are striving for in snow and ice tries are increased traction. They need materials that will remain soft enough to adhere to cold surfaces, in cold weather. Check a manufacturers website to get information on how they describe the rubber they use for their snow and ice tires. It’s usually pretty secretive stuff.
Wheel treads have patterns. Patterns can be symmetrical (same patterns on inside and outside), asymmetrical (different inside and outside patterns), one direction (patterns designed for one direction) and asymmetrical plus directions. Some of these patterns can be better optimized for ice and snow driving than others. Directional treads are easier to optimize for ice and snow.
Keep in mind that tread patterns determine how a tire can be rotated.
Tread Area & Tread Components
The tread area contains the part of the tire that remains in contact with the road. This area is where manufacturers play with tread blocks (blocks patterned to support different types of objectives), tire ribs (single block – rib – generally running circumferentially around a tire), grooves (space between tread blocks and ribs), sipes (cuts in tread blocks or ribs) and shoulder (where the tread meets the sidewall.
These tread components can be combined and optimized for various driving conditions. For snow and ice where traction is critical, manufacturers will add additional tread blocks to increase traction. They can also add tread blocks to the shoulder to add additional traction for turning. Block patterns can be shaped (diamonds, triangles, etc.) in way that also optimize traction.
Manufacturers making snow and ice tires are focussed in all these areas. Their website will tell you about some of their approaches. But the best way to check how successful they are is to look at test results. Industry magazines (Car and Driver), retailers (Tire Rack), member organizations (Consumer Reports) and manufacturers (Bridgestone, Nokian) all run yearly or periodic tests on top selling winter tires.
OK powder skiers: why do some of you prefer wider skis? They keep you from sinking in the snow. Narrower width tires do the same. They also lower chances of hydroplaning. We’re talking 5 or 10 millimeters. So the difference is subtle. But every advantage you have in the snow is increases your chance of getting to your next resort. During a GNASA, this is game time performance you want!
To Stud or Not To Stud
Studs rock. Think spikes on wet turf. If you’re going to be mostly on snow and ice, studs will give you better performance and safety. However, on dry and wet pavement studs are not as good. Studs are hard on roads. They cost more than non-studded tires. They are prohibited in some states, and date restricted in others. They wear quickly. Environmentalists think they’re as bad as real fur.
There are state-of-the-art stud designs where studs are retractable. Studs come out only when needed. This can give you the best of both worlds.
Science of tires: