from Goss’ Garage by Pat Goss

Since the first car became stuck in snow drivers have been trying to get better winter traction. For several decades drivers have relied on snow tires for more traction but now there’s a new and better tire for winter use.

Traditional snow tires use an open, deep, aggressive tread design that digs into deep snow for better traction. But the very design that makes snow tires dig into deep snow can reduce traction on ice and in light snow. That’s because the open tread pattern that digs into deep snow so well decreases the total amount of rubber that contacts the road surface. Simply stated, old fashioned snow tires dig in a lot better than they hold on.

Also the tread rubber of those old style snow tires reacts unfavorably to cold temperatures. Now that’s an absurdity, tires for winter use that react badly to cold. But as outside temperature drops the rubber becomes harder and less pliable. Once the temperature falls below about forty degrees conventional tires begin to harden and loose some of their ability to grip. Less pliable rubber means less ability to grip in light snow, on ice and even on dry pavement. That’s why on cold days stopping distances may be longer than on a hot day even on bare pavement. This same problem plagues the all season tires that are now standard equipment on most cars.

Now we have ‘winter’ tires which are a marvel of technology and design that work well under a wide range of conditions. To address the cold problem tire manufacturers have developed rubber compounds that are substantially less affected by temperature drop. These new compounds combined with a more closed tread design give winter tires the ability to grip better than snow tires or all season tires at lower temperatures. New style winter tires stop and grip better on dry, wet or icy surfaces plus still work well in light to moderate snow. Winter tires both dig in and hold on.

But all tires are a series of tradeoffs so the added cold traction and safety comes at the cost of faster wear during warmer weather, so you’re still faced with seasonal tire changes. Winter tires in the cold months, all season tires in the warm months.

Then there’s the unending question of two or four winter tires? Apparently many of you really crave danger because your only concern is being able to move forward with minimal wheel spin and only buy twowinter tires. This is a seriously bad choice because the better you can move the more important it is to be able to stop. It’s a bizarre concept, you try to make your car go like a tractor yet do nothing to prevent it from stopping like a toboggan.

Common sense says if your car can’t move you can’t run into anything but make it go really well without also making it stop and handle really well and sooner or later you will crash. Winter driving isn’t nearly as much about going as it is maintaining overall control and being able to stop. By installing four winter tires you will gain all the benefits of low temperature modern tread design which means better acceleration combined with better steering and stopping in all weather conditions.

Your best value comes from a winter tire package which includes four winter tires and four winter wheels. If you’ve never heard of winter wheels they’re just old fashioned steel wheels. Although disgusting looking, cheap steel wheels allow your expensive alloy wheels to safely sit-out the winter in the garage far from harsh winter road chemicals.

But even the best tires won’t get the job done safely if they aren’t properly inflated. Too much or too little pressure can seriously compromise traction. Every ten degrees drop in outside temperature decreases tire pressure by one to two pounds so tire pressure must be checked and adjusted at least once every month, year round.

Published in by CARCHEX on November 13, 2014