Winter Driving Tips

By Jonathan Spira on 1 January 2008
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Driving in an unfamiliar city can be a daunting experience for many.  But add wintry weather conditions into the mix and you need to take extra precautions.  Traveling by car in winter is simply unavoidable for many business travelers, but whether it’s a rental car or your own, there are many simple measures you can take before hitting the road.dsc00968

If you regularly drive in snow or on ice (i.e. you see more than the occasional snowflake), you should have winter tires (which we used to call “snow tires”) fitted to your car. They  provide significantly better performance in snowy conditions than all-season tires.

Most cars come fitted with all-season tires, which are a compromise in that they are just adequate for hot and cold weather but far from the best choice in snow and ice.  If you are conscious of your car’s performance capabilities or want the greatest amount of traction to ensure safety in winter driving, all-season tires are not for you.  By the way, regardless of what your parents might have done, you should always fit four, not two, winter tires to your car.

For your own car, winter tires will make a decided difference in how your car handles in snow, ice, and slush.  Many tire makers offer them; some models to look for include Bridgestone Blizzak, Michelin Pilot Alpin, Goodyear Eagle Ultragrip, Continental Winter Contant, and Nokian Hakkapeliitta.

If you rent

Cars from rental agencies in the U.S. usually come with all-season tires.  Avis offers winter tires in Canada with a surcharge.  Hertz offers customers in ski destinations the option to rent cars with winter tires with a surcharge of $10 per day and they may be available at other locations as well

In Europe, where winter tires are mandatory in some regions (examples include some Scandinavian countries and Baltic states), there are more options.  Avis offers winter tires, snow chains, or both in Austria, France, German, Italy, Switzerland and all Scandinavian countries. Winter tires are free in some countries and there is a small surcharge elsewhere.   Hertz offers winter tires in Finland at no additional charge, France (with an “autoski” offering that includes winter tires, chains, and a ski rack), Germany (for an additional charge), Spain (for an additional charge), and Switzerland (all cars here come equipped with winter tires and non-AWD cars also come with chains; a winterizing fee is included in the rental price).  All car rental agencies encourage business travelers to reserve well in advance to guarantee availability.

Preparing your own vehicle

As temperatures and snow started to fall this past December, my summer tires became slippery during cornering and somewhat unpredictable.  It was time for winter tires.

I put together my winter tire setup with Bridgestone Blizzak LM-25 tires and 17” BMW wheels (my normal wheels are 19” but the narrower tires on 17” wheels  cut through the snow much better).  The Blizzak LM-25 tires are designed to combine good performance on snow and ice with European high-speed winter driving performance.  The tread has a directional design that resists hydroplaning on wet and slush-covered roads while simultaneously enhances dry and wet handling.  Compared to other winter tire setups I’ve had, the LM-25s are very quiet too and the handling has been very responsive.

I put the summer tires (with wheels still mounted) in Kurgo Tire Totes and labeled each for proper reinstallation in the Spring.


  • Use the correct tires (see main article).
  • Check tire inflation regularly.
  • Know where you are going (and via what route) and check forecasts on the Web before leaving.
  • Do not use cruise control on slippery surfaces (ice, rain, leaves, sand).
  • Allow for conditions. Accelerate and decelerate slowly.  Slowing down on ice and slush takes longer.
  • If you begin to skid, look and steer in the direction you want to go
  • Don’t stop as you go up a hill.
  • Take supplies along (snack, water, medication, blankets, gloves, shovel, and ice scraper).
  • If you get stuck, stay with the vehicle.
  • ICE – ICE stands for “in case of emergency” and storing an emergency contact in your mobile phone under the name ICE can help rescue personnel quickly locate a friend or family member if warranted.


Summer tires, which come on many high performance cars such as those from BMW, Mercedes, and other manufacturers, are designed to provide optimum dry-condition performance and good handling in wet conditions.  Because their compound loses adhesion starting at around 40°F, they cannot be used safely in wintry conditions.

Winter tires are designed to provide good traction and braking in snow and slush and many are designed with special rubber compounds that enhance performance on ice as well.

All-season tires, which come on the overwhelming majority of cars, are designed to be a compromise for all conditions.  As a result, they are, at best, adequate in dry, wet, or wintry weather.

A related question might be, which is better in the snow, a car with all-wheel drive and all-season tires, or a car with rear-wheel drive on dedicated winter tires. An AWD car and all-season tires won’t help you stop in snow, which winter tires will do on a rear-wheel drive car, so the snow-tire shod car will do better.  Of course, the best choice for wintry conditions is AWD and winter tires.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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