The Benefits of Winter Tires: Why Your Car Should Have Them

By Jonathan Spira on 9 December 2013
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BMW 335d with winter tires on the Roßfeldhöhenringstraße

BMW 335d with winter tires on the Roßfeldhöhenringstraße

Growing up, I watched my parents dutifully have winter tires (we called them “snow tires” when I was a kid) fitted as the temperature started to drop, and the car’s standard tires would be put back on when it was sure not to snow anymore.

Today, thanks to the advent of what my friends and I tend to call no-season tires but what the rest of the world calls all-season tires, few people (at least in the United States) engage in this ritual.  Instead, they prefer to slide and spin their way through winter as their tires become four hockey pucks.

Winter tires are more advanced than ever, and their rubber compound is designed for frigid weather and driving on ice and snow.

Keep in mind that a car with four winter tires, even a rear-wheel drive sports coupe, will have far greater traction than an SUV with four-wheel drive and all-season tires.  Winter-tire equipped cars stop more quickly and corner faster. Indeed, studies have shown that winter tires can improve braking by 25% and that having winter tires reduces the chances of an accident by as much as 38%.

Tests conducted by Transport Canada and the Rubber Association of Canada found that winter tires offer 50% more traction than all-season tires.  In addition, the study confirmed that, in temperatures below 45° F (7° C), all-seasons and especially summer tires harden and lose traction.  By contrast, winter tires retain their elasticity and grip at much lower temperatures.

In Germany, winter tires are typically fitted in October and kept on through late March or early April.  German law requires winter tires on vehicles in wintry conditions (all-season tires count), and drivers caught using summer tires are subject to a fine of €40.  If a driver ends up causing an accident or obstructing traffic while running on summer tires, the fine is €80 and most insurance companies will refuse to honor claims by drivers with summer tires who get into an accident.

Drivers should keep in mind that winter tires, as good as they are, have no magic properties and therefore they should always drive at a speed safe for current conditions and maintain a safe following distance.  Keeping tires at the proper inflation  is also important for safe winter driving: a drop in temperature from 41° F (5° C) to 5° F (-15° C), something not uncommon in many areas, can cause tires to lose as much as 4 psi, a figure that can move a marginally-inflated tire from safe to the danger zone.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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