If you live in an area with snowy or icy winters, and you drive in winter weather, yes. Some of the cheaper all-season tires might best be called “three-season” tires, because they have a very hard tread compound that doesn’t grip snow well in winter. These tires are designed to improve traction in winter road conditions, but they are mainly designed to wear longer. Snow tires are designed to give you the best traction on snowy and icy roads. They will help you stop faster, keep you from sliding, and give you better handling on slick roads. Since your tires are the only thing keeping your car or truck on the road, choosing the right tires is vital to your safety in snowy or icy conditions.
Snow tires are made of a special rubber that stays very supple in cold weather, and they have a tread pattern designed to grip snow and ice. The tread pattern on these tires sometimes looks like an off-road tire pattern because of the large, aggressive tread blocks and deep grooves. This type of tread pattern allows the tire to tear into snow and throw it out without getting it packed into the tread face like most all-season tread patterns do.
It’s best not to run snow tires all year round, because the softer rubber wears out quickly in warm weather on dry roads. So, you’ll actually need to keep a pair of all-season or summer tires around if you use snow tires in the winter. The cost difference between two sets of tires and one isn’t as big as you might expect in the long term, since you’re saving wear on both of your tire sets by switching them seasonally. If you normally go through a set of all season tires in three years, you will probably get close to six out of your winter and summer tires, since you’re not driving on either set year-round.
When should I install and remove my snow tires?
Put them on in November and take them off in March or April. A couple of common rules of thumb are to put them on as soon as you can start seeing your breath outside, or to put them on at Thanksgiving and take them off when you do your taxes.
Do I need snow tires if I have AWD or 4WD?
Yes. Your tires are the part of your car that transfers all of the force from the engine and drivetrain to the ground. Without good traction from your tires, nothing else on your car will keep you from sliding or getting stuck. While All-wheel drive or four-wheel drive can help if only one or two of your wheels are slipping, they will not work on ice or slush unless you have tires that can grip those surfaces.
Can I just slow down instead of getting snow tires?
It’s always a good idea to slow down when the roads are slick. The slower, the better. However, there are times nearly every winter that, no matter how much you slow down, you can still slip or get stuck. Snow tires will help keep this from happening, and allow you to make it through even some of the most extreme driving conditions. Both slowing down and getting snow tires will reduce your risk of an accident. It’s always best to play it safe by doing both.