One Reason Motorists Can’t Deal With Icy Roads: No Winter Tires

Any winter tire performs better in snow than the best all-season tire, according to one expert.

byKate Gibson|
Tires photo

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With many U.S. roadways an icy mess as frigid air follows a snowstorm across the East Coast, winter tires come to mind. Or actually, they don't. 

"The reality is, the vast majority of drivers don't bother to install winter tires," says Woody Rogers, chief production information officer at the Tire Rack, an online retailer.

"Statistics vary, but the most common number I’ve heard is typically less than 10 percent, even in areas that experience heavy winter weather conditions."That means many of those on the road "are struggling to get around when winter weather is at its worst," he added.

From Rogers' perspective, any winter tire is better in the snow than the best all-season tire: "Some of the all-season (year round) tires work reasonably well in the snow, but even the very best all-season tire cannot match the snow and ice traction of an average winter tire."

Now that we've all decided to buy and use winter tires, Rogers advises considering three basic types.

The worst winter weather calls for studless ice and snow winter tires, which have winter tread compounds molded into a deep tread pattern designed to optimize snow and ice traction, Rogers said. "They tread off a little treadwear and handling on clear roads (wet or cold and dry) versus other winter tires, but the tradeoffs are fairly small."

Because many states now ban them, most studdable winter tires come without studs. "They work pretty well, but don’t have the snow or especially ice traction (without metal studs inserted) of studless ice and snow tires," said Rogers. Less expensive, these tires still have better traction than the best all-season tire, he added.

Performance winter tires are great for any vehicle driven where snowfall is less significant and clear road driving is more frequent. They "strike a balance between winter weather driving and handling on clear roads," said Rogers.