What I learned about snow tires today

Well, first, I learned that we don’t call them snow tires anymore; they’re winter tires now. Do we need them? The short answer is Yes, at least if we live in Vermont. Or Colorado (too bad I didn’t figure that out when I lived there). Or in any other snowy places for that matter, especially the ones with mountains. If your roads tend to look like this in the winter, it’s a good idea to consider them.

According to Consumer Reports, winter tires have a better grip on snow and ice, and the Vermont DMV recommends them. Ideally, they should be installed before the first snow of the season, and must always be the same on all four wheels.  Folks who live in flatter, less snowy states may prefer to save the extra expense and get by with all-weather tires, which also have the advantage on cleared roads. It isn’t cheap, after all, to purchase an extra set of tires and have them changed over twice every year. Plus winter tires often wear out more quickly. On the other hand, even one crash avoided may be well worth the extra time and money. 

Finally, what about studs? Back in the day, when we were driving on hard-packed snow and ice for a good part of the winter, studded tires were a wonderful safety feature, and kept many of us alive and out of the ditch. Nowadays, those wonderful people who clear the roads for us do such a great job that most of us are driving on bare roads in the winter more than ever. Metal studs do improve stopping performance on ice, but make little if any difference on snow, none on bare roads, and are actually worse when the road is wet. Other drawbacks are the irritating noise, and damage to the pavement, which is why many states limit their use to the winter months and some ban them altogether. Vermont trusts our common sense and so has no legal restrictions, but we can help out the highway maintenance crews and their budget by using studded tires only in the winter months, or not at all. You can check the rules for your state or province in the AAA Digest of Motor Laws. (Thanks, AAA!) Honestly, as a general rule, unless you expect to do most of your driving in icy conditions, winter tires without studs are going to be your best choice.

And there you have it – my complete sensible advice. For today, anyway. You’re welcome.

PS Thanks to Anonymous, who raised the very good question ‘Why not just on the drive wheels?’, I went hunting for more on that subject and found this lengthy discussion on Car Talk, illustrated with a cool video, which I am adding to the post for clickability. And because it’s important. Enjoy! 

Front wheel drives snow tires–2 or 4?

And thanks, Anonymous, whoever you are!

2 thoughts on “What I learned about snow tires today

  1. Mother Rider

    Good question, Anonymous, thanks.

    ‘Because I said so’ is the first answer that comes to mind, but you deserve better than that, or even ‘Because the DMV says so’, so here’s the complete scoop, according to a number of folks who sound like they know what they’re talking about on the Car Talk website. Two winter tires on the drive wheels would work just as well as four for starting up from a dead stop, but that’s not their only, or even their main purpose. Stopping safely when you want to and staying where you belong on the road rather than in the ditch are equally important, and mismatched tires are confusing for and interfere with the proper operation of safety systems like ABS, traction and stability control that are designed to help there. Here’s the complete discussion, including a demonstration video:


    Hope that helps – thanks for asking!

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