Winter tires. Snow tires. Do you need them? If you do, what’s the difference?
In practice today, they are the same thing. The difference between the two has to do with the snowy roads in Finland.
The first snow tire debuted in Finland in 1934. At that time in Finland, few roads were paved so truck tires would often freeze up and lose traction on packed, slick snow. The Tire Manufacturer Nokian created a tire to prevent skidding and make winter driving safe. It featured a transverse groove pattern, a design that introduced large teeth into the tread. This new pattern allowed the tires to grab the snow and hold traction.
Snow tires became winter tires as the number of cars on the road increased. More cars meant plowing to make the road safe for driving. While plowing removed snow, it introduced icy roadways. This led to the introduction of studded tires, a type of winter tire featuring metal studs embedded in the tire. The metal studs bit into the ice, but destroyed paved roads.
Regulations to prevent road wear from studs led to innovation from leading tire manufacturers like Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear , and . The snow tire had become the winter tire.
How is the Modern Winter Tire Made?
- Rubber Compounds. Engineers have developed rubber that remains flexible at colder temperatures. The standard all-season tire becomes rigid in temperatures below 44 degrees Fahrenheit, or 7 degrees Celsius. This decreases the tire’s grip and increases the risk of skidding. The new compounds allow winter tires to retain their grip on snow, ice, and cold wet surfaces.
- Deeper Tread Depths. Deeper tread enables winter tires to release snow and slush from beneath a tire. Snow-on-snow traction improves as snow gets packed between treads. Be sure to periodically of your snow tires to be sure they will properly grip the road.
- If you look closely at winter snow tires you’ll notice tiny grooves in the tread. These are sipes. They provide thousands of edges to grip icy roads and support starting without spinning tires and stopping without skidding.
Do I need Winter / Snow Tires?
Winter tires work best in temperatures below 40 degrees. They provide the biggest benefit to anyone who lives in a winter climate that features extended and continuous cold and snow. Climates like those in the northern U.S. and Canada (and of course, Finland!) often see long, snowy winters where cars and trucks benefit from winter/snow tires.
Climates where winter temperatures fluctuate between mild and cold and snow may not be ideal. There are of course exceptions. For example, anyone who drives a snow plow, for personal or commercial use, would want this type of tire.
All Wheel Drive & All-season Tires vs. Winter Tires
Advances in like electronic stability control and tires designed as all-season creates several questions. Let’s look at a few of them:
- Does an SUV with all-wheel drive need winter tires?
Do you need winter tires? If yes, you have a lot of options. A tire specialist can help find the best tires for your situation and budget. They can even recommend options to make switching from warm weather to winter tires easier too!