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The Value of Snow Tires

Posted December 18, 2013 6:16 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: snow tires tyres winter

Honking horns. Middle fingers. Misplaced directionals. Texting/eating/surfing the web while driving. Shaving. Applying makeup. Eating dinner. Driving with a knee. Driving with an eyepatch. And to think, these are some of the least vulgar activities people can conduct while they guide a 2-ton metal and plastic contraption at 75 mph.

Of course I'm talking about driving an auto, and it's not just bad drivers who exhibit such behaviors either. It seems as though everyone driving, at least here in America, becomes a frenzied sociopath the second the engine begins to turn. Nowhere is humanity's selfishness, ruthlessness and self-importance more omnipresent than on highways and roadways, which are supposed to be shared amongst all travelers. And if you were to ask these self-centered drivers about the quality of their driving ability, 93% of them would say their driving skills rank above those of their peers.

So, it is with this lens of 'illusory superiority' with which you should consider this statement: I feel confident and capable in my abilities as a driver. Yet even though there are some mighty fancy flashlights mounted on the front of my sedan, I take extra precautions when driving at night. And if it snows? It is not worth the hassle, nor the peril, considering all of the other extra risks other drivers already expose me to.

The answer to driving in cold, snowy weather has traditionally been snow tires or all-wheel drive; my answer is working from home and ordering a pizza. To each their own, I suppose.

Unfortunately, all-wheel drive is usually insufficient to combat even moderate winter weather. In some tests, such as this one, all-wheel drive performed no better than front-wheel drive, and front-wheel drive sustained with snow tires performed quite admirably. So when you see those Jeep Cherokees fly by at highway speed in whiteout conditions under the belief that 4x4 is enough, feel comfort in knowing that stopping for that jerk is going to be a huge problem. Many all-season tires will sport a suffix of "MS," "M/S" or "M&S," which means the tire meets the snow and mud requirements of the Rubber Manufacturers Association. Specifically, the tire has at least one tread which extends toward the tire center at least ½" from the tire footprint; has a minimum cross-section of 1/16"; and has sipes, which are pockets and slots on the tread, which are placed at 35° to 90° away from the direction of travel. Also, at least 25% of the surface area of the tire must be composed of large grooves.

Winter tires, a.k.a. snow tyres, are engineered for performance explicitly in cold and snowy conditions. Increasing traction between the roadway (read: snow-way) and the vehicle is the only way to truly enhance driving capabilities in winter weather.

The first notable design change in winter tires is the material. The composition of the tire typically contains more natural rubber or carbon black than standard all-season or summer tires. This means the tires stays more pliable at colder temperatures, enhancing the tire's ability to conform to ice and snow on the road.

Unlike MS all-season tires, winter tires are subjected to environmental performance testing, and as such the MS label comes with a logo of its own. The RMA provides the accompanying logo for severe snow tires which are tested by the ASTM and have demonstrated, "a traction index equal to, or greater than 110 (compared to a reference tire which is rated 100) during the specified American Society for Testing and Materials traction tests on packed snow." Finally, the grooves and sipes on snow tires are still useful even if they're packed with snow. The highly-deformable material of the tire keeps the indentations malleable under any condition. The overall number of grooves and sipes on the tire is more than those on a conventional tire to help displace water and snow at a faster rate.

Lastly, for complete control of the vehicle, drive stickshift or use your vehicle's autostick. By controlling the RPM of the engine and torque provided to the wheels, you should never have to use the brake or spin your new, expensive snow tires.

If you can't afford snow tires right now, of perhaps you didn't get a chance to put them on before an early winter, you can always invest in tire chains. Many local governments in Canada, and even some U.S. states, require all drivers to have tire chains available before proceeding into snowy conditions.

And me? I'll continue to monitor CR4 from the creature comforts of my bed, my room, my desk.

Resources

Car Magazine - The science of winter tyres...

Tire Rack - How to Confirm a Winter Performer

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Power-User

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#1

Re: The Value of Snow Tires

12/18/2013 11:16 PM

The design of the car figures into Winter safety. When I was a young adult I used to drive a 1953 Plymouth through mountain passes at high rates of speed on bald tires. The car thought it was a jeep. If I had had any other car I probably wouldn't be alive today. I had other cars that would just sit there and spin their wheels on the snow. The Plymouth would actually push other cars that had gotten stuck.

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: The Value of Snow Tires

12/19/2013 3:36 AM

The Plymouth would actually push other cars that had gotten stuck.
Push or Ram ?

We don't suffer such weather conditions where I live, so just asking ....I have a BMW that desperately wants to shove all other traffic aside, and I thought it a genetic defect or even a symptom of pedigree. It complains when I brake or slow down as well...

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#3

Re: The Value of Snow Tires

12/19/2013 2:52 PM

I would try to be gentle but sometimes that wasn't possible.

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#4

Re: The Value of Snow Tires

12/19/2013 2:57 PM

Here is a set of studded snow tires on a bicycle. I posted this on another blog and thought I would repeat it here.

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#5

Re: The Value of Snow Tires

12/19/2013 3:22 PM

Very interesting… and great stories!

What is wrong with driving with your knee for a few seconds?

How true about 4-wheel drive. I live in the DC area and there is not enough snowfall for the drivers to become proficient with driving on snow. 80% or more of the car wrecks I see after a snowfall are 4-wheel drive. I grew up with much more snow and you needed to know how to drive on snow and ice.

I suspect the car design might help but you can adapt or put 200 pounds of sand in your trunk foir a rear wheel drive.

Up in northern NY State you would have blankets food and water in your trunk all winter just in case you got stuck in the snow. You know to use a blanket instead of running your engine and die of CO poisoning.

In DC I don't even bother with snow tires. I do drive a stick and yes I do not break much at all. I will even go past where I wanted to turn just to avoid hitting the breaks in certain road conditions. I usually tap the breaks ever so slightly to get a feel for the local road condition a few seconds before I need to use them.

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Guru

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#6

Re: The Value of Snow Tires

12/20/2013 2:22 PM

Around here winter driving covers about 6 months out of the year so we tend to stay fairly well trained in doing it.

As a experienced winter driver I can usually drive my wifes 94 Mercury Grand Marquis four door RWD sedan places she cant go with my 99 F250 super duty locked in 4WD.

The attitude that you are willing to actually learn how to drive in the conditions largely has as much to do with how well a vehicle does on snow and ice as the vehicles design itself.

My wife has an attitude about winter driving but its not a learning one. It's the one that makes her more of the type the rest of us have to watch out for.

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#7

Re: The Value of Snow Tires

12/20/2013 8:52 PM

I cannot believe that you guys have missed the crux of the biscuit!!!!

What is the difference between the two tyre treads shown?

The so-called 'winter tyre' has water sypes, whereas the other does not (not much use when the water is frozen!!!). It is very clear to anyone who knows, that the author of this article knows very little about tyres, and particularly about winter tyres!

This sort of article is worse than useless, it is downright dangerous!!!

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#8

Re: The Value of Snow Tires

12/23/2013 10:34 PM

We have 3/4" of ice on everything right now...studded snows or nothing goes!

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#9

Re: The Value of Snow Tires

12/23/2013 10:41 PM

Friday night we had some of the weirdest snow. It wasn't powder yet it wasn't wet. I tried riding different bikes in it and nothing seemed to work. The skinny tires wouldn't cut through it and the fat tires wouldn't ride over it. I just kind of had to plow my way along being very careful not to crash.

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