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How Do I.....Choose Winter Tires?

You’ve already decided that winter tires are a worthwhile investment in your safety and driving confidence. Yet there’s more to think about.
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You’ve already decided that winter tires are a worthwhile investment in your safety and driving confidence. Yet there’s more to think about.

Do you swap them on your vehicle’s original wheels, or buy a dedicated set? In just a few years’ time, a second set can pay for itself, as the additional cost of semi-annual mounting/dismounting quickly adds up.

Besides, why subject your good wheels to salt?

Having winter wheels makes “minus size” tires an option; using tires with taller sidewalls on smaller diameter wheels (to keep the overall diameter the same as the originals) can prove substantially less expensive. The size used on the base model of your vehicle may be right — a tire shop pro can help determine the best choice for your application.

If your vehicle has a tire pressure monitoring (TPMS), you’ll probably want to spend the extra for sensors to keep that system working, rather than facing a warning light for six months.

As a (very) loose rule of thumb, directional tires cope better with slush and standing water, while non-directional designs allow for side-to-side rotation to even out wear. Large numbers of tiny tread sipes (grooves) generally improve packed snow and ice traction, while bigger spaces between blocks aid deep-snow grip, possibly to the detriment of high-speed stability and noise.

Name brand tires tend to benefit from the latest technology in rubber compounds, tread designs, and even additives (like Toyo’s unique walnut shell pieces). However, less expensive winters still provide enough of a cold-temperature performance and snow traction improvement relative to an all-season tire to justify the expense. Just be sure to look for the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol that signifies that the tire meets a minimum snow traction standard.

 

Brian Early is a longtime Wheels contributor and a Red Seal automotive technician with over 25 years experience.

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