Road Rules 101: Are you using the right winter tire?

November 4, 2020 by PEMCO Insurance

On Nov. 1, studded tires became legal for use in Washington and Oregon. But are they the right choice for you?

The answer depends on the type of driving you do most. It helps if you think of your tires as shoes:

All-season tires = tennis shoes. Do the shoes you wear in winter look a lot like what you wear in summer? If so, all-season tires may be all you need. That's especially true if you live west of the Cascades in metro areas that mostly stay above freezing or if you can flex your schedule to avoid traveling in the worst conditions.

GettyImages-1169524439.jpgWinter tires = boots. If you wear boots for much of the winter season, chances are, your car needs its winter "boots" (tires), too. That's especially true if you're surrounded by hills, travel over the passes or live east of the Cascades.

You can tell a winter tire by its markings. It will say "mud and snow," "m plus s" or have a mountain and snowflake symbol. Winter tires are softer than all-season tires and grip the road better when the temperature drops. They're made from compounds that stay pliable in the cold and rely on contact from the whole tire surface to grip the ice. They wick away the thin film of water that forms when warm tires touch ice. When you look at them, you'll notice they have deep treads, which keep snow from building up and more effectively push away standing water to prevent hydroplaning.

Studies have shown that compared to studded tires, winter tires have an edge in stopping and handling when temperatures drop below freezing on wet or dry pavement. They may even stop better in snow and slush.

Studded tires = boots with crampons. Imagine you're winter hiking and find yourself crossing snowfields or traversing icy rock falls. That's when you'd want crampons added to your boots! Likewise, studded tires outperform other tires on clear ice that's at or near the freezing mark. If you have a steep, icy driveway or live on a private road that isn't maintained by your county or city road department, you may be a candidate for studded tires.

If you do go studded know that, although your out-of-state registration may save you from a ticket if you're pulled over, you'd likely feel more comfortable removing them before traveling in states that ban studded tires because of the damage their pegs inflict on road surfaces. And unless your state extends the deadline for a late-season storm, you'll need to have them off your car by March 31 or face the possibility of a citation.

A tire shop in your area can help you decide which tire is right for the conditions you drive in. Whatever kind of tire you buy, use the same tires on all four wheels so you won't increase your risk of skidding. And make sure you maintain manufacturer-recommended tire pressures. Pressures that are too high or too low compromise tire performance and safety.

Think twice if a tire seller recommends "siping" your new tires to further improve traction. Sipes are small slits that span the solid part of the tread. Cutting extra aftermarket sipes into your tires could void your factory tread-wear warranty. The jury's out among tire retailers when it comes to aftermarket siping (some offer it, others don't). Consumer Reports recommends against aftermarket siping, citing modest benefits and the potential loss of warranty protection. If you're buying new tires, you may be better off putting the money you'd spend on aftermarket siping toward buying higher quality winter tires.

And finally: To help stretch the life of your winter tires (which tend to wear more quickly), we say, "Winter tires on by Thanksgiving, off by Easter."

Bonus tip: "Chains required" doesn't necessarily mean "chains on" – but you still need to carry them. Here's help to sort it out.

NOTE: While we're experts in loss prevention and home/auto safety, we don't consider ourselves experts in traffic laws or their enforcement. Information shared here is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have legal concerns, we urge you to contact a law enforcement source or attorney in your community.​

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