Tires

Which snow tire is right for you – studded or studless?

About the time you're sneaking the last fun-size Snickers from your Halloween stash, you'll need to decide how to get around this winter. On Nov. 1, studded snow tires become legal again in Washington and Oregon. In the last legislative session, both states considered imposing fees on studded tires, known equally for their ice-gripping prowess and road-chewing tendencies. But at least for now, the tires remain fee-free.

So which snow tire's right for you – studded or studless?

The short answer is, it depends on how and where you drive.

Until the 1990s, studded tires were the gold standard for traction control in ice and snow (short of chaining up). Then, along came a new generation of tire compounds with treads that stay pliable in the cold. They rely on contact from the whole tire surface to grip the ice and wick away the thin film of water that forms when warm tires touch ice.

Since then, dozens of (sometimes contradictory) studies have aimed to uncover which is best. Consensus seems to hold that old-fashioned studs still perform best on clear ice that's at or near the freezing mark. However, studless models have the edge in stopping and handling when temps drop below freezing and on wet or dry pavement. We recommend that before you buy, you talk with a trusted tire professional about how and where you'll drive this winter.

Regardless of which you choose, remember that snow tires work best if you put them on all wheels.