Perspective Newsletter
Spring 2015
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Studded tires not the 'gold standard' they once were

‚Äč‚ÄčAbout the time you're polishing off the leftovers from your Halloween stash, you'll need to decide how to get around this winter.

On Nov. 1, studded snow tires became legal again in Washington and Oregon. But because they're known equally for their ice-gripping and road-chewing prowess, state road departments encourage drivers to delay putting on studded tires until the truly cold weather hits. Or, depending on how and where you drive, consider opting for studless winter tires, instead.

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 studies sought 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, meaning they're likely the right choice for drivers in all but the most extreme conditions. We found last month's studded and studless tire reviews from very helpful.

Washington implemented a $5 fee for studded tires in July 2016 ((RCW 46.37.427)), which backers described as a way to both discourage their use and raise extra money for road repairs. Oregon considered its own bill (HB2913) that would impose a fee on retail sales of studded tires and on installation of studs in tires. The bill was stuck in committee when the legislature adjourned earlier this year.

The point being, studs face growing scrutiny for the damage they cause, especially in light of advances in studless winter tires. 

Before you buy, talk with a trusted tire professional about how and where you'll drive this winter. And regardless of which tire you choose, remember that snow tires work best if you put them on all wheels.