Do you remember the winter of ’78? We were all hit with the reality of living in the northern Midwest. I’m often asked in the months leading up to the snowy season, “Do I really need winter tires?” Most ask because they have purchased an all-wheel-drive vehicle and believe that the expense of a separate set of tires seems excessive. My answer always begins with the question, “How confident are you driving in icy, snowy conditions?” A typical tow bill is between $50 and $100. Being late to work may cost you your job. At the very least, it could cost you a loss of wages. In my mind, winter tires are like an insurance policy: you don’t think you need them until you need them.

It’s all about traction. Traction is generated where the rubber meets the road. A typical car has a traction surface area the size of a playing card under each tire. The function of all-wheel drive is application of power. Even if all four wheels have power, without traction you will be spinning without moving forward.

All-season tires are designed as a compromise between summer and winter driving. Because of this compromise, their function will be limited during both conditions. Winter tires are designed specifically for the weather and anticipated driving surfaces. The rubber composition of all-season tires is harder in cold weather than the rubber used for winter tires. It must be harder, because during summer operation, when road surface and tire temperatures soar, the rubber would liquefy. This leads to a longer-lasting tire with reduced performance during winter. Winter tires are designed to perform at low ambient temperatures. Their rubber composition stays soft and pliable, giving you greater traction. The tread pattern on all-season tires is designed to channel water from under the tire, giving you greater traction during summer showers. Winter tires channel snow from under the tires, giving you better traction and control in icy conditions.

If you have alloy wheels, it may be a good choice to buy a set of winter wheels to reduce the salt contact and surface degradation of harsh winter conditions. Most of my customers choose either a steel wheel with wheel covers or an inexpensive aftermarket alloy wheel. The expense of winter tires is often offset by the number of seasons that you will get to use them. Winter tires can generally last 4–6 seasons. The cost basis per year makes them very affordable. Most people who have made the switch feel that their vehicle is nearly as stable and drivable in the winter as it is during the summer. The feeling of confidence from that stability allows them to feel less stress during winter commutes.

SweetCars is a Tire Rack tire distributor. We can usually have your winter tires delivered in a day or two. Don’t let the realities of living in the Midwest keep you from enjoying winter to its fullest.