Winter tires, marked with a snowflake symbol, are made with special low temperature resilient rubber compounds and have deep treads that grip unplowed snow, ice and other inclement conditions under your wheels. All-season tires, regardless of being branded with M+S for Mud and Snow, might not be suitable in heavy snow.
“The compounding and tread designs for winter tires are altered from traditional all-season tires to maximize grip. Even the best all-season tires have compounds that get more brittle as the temperature drops, and when that happens, the tires tend to grip less. The winter tire compound remains pliable when temperatures are low, retaining grip” – Robert Abram, product planning manager at Yokohama.
Without grip, most of your car’s safety functions – like all-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes – can’t do their jobs correctly.
Winter tires also come in studded form. Adding 100 little studs to your tires makes for a safer ride on ice; however, the use of studded tires isn’t always allowed due to the damage they cause on clear roads.
When To Change Them
There are no clear answers as to when you should put on your winter tires, mainly because every area is hit by weather at different times and different severities. Aim for changing them when the weather worsens, but don’t wait too long. The earlier you get them changed, the less waiting at the shop you’ll have to do. Better to have them on too soon than leave it until you wake up to a few feet of snow on the ground and your car stuck for the day.