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Get a Grip: The Nitty Gritty on Snow Tires

You've got questions. We've got answers. Here's a list of some of the most frequently asked questions about snow tires — from how much they cost and how they're made, to when to buy them and how long they'll last.

Get a Grip: The Nitty Gritty on Snow Tires

How are snow tires different from regular tires?

Short Answer: They have different rubber compounds and tread patterns.

Snow tires (or winter tires) have a special rubber compound that keeps them flexible when temperatures drop, unlike their summer and all-season counterparts, which tend to stiffen in cold weather. When traveling on snow-covered, uneven surfaces, tires need to be able to bend and stretch for more controlled handling. Snow tires also have deep treads that are specially designed to grip slippery surfaces. Typically, they also have sipes, which are little slots that chomp into ice and snow for added grip.

Do I need snow tires if I promise to drive really slowly and carefully?

Short Answer: Yes.

Slow, careful driving is always a good idea no matter the weather, but neither technique is going to give you the traction you need to travel safely in ice and snow. Investing in snow tires is a smart decision if you live where winter brings prolonged snow, blizzards and/or ice storms. If you've ever driven in wintry conditions with all-season tires and felt them lose traction, you know it can be quite scary, not to mention incredibly risky particularly when other cars, ditches, trees or people are around. Snow tires are built to handle harsh winter weather, and they have the muster to conquer icy hills and abrupt, unexpected stops.

If I get snow tires do I also need chains?

Short Answer: No.

A tire chain is a separate accessory that you can buy if conditions warrant or if you're driving in an area where they're required, such as Quebec and parts of Europe during winter months. Tire chains are usually sold in pairs and are meant for your 'drive' wheels — so if you have a front-wheel drive vehicle, you'll need tire chains for both front tires; and if you have an all-wheel drive vehicle, you'll need chains for all four tires.

How do I get snow tires installed and what should I do with my regular tires?

Short Answer: We can install your snow tires, and you can store off-season tires at home in a cool, dry place.

The easiest way to buy snow tires is to visit or call your local Big O Tires location nearest you. As for your regular tires, we suggest bringing an old blanket or tarp with you to get your regular tires back home without getting your trunk or backseat dirty. It's best to store all-season tires somewhere like a garage where they won't get too cold during winter. Then, when spring arrives, just bring them back to the store, and we'll reinstall them. Then you can keep track of your complete service history in your online garage. Store your winter tires by stacking them four-high in a cool, dry place. Using old blankets as a buffer between tires gives you even more protection against wear and tear.

Can I buy just two snow tires for my front or rear tires?

Short Answer: We wouldn't recommend it.

Snow tires are designed to react differently in various driving and weather conditions, such as uneven or slick surfaces, frigid temperatures, snow, slush or ice — and any (or all!) of these are possible during winter. So, no matter if you have front-, rear- or four-wheel drive, it's best to have four matching winter tires so they give you consistent, safe performance.

If I have traction control, can't I use that instead of buying winter tires?

Short Answer: No.

Contrary to its name, traction control doesn't actually control traction. It just limits acceleration so your tires don't have as much chance to spin in wet or wintry conditions. For true traction control, you need tires made specifically for your weather conditions. Winter conditions = winter tires.

If I have anti-lock brakes, do I need snow tires?

Short Answer: Yes.

Anti-lock brakes help prevent brakes from locking up so you don't go slip sliding away, but similar to traction control (described above), anti-lock brakes don't give you more traction, which is what you really need to stop safely and quickly. For maximum winter traction, snow tires are the way to go.

If I have 4-wheel drive, do I need snow tires?

Short Answer: Snow tires complement 4WD by boosting safety and performance.

There's a definite performance edge with 4WD over rear- or front-wheel drive, and adding winter tires will give you even better handling, more confident braking, climbing and towing power.

Are winter tires expensive?

Short Answer: Snow tires generally cost about the same as all-season tires.

In terms of price, winter tires are, in most cases, are comparable to all-season tires, plus they can save you a lot of money in the long run. Why? Because your all-season tires will last a lot longer when they're saved from the punishing winter conditions.

Are special wheels required for snow tires?

Short Answer: No, but they're a good idea.

You don't have to buy a special set of wheels (sometimes called rims) if you buy snow tires, but they're worth considering for a few reasons:

  • Getting wheels just for your snow tires means you won't have to balance them each time you re-install, which saves you time and money.
  • Your summer or all-season wheels will be protected from the road salt and grime that can eat away at alloy wheels. Again, major cost savings.

Will snow tires affect my fuel consumption?

Short Answer: They can, but they're worth it when you consider what you get in return.

Snow tires are designed for driving in snow and ice, and they do this largely by giving you more traction. More traction means more friction between your tires and the road, and more friction means more rolling resistance. You may see a dip in fuel economy, but the safety and security winter tires give you and your family is something you can't put a price on.

How long do snow tires last?

Short Answer: Three to four seasons.

Snow tires typically last through three or four winters, depending on how they're stored and cared for.

Can I use snow tires year-round?

Short Answer: Yes, but they'll wear out faster.

Snow tires are built specifically for winter driving conditions. As temperatures rise, the special rubber compound used to make them starts to break down, and the tread wears down quicker. Before you know it, you need a new set.

When's the best time to buy and install snow tires?

Short Answer: Any time before winter weather sets in.

It's not a sales pitch, it's the truth. The best time to get snow tires is before you need them because winter storms can blow in unexpectedly and cause snow tire inventory to run low in affected areas. A good rule of thumb for installing winter tires? Put them on when temperatures are consistently below 50° (10° Celsius), and take them off once temps are consistently above that same line. This guideline keeps you one step ahead of Mother Nature and gives you longer life out of both your winter and all-season sets of tires.

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