6 Rules For Choosing the Right Tires for Winter

August 12th, 2022 by


Tires are shown in a car repair shop.

As an all-season tire dealer, here at McCluskey Chevrolet, we often get asked whether or not drivers need to consider swapping their all-season tires for winter tires. There’s really not a simple yes or no answer to this question because it’s going to depend on a couple of different factors. What vehicle you drive, where you drive regularly, where you plan to drive, and what the snowy season decides to throw at us are all pretty big contributing factors to whether or not we recommend you swap out your tires. That being said, there are a couple rules of thumb that we tend to go by when we are considering whether or not winter tires are going to be necessary to keep you safe on the road.

What’s the Difference?

First, you should probably understand the difference between winter and all-season tires. The primary difference comes in tread depth and type. Winter tires tend to have deeper tread than all-season tires, and the tread will be rougher and more jagged. These extra edges will allow the tires to get better traction by digging into snow or gripping icy roads. The next difference is in whether or not the tires are studded. Winter and all-season tires can be unstudded, but only winter tires can have studs added to them. These little metal spikes are embedded in tires to help them stab into ice to create grip for the vehicle. The final major difference is how stiff the tires are. Winter tires are typically designed to remain softer in colder temperatures, whereas all-season tires have to be able to handle the summer heat. These differences don’t necessarily make one tire better than the other because it really comes down to quite a few different things.

A rack full of tires is shown at an all season tire dealer.

Rule 1: Vehicle Drivetrain Configurations

This is one of the very first things we like to check when we are recommending a specific type of tire. Vehicles that have all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive capability will usually be able to safely handle icy or slick roads when equipped with quality all-season tires. The additional power going to other wheels gives the vehicles a bit more traction. While winter tires are always a great extra precaution, you will also probably be ok if your all-season tires have good tread life and you use winter-aware driving techniques. If you’re driving a vehicle that is front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive only, we tend to lean towards recommending that you consider the winter tires. Your vehicle will have better control and traction with winter tires.

Rule 2: Vehicle Weight

The next thing we like to look at is the total weight of your vehicle. Heavier vehicles tend to have better traction because their wheels are pressed down harder, which gives them more grip on the terrain. In the winter, this means that your vehicle is sitting in the snow rather than coasting across the top of it. If you drive a heavier vehicle, we can usually feel pretty good about leaving you with all-season tires. If you’re driving a lighter vehicle, you may want to consider the winter tires. Lighter vehicles tend to sit on top of slick surfaces, which makes it harder for them to get a solid grip on the road. Winter tires will have more grip and even studs, which gives them the ability to dig into the road for traction.

Rule 3: Traction Control/Snow Mode

Depending on what type of vehicle you drive, you’ll be able to use traction control or snow mode when driving. This increases your vehicle’s ability to maintain control in less than ideal driving conditions. If your vehicle has that capability, you’re probably closer to the side of being able to stay with all-season tires. However, if your vehicle doesn’t have those settings available, you may want to consider the winter tires. The winter tires would act as a type of traction control or snow mode for the vehicles that don’t come with that as an option.

Rule 4: Location

Where you live and where you are going may be rule four on the list, but they play a huge role in what type of tire we recommend for you. If you’re regularly driving on well-maintained roads that are typically clear of snow or ice, you can feel good about driving with all-season tires. If you’re not driving a lot in the winter, then you can usually get away with using all-season tires. If you’re leaving the Cincinnati area for the winter and are making the trip before the snow flies, then you’re probably better off staying in all-season tires.

However, if you are going to be driving the backroads, then you’ll want to look into winter tires. Our customer base is pretty large, so we know that not everyone lives in downtown Cincinnati where the streets are well cleared and maintained during the winter. If you’re someone who lives somewhere where the roads are more likely to be covered in drifts of snow than not, we think winter tires are probably your best bet. That added traction really helps when you’re leaving for work in the morning, and the snow plows haven’t gotten to your street yet.

A mechanic is shown rolling a tire at an all season tire dealer.

Rule 5: Timeline for Swapping Tires

This is not super important, but we like to throw it out there for you. If you prefer to only come into tire shops when absolutely necessary, let us get you the best all-season tires we can find. Winter tires won’t last through a summer of driving. If you simply don’t have time to come in and swap tires, then your best bet is to get the highest quality all-seasons we can find so you can be safe on the roads. If you’re on the opposite side of that and you like to come in and get your tires checked regularly, then winter tires are a good fit for you. Chances are you’ll be coming in regardless, and by ensuring that you only drive the winter tires during the winter, you’ll prolong their life and be able to use them longer.

Rule 6: Driving Technique

This isn’t one we always take into consideration, but it is a good thing for you to think about. Some of us are the type of driver that starts to slow down or stop 20 feet before a light, sign, or turn. Others of us are the type of driver that goes as fast as we can, as long as we can, so we have to make quick stops and turns. If you’re the first type of driver, you give yourself enough room and time that you could rely on all-season tires. Your vehicle is already less likely to slide because you drive as though it is winter, even when the roads are clear. If you’re the second type of driver, we like to recommend the winter tire. Your fast and adept handling is reduced if the roads are slippery, and the additional traction from winter tires can help you maintain the ability to make on-the-spot driving decisions.

Any Questions? Pay Us a Visit

Those are our general rules of thumb for when we’re trying to fit you with the best possible tire. For some of you, the all-season tires you currently have will be perfect. For others, you may need a tire that is a little bit more involved when it comes to keeping control on icy and slick roads. By following these rules, you should be able to decide for yourself what type of tire you’re going to need for the upcoming winter. If you still aren’t sure, drop by our tire center, and we will help you find the right tires for your needs.