What Are Snow Tires and Do You Need Them?

January 26th, 2015 by

A closeup shows snow on a tire.

Call them snow tires or winter tires, putting the right tires on your vehicle for the weather that you’re driving in can make a huge difference when you’re behind the wheel. It’s easy to think that “a tire is a tire is a tire” and not really worry much about it beyond that, but in reality, there are huge differences between various types of tires. When choosing the right tires in Cincinnati for your vehicle, it’s important that you have a sense of what those differences are. This allows you to choose the best tires for your car, driving habits, and the type of weather and terrain you’re going to face on the road.

Today, we’re going to take a look at winter or snow tires, consider why they’re worth having, and answer some of the common questions we get here at McCluskey Chevrolet about them. Although we might not experience the kind of rough winters seen in places like Minnesota or Alaska, the winter weather in Cincinnati can still be harsh, and the roads can become very unforgiving. Having winter tires on your car not only helps you stay in control, but it can also help you avoid serious collisions that may be expensive at best and deadly at worst.

What Are Snow Tires?

Let’s start with a little foundational stuff here: snow tires (the term is used pretty much interchangeably with “winter tires,” so you might notice we’ll use both to refer to the same sort of product) are tires designed for use in cold weather. Not only are they developed for cold temperatures, but they’re designed to provide optimal traction and vehicle control on wet and slippery conditions that include snow and even ice. Both of these details are important and are the foundation of what these tires are and what they have to offer.

Just as a reminder, because it’s easy to get these terms confused, the “tires” on your vehicle are the actual rubber parts, while the “wheels” are the metal parts of your vehicle’s suspension and drive system. The tires go around the wheels of your vehicle. Some people use the two words interchangeably, so we wanted to take a moment to be specific and clear up any confusion.

A blue 2021 Chevy Equinox is driving on a snowy road after getting snow tires in Cincinnati.

How Are Snow Tires Different From Other Types?

With so much of the world – and our language – seemingly dictated by marketing and advertising, it can be easy to imagine that “snow tires” is just a term used to sell you extra tires. That’s definitely not the case, and snow tires have some very important differences from other tires.

First, and perhaps most importantly, snow or winter tires are designed to work very well in cold temperatures – even extreme cold. The rubber in normal tires – such as summer, performance, and even all-season tires – is designed to work well in warmer temperatures. However, when the temperature gets cold, the rubber they are made from will get stiff and harden, rather than staying soft and pliable.

As you drive, the soft rubber of your tires can easily grip the road, giving you excellent traction and control. When all-season tires harden in the cold, they provide you with poor traction. The rubber compound used in snow tires has been chemically designed, through a lot of testing and development, to stay soft even in extreme cold. Since snow tires stay soft, they can keep gripping the road and provide you with excellent traction.

Second, snow tires are designed with a lot of grooves and sipes (the tiny cuts in each tread block) that can move snow and slush away from your tire. All-weather and summer tires are designed to move water out of the way so that they work well in the rain, but they can’t compete with snow tires when it comes to moving heavier snow and slush. This helps you avoid hydroplaning and keeps your tires in contact with the road to ensure better traction and control.

Are There Different Types of Snow Tires?

In general, there are two major types of snow tires: studded and studless. Studded snow tires have small metal studs embedded into the surface of the tires when they are manufactured. These studs help dig into ice when you’re driving and can provide better traction on slippery surfaces. Studless tires lack these metal studs but are otherwise made from the same type of rubber compound that remains soft and pliable in the cold weather.

Choosing the right type of snow tire really depends on what sort of conditions you regularly encounter. If you’re in an area that gets a lot of snow and you deal with a lot of ice while driving, then studded snow tires might be best for you. However, studded tires are usually more expensive and provide less traction on dry roads. If you live in Cincinnati, studless snow tires are typically all you need for the cold months.

Isn’t Four-Wheel Drive Enough?

No, it really isn’t. Four-wheel drive is fantastic for getting your vehicle going, and it can help you accelerate in snow and slush since all four wheels are spinning and working together. However, when it comes to cornering and stopping, four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive doesn’t help you in the winter. Braking and cornering come down to traction, and your vehicle’s traction depends on its tires, not its drivetrain. That’s why even if you have a powerful truck or SUV with four-wheel drive, you should still have snow tires to help keep you in control.

A red 2021 Chevy Silverado 1500 TrailBoss is kicking up snow.

Can I Just Use Chains Instead?

Chains aren’t a replacement for putting snow or winter tires on your vehicle; they are an extra level of winter driving preparedness. If you are dealing with extreme amounts of ice where you drive, then chains can be a great choice that definitely helps keep you in control. But for most winter driving, snow tires are a superior choice. You can’t safely take chains onto freeways or drive at high speeds with them on, and they are only allowed in Ohio when the weather is particularly hazardous, and you truly need them.

When Should I Have Snow Tires in Cincinnati?

Despite their name, you shouldn’t wait for the snow to start falling before putting snow tires on your car. As we said, these tires are designed using special rubber compounds that make them better than summer or all-weather tires when the temperature gets low. One good way to know when it’s time for winter tires is to watch for your breath: when you can see your breath, it’s cold enough for snow tires.

You can also go by the calendar for deciding when it’s time to put snow tires on your vehicle. One easy way to make sure you’re prepared for the cold weather is to have your tires changed to winter tires at the beginning of November and then remove them at the end of March. It’s also worth mentioning that studded tires are only allowed by law in Ohio from November through the middle of April.

Choose McCluskey Chevrolet for Your Tires

We hope this gives you a pretty good sense of what snow and winter tires are, the science that goes into making them, and how they can help you stay safe on the road. If you have more questions or need to have your tires checked, changed, or replaced, then we’re here to help. Call or come visit us at McCluskey Chevrolet today for all of your tire and car service needs.

Posted in Tires Cincinnati