Does the thought of driving in harsh snowy weather take the sparkle out of the winter holidays for you? If the idea of driving with snow chains makes you flinch, we have here the two best alternatives – studded and studless snow tires. WheelZine closely examines both to help you decide which tires to choose for your car this winter.
Did You Know?
In some states of the US, including Minnesota, Illinois, Texas, Florida, and few others, the use of studded tires is completely banned as they are known to cause damage to paved roads.
Meanwhile, in other states, like Washington, New York, Alaska, Nebraska, and many more, the use of lightweight variants of these tires is permitted only during some months of the year.
When winter arrives, it always brings with it the festive cheer of the holidays characterized, of course, by snowfall. Sadly, driving a motor vehicle in snowy weather is not as merry. Fortunately, it is hardly a problem that cannot be resolved, with options like snow chains and snow tires to choose from.
We have been conditioned to believe, for many years now, that snow chains are the ultimate answer to the problem of winter driving. The truth is, although they increase traction while driving in snow, especially uphill, they in fact reduce the handling capacity of the car on dry roads, therefore, offering only a temporary solution restricted to certain kinds of terrain. For a longer-lasting and more adaptive solution, it is wiser to invest in snow tires, which thanks to innovations in modern mechanics and technology, are engineered for the specific purpose of snow driving, in addition to allowing one to drive comfortably on roads that are not snowed.
Snow tires come in two variants: studded and studless. We took a closer look at the pros and cons of both types, and compiled our inference, so as to help you choose the kind of wheels for your vehicle this season, which best suits your needs.
Studded Snow Tires
How They Differ From Normal Tires
- Since regular tires are no match to slippery, icy roads in winter, special tires that have tungsten carbide studs affixed in them were invented, and have been in wide use during snowy weather since the 1960s.
- The dimensions of the studs embedded in these tires depend on the tire’s treads. It is possible to get regular tires studded; however, the tires in question need to be brand new.
- The studs are inserted into a mold dug into the tire treads. A cylindrical frame or jacket supported by a flange at the bottom holds the studs in place.
How Studded Tires Improve Winter Driving
- Logically, having strong metal studs protruding from your car tires, which can chip into the surface of the ice as you drive, serves the purpose of improving traction (the combined measure of a vehicle’s ability to accelerate, maneuver corners, brake, and handle climbing up slopes).
- Studs have the ability to use the automobile’s own weight and centrifugal forces to improve traction and grip, especially in slippery terrain.
Limitations and Concerns
- Studded tires are superb for driving on ice that is close to the freezing temperature. However, in other kinds of terrain―for example, slush―the improvement in traction that they provide is not as significant.
- Whether the road being driven on is covered in ice and snow or not, tire studs get to work nevertheless, and in the absence of ice, they chip the concrete pavement itself.
- What’s more, the damages caused by studded tires to the road in the winter season could lead to hydroplaning (loss of traction because of the presence of water, because of which it would not be safe to drive on that road) during rainy weather if they are not repaired.
- To avoid this hazard, millions of dollars are spent yearly just to repair the damages to roads that studded tires cause.
Studless Snow Tires
How They Differ From Normal Tires
- The Japanese can always be trusted to pioneer the movement towards better technology. All the credit for studless snow tires goes to them. Studless tires, despite not having embedded studs, help to improve the car’s braking and handling in snowy weather because of their design.
- By making use of improved compounding of rubber, these tires continue to maintain their flexibility even in sub-freezing temperatures, as opposed to non-specialized tires, which become stiff, and find it difficult to adjust to the irregularities in the road terrain when they are driven in this kind of weather.
- Studless tires also have uniquely-designed treads that allow for better snow and slush management, thanks to their depth.
- A number of tiny slits make up the pattern of these tires’ treads. These slits, known as sipes, actually serve the purpose of improving grip while driving in the snow.
How Studless Tires Improve Winter Driving
- Deeper tire treads with inherent slits help to disperse, or push away the thin film of water, ice, or snow from under the tires when they are driven on roads covered with snow. The slits bite into the icy surface to improve grip, braking, and general car handling.
- Even when the climate changes abruptly, studless tires can easily adapt to the modified driving conditions. They are suited for snowed, wet, dry, as well as slushy roads.
Limitations and Concerns
- On wet ice and hard-packed snow, studless tires do not have the ability to provide grip and traction as efficiently as studded tires can, because of the absence of any powerful gripping mechanism that can cut into these hard surfaces to generate grip.
- Quite understandably, no driver would want to bother with changing their tires every two months. Since studless tires are capable of handling more than just the winter season, it is believed that they can be driven all year round. This is a misconception; studless tires get worn out very fast in summer, and cannot perform to the caliber of regular tires in this season.
How to Pick the Right Tires
- Before taking a decision to opt for studded or studless snow tires, keep the following in mind.
- Check whether the laws of the state you live in permit you to drive with studded tires in the first place.
- The kind of weather that you can expect at the place you live is the biggest determining factor for your choice of tire.
- Frequent snowfall, where the snow is not hard-packed, slushy roads, or snow-free dry/wet roads in cold weather you should opt for studless snow tires.
- It’s close to freezing temperature outside, and the roads are hard-packed with snow, or covered in ice you should opt for studded snow tires.
- Also, studded snow tires make every drive you take a very noisy affair, and if attracting the attention of everyone you pass on the road is not your agenda, you should steer clear of these tires.
- The amount you intend to drive, and the kind of terrain you will be frequently driving on, should also play a role in shaping your decision. If you plan to drive on slopes a lot, studded tires or snow chains are the safest option.
- Even though studded tires sound like they could give you ultimate power when you are behind the wheel, keep in mind the immense damage they can cause to roads, and opt for them only if you truly require tires of their expertise.
- At the end of the day, safety should be your primary concern. Consult a mechanic or a tire professional if you are in doubt.
- Just remember, always change the whole set of tires of your car, even if you do not drive an SUV that supports four-wheel drive.
The key to pleasant winter driving lies less with the tires of your car, and more with the driver’s attitude. A calm demeanor and a well-planned journey will ensure your safety and comfort while driving in the harsh winter climate better than anything else.