Winter Tires

Do I need winter tires?

Right around this time every year, when the temperatures start to dip and the trees have lost their leaves, people start to think about winter tires. We usually get all kinds of questions about winter tires – from what brands to go with and what dimensions to choose, right down to an all-out discussion whether people need winter tires to begin with. Here I outline some of the major points that should be able to help you make a more informed decision.

Why Do I need winter tires to begin with?

First and foremost, winter tires are not required only when you are facing snowy conditions or icy roads. They are a great choice when you have any wintery weather, which is average temperatures of freezing and below – this is regardless of whether the road is wet or dry, or even covered in snow or ice. The reason for this is the composition of the rubber itself. Winter tires are formulated using a rubber compound that has an optimal operating temperature range in line with our typical winter temperatures. This means the rubber continues to stay soft and maintain grip when it gets cold outside. Summer tires, on the other hand, have an optimal operating temperature range that is much higher, and as such harden and provide less grip in colder temps. As you can imagine, all season tires try to bridge the gap in between. Base on this fact alone, winter tires will keep you safer in wintery conditions – as the tire will be able to maintain its grip on the road while you accelerate, brake and maneuver on the colder road surface.

The second reason that winter tires are better is the design of the tread pattern itself. Winter tires feature deeper grooves with more irregular and jagged edges to cut through snowy conditions. They also have “sipes” – which are the channels that run inside each tread block to help the tire grip the snow better. Finally, the pattern is also designed to channel out the water and slush, enabling the tire make better contact with the road surface. As such, you can see that the tread pattern itself can also play a very important role on wet, snowy and icy road conditions.

What size tires should I go with?

If you have the ability to choose the size of winter tires for your car, it is advisable to choose the smallest width tire the manufacturer offered with your specific vehicle. Each manufacturer tends to offer a variety of “packages” and wheel options available for each model they sell; and these are typically paired with a few different tires. I would suggest going with the smallest “width” tire they offer (for your specific vehicle) – you can typically find this on a safety sticker inside the driver’s door jamb. The reason you want to go with the smallest width one comes down to basic physics – pounds per square inch, or PSI for short. When you reduce the overall width of each tire, you are effectively distributing the same vehicle weight over a smaller surface area that connects with the ground (the tire’s contact patch). This results in a larger amount of weight on each tire, enabling it to cut through snow, slush, etc. with greater force. Its not advisable to go with a tire width smaller than the smallest one offered by the manufacturer, as there are safety implications tied to the chosen tire size range.

Do I need a different set of rims for my winter tires?

This is dependent on 2 things. Depending what wheel & tire combo currently sits on your car, if you change the tire size dramatically (in relation to what you currently have) for the winter setup, it may require a different width rim. If you go down this route, just remember that choosing a rim does require you to think about a few things – bolt pattern, center bore, offset and clearance from brakes, suspension, etc. It’s best to seek advice from a trustworthy source when going down this route to ensure that all your bases are covered. The second consideration are the actual rims themselves. Some rims, typically found on higher end luxury and sports cars, are not winter ready. As such, they will get corroded and destroyed as the salt literally eats into them. In these instances, its worth your money to buy a dedicated set of winter rims.

Do brands matter?

Ultimately, you get what you pay for. Brands like Michelin and Pirelli have spent a ton of money on R&D in developing their tires. Their long tenure in developing tires results in tried and tested products that work very, very well. That said, lesser name tires can also do a good job for winter driving and I believe it boils down to how you drive. If you are a spirited driver that tends to demand more out of your car than an average Joe, its probably best that you stick to a brand name tire (like Michelin, Pirelli, etc.) that can give you that extra bit of safety and performance. However, if you tend to drive on the more cautious side, there is no reason why a lesser name tire cannot meet your requirements (while saving you money).

When is the best time to switch over?

Typically, when the average temperature starts to hover around the single digits, it’s a good idea to proactively change over to your winter setup. The magic number the industry uses is 7 degrees Celsius. This also holds true when switch from winter to summer tires in the spring.

I hope the above gives you food for thought on some of the major considerations when it comes to choosing a winter tire setup. If you have any further questions, the team at 11Tenths (or your local tire shop) will be happy to answer them and get you a package that is right for your needs and application.


Written by : Kaizer