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  • Winter Tires Add Traction in Extreme Weather

    Posted on December 20th, 2009 ninarussin

    By Nina Russin

    Winter Tire Test at Tire Rack

    Winter Tire Test at Tire Rack

    When I was a kid, using winter tires was common practice. Before the days of front and all-wheel drive, winter tires were the only way drivers could give their cars better traction for driving on ice and snow.

    While technologies such as electronic stability and traction control enhance a car’s all-season performance, winter tires add an important measure of protection. Rubber compounds are temperature sensitive. Summer performance tires work best in temperatures above freezing. All-season tires maintain traction over a wider range of temperatures, but still don’t perform as well as winter tires in extreme cold weather.

    Tread patterns on winter tires are designed to move moisture away from the surface, so the tires maintain their contact patches with the ground. If the tires lose traction and the car hydroplanes, none of its other safety systems can bring the vehicle back under control.

    Matt Edmonds, vice president of Tire Rack in South Bend, Indiana, explained how new studless tire technology makes it possible for vehicles to maintain traction on ice. Tire Rack’s South Bend, Indiana campus has its own test track, where the company evaluates winter tire performance.

    “Fifteen years ago, Bridgestone went after the winter tire,” explained Edmonds. The Bridgestone Blizzak was the first studless design to provide similar traction to studded tires.

    “The worst condition winter drivers typically encounter is ice,” said Edmonds. “Drivers often don’t realize that they are driving on ice when they pull into an intersection at night. Snow gets packed down from traffic and melts slightly during the day. At night that moisture turns to ice.”

    Edmonds explained that the surface of a tire gets warm from friction. The warm tire melts the ice slightly, creating a layer of moisture that causes the vehicle to lose traction.

    Bridgestone Blizzak WS60

    Bridgestone Blizzak WS60

    The Bridgestone Blizzak tires have a multi-cell rubber compound on top of a standard winter compound.

    “If you were to look at the surface of the tire under a microscope, it would resemble Swiss cheese,” said Edmonds. As the Blizzak tires pass over ice, the cells are able to absorb excess water, so that the tires maintain traction.

    Bite particles attached to the Blizzak’s multi-cell compound provide extra gripping action. The pores and tubes are distributed throughout the tire’s rubber compound, so they can continue to provide optimum traction as the tread wears.

    Winter tires also have sipes: small rubber blades on the tire surface that push water out of the way. On the Blizzak tires, these sipes are arranged in a zig-zag pattern, to push water out of the way of the tires’ contact patches with the ground.

    Since winter tires are compounded for extreme cold weather, it’s important not to keep them in on the car in the summer. Edmonds recommends getting a second set of inexpensive wheels to mount the winter tires on. It makes it easier to swap the tires out, and it also prevents the tire beads from breaking down.

    Maintaining proper tire pressures is important any time of the year, but it can be especially tricky in the winter. Tires lose a pound of pressure for each ten degree drop in temperature. While checking tires monthly is fine in temperate weather, drivers need to check their tire pressures more frequently when the temperature plummets. Underinflated tires don’t perform properly, and wear out prematurely.

    Never inflate a tire to the pressure listed on the tire sidewall. The tire installer will put a sticker listing proper tire inflation pressures either on the post behind the front driver’s side door or in the glovebox.

    Periodically examine the tires to make sure that the treads are wearing evenly. Uneven tire wear can result from under-inflation, over-inflation or wheels out of alignment. Buy winter tires for all four wheels, and have them rotated every six thousand miles: about every other oil change.

    Edmonds recommends replacing ties when they reach 4/32” of remaining tread depth.

    For more information on winter tires and winter driving safety, visit the Tire Rack web site.


    10 responses to “Winter Tires Add Traction in Extreme Weather”

    1. I always like Sunny weather and disliked gloomy rainy weather.`’-

    2. I never understood what a difference winter tires make. UK law doesnt require any change of tires for the different seasons, so everyone just uses summer tires all year round and then wonder why they skid all over the place when there is 1mm of snow. Having driven on snow tires in 50cm of snow, I can attest to the difference having proper tires for the conditions makes!

    3. the weather will always be cold now because the winter months are coming`~,

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