Winter Tires Enhance Cold Weather SafetyPosted on November 8th, 2010
New Blizzak and X-Ice Xi2 models boost performance on ice and snow
By Nina Russin
All-season radials are a good news/bad news story for the motoring public. On the plus side, drivers living in mild climates can go through the year on a single set of treads. The flip side is that car owners take the term literally, not realizing the safety risks until it’s too late.
“A car’s safety systems are only as good as the traction the tires provide,” explained TireRack.com vice president, Matt Edmonds. TireRack.com, the world’s largest independent tire retailer, tests tires internally using a specially-designed track at its South Bend, Indiana headquarters. For its winter tire tests, Edmonds and his team go as far north as the Arctic Circle to assess performance under extreme weather conditions.
Winter tires do more than move snow out of the car’s way. They are compounded to stay pliable in temperatures below 45 degrees. Summer tires and all-season radials get too hard in cold temperatures to provide adequate traction, even on dry roads.
“Sport-utility vehicles without winter tires can be especially dangerous in cold weather, “Edmonds continued. “The all-wheel drive system creates a false sense of confidence during acceleration. The all-wheel drive doesn’t help the driver stop or turn if the tires don’t provide enough traction.”
Bridgestone Blizzaks outperform studded tires
Years ago, the best way to get traction in deep snow was with studded tires. This is no longer the case. TireRack’s winter tire tests revealed that the new Bridgestone Blizzaks can actually outperform studded tires.
The Blizzaks are formulated to be porous. Under a microscope, the tire surface looks like Swiss cheese. Pores in the tires absorb the thin layer of water created when warm tires pass over ice. It is this thin water layer, rather than the ice itself, which causes vehicles to lose traction.
The Blizzaks offer a larger tractive surface than studded tires, since only six or seven studs contact the ground at any given time. The larger contact patches give the Blizzaks better wet weather performance.
How to choose winter tires
Winter tires are similar to car models in that they’re tuned for different types of performance. According to Edmonds, Blizzaks are the best choice for traction on ice. The new Michelin X-Ice models perform almost as well on ice, and offer better traction in snow.
Pirelli’s Sottozero tires are designed for drivers who live in climates without a lot of ice and snow. Formulated primarily for the European market, the Pirellis remain pliable in cold temperatures to enhance performance on dry roads.
Treads move snow out of the vehicle’s path
Compounding is only one of the reasons winter tires provide superior traction. The other is tread design. Winter tires have large void areas, which grab the snow and move it out of a vehicle’s way. Sipes are like rubber squeegees: they scrape moisture off the road so the tires can maintain their contact patches with the ground.
A typical set of winter tires costs between $100 and $150 per tire, depending on size. Car owners may want to mount the tires on a separate set of rims. Doing so eliminates the expense and inconvenience of mounting and balancing the tires twice a year. An inexpensive set of rims will cost between $75 and $125 per wheel. Expect the tires to last two-to-three seasons.
While this may seem like a large expense, the cost benefit of using winter tires can be substantial.
“Typically a set of winter tires costs less than the insurance deductable on a car,” said Edmonds. “That doesn’t include the inconvenience a car owner undergoes getting repairs done after an accident.”
Who needs snow tires?
In some cases, the answer is obvious. Car owners living in climates which see significant snowfall, such as areas of the Rocky Mountain and upper Midwest should use winter tires. Also, some car models come equipped from the factory with summer tires, designed to function in warm temperatures.
While drivers living in areas with milder winters might not see the direct benefit, they should consider the extra measure of safety and peace of mind the right tires can deliver. Having tires formulated for cold temperatures may make the crucial difference in a panic stop, or ensure that a driver can maneuver over a snow berm after the plows come through.
For more information on winter tires, visit the TireRack web site.
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