You’re probably aware that you should never use summer tires in winter, but do you know why? Don’t worry, you’re not alone if the answer to that questions is no. Today, we’re going to debunk some of the myths associated with winter tires and find out what gives them an edge over regular summer tires.
Visually, differentiating winter and summer tires is hard, even if you’re an enthusiast. After all, apart from the sidewall writing indicating whether it’s a summer tire or a winter one, there are no other major differences. Or are there? Neither of them uses spikes and/or studs, but these two couldn’t be any further apart in terms of design and characteristics.
The compound is the foundation of any tire, whether it’s designed for winter or summer use. The compound the tire’s made of is by far the most important aspect of its structure, determining how it behaves and performs in various conditions. Winter tires are made out of a softer compound giving them a lot more flexibility and softness as the temperatures plummet.
Summer tires and most all-season tires for that matter begin to lose effectiveness as soon as temperatures drop below 7 degrees Centigrade. Winter tires only start losing their edge when it gets below freezing, and even then it’s hardly noticeable from inside the car. At that point, whether the road is covered in ice has a bigger role in how your car behaves than tire compound does.
Have you ever noticed the little grooves on the tire’s thread before? Not all tires have them, but most do. Those little guys are called sipes. It’s their job to displace water more effectively and try to gather every last bit of available grip from a loose surface. A lot of people seem to think they’re just a gimmick, but a Consumer Report research carried out in 2014 found that they show a modest but very real increase in traction, especially when acceleration on snow or braking on ice. Some tires even come with little teeth found inside the siping, so that as the tire starts to wear out you don’t notice any drop-off in the amount of grip available.
Winter tires come with an aggressive thread designed to dig into the pavement and extract grip from a surface with relatively low amounts of it. Manufacturers determine thread based on their own research and development, which is why you see so many winter tires with different threads. In essence, they all aim to accomplish the same thing: push snow, slush, and water aside so the tire can come in contact with the surface.
Finally, to wrap it up, we’d just like to point out the importance of winter tires in winter. They’re not a gimmick and they’re not optional. And no, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got an SUV with all-wheel drive. Stopping distance has nothing to do with how many axles power your vehicle. A rear-wheel drive sports car with summer tires will drive ten times better than an SUV equipped with summer tires when the temperatures start to plummet.