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Choosing the Best Winter Tires for Your Car

Mukulika Mukherjee
Winter tires provide far better traction when compared to all-season tires, and are the safest bet for your car during this time of the year. So, what factors should determine your choice of a winter tire?

Did You Know?

You should ideally switch over to winter tires when the temperature drops below 44ºF or 7°C.
Winter tires have a different tread pattern and provide a better grip, which is essential when you're driving over snowy and wet terrain. Many people just don't switch to winter tires, but use all-season tires round the year.
However, experts recommend otherwise, because not only do winter tires have a distinct tread pattern that prevents snow from getting stuck within the tread, but also differ from regular tires in their composition.
Does that mean you must immediately switch to winter tires as soon as the season sets in? Well, not quite, all-season tires do perform pretty well till the temperature drops to 44ºF or 7°C. So, before it becomes too cold and chilly, just go through this brief description, and get a pair or two of winter tires for your vehicle.

How to Choose the Best Winter Tires

You'd be surprised to know that the choice of winter tires depends more on your driving style than the type of vehicle you use. Here, we focus on each factor that should be taken into consideration.

Look for the Right Size

The size of the tire is mentioned on the sidewall of the tire in the form of a series of alpha-numeric characters, which looks something like this - 230/40R15 95-U M+S. So, how do you decipher it? Let us look at it from left to right.

230/40R15 95-U M+S

The first three digits (230) represent the width of the tire measured in millimeters (mm), the next two digits (40) represent the height to width ratio known as the aspect ratio, the next alphabet denotes the type of tire (here R stands for radial tire), the next two digits (15) represent the rim diameter measured in inches.
The next two digits (95) stand for the load rating that indicates how much load the tire is designed to carry, and the alphabet (U) denotes the speed rating of the tire.
Note that the speed rating is represented by the alphabets A to Z, with Z denoting the highest and A denoting the lowest value. The last alphabet(s) (M+S) indicates the type of tire, which in this case is mud (M) and snow (S).
Before you set out to buy a new set of tires for your car, refer to the user manual to know which set of dimensions are recommended by the manufacturer, and you're likely to find more than a single set of values.
The one with the smallest rim diameter is the one you should settle for. Why? Well, it's simply because a small rim size means more of tire wall, which means the vehicle move safely over thick layers of snow without causing any damage to the rim.
Another factor to consider is the width of the tire, and this value should ideally be low for winter tires. This makes the tire more efficient in cutting across a snowy path. The method of choosing a tire in a smaller size is termed as minus sizing, and we can safely opt for a winter tire that minus two sizes than the summer or all-season tire we're using.

Select the Right Rim

Driving at sub-zero temperatures can affect the rim of your tires, and the continuous exposure to snow can cause rust to develop.
To prevent this, and to improve the performance of your wheels, choose a rim of durable material, such as galvanized steel. The other option is to go for rims made from aluminum alloy that have a coat of protective paint for protection from the harmful effects of the salt and chemicals that are present in the snow.

Check for the Silica Content

Silica is a compound that is added to rubber to improve its flexibility. The more flexible the tire, the more is the traction offered by it. Hence, it is important that you check this parameter carefully, to ensure that the tire offers the required amount of traction.
Most winter tires are designed to retain their flexibility up to a temperature of -40ºF or -40ºC.

Select the Correct Type

There are basically three types of winter tires―snow tires, ice tires, and studded tires.
► If you drive through the countryside more often, then you should opt for snow tires, because lanes in the countryside are not plowed on a regular basis, leading to the accumulation of a thick layer of snow. These tires are designed to offer traction on snowy and wet conditions.
► If the usual route you take is the freeway or roads within city limits, then you can safely opt for ice tires.
► If you have to drive on icy roads that can be dangerously slippery, it is recommended that you opt for studded tires.
Studded tires are nothing but snow tires with metal studs embedded in the tread. This improves traction immensely, but these tires are entirely prohibited in certain states due to the potential to cause damage to the roads.

Set Up a Budget

The look of the tire can largely affect its cost, and hence, you should have your budget defined before you browse through the different types of tires available in the market. For starters, if you're not willing to spend more, then you should go for a galvanized steel rim that is reasonably priced, instead of a fancy alloy rim.
Winter tires are available in a wide price range, and you should have your specific requirements in kind before you get one, to make the most of your money. While most budget tires cost not more than USD 100, some premium brands come for anything close to USD 150.

Look Out for Recommendations

Before you make a decision, make it point to ask around for recommendations, either your neighbors and friends who have used winter tires, or a neighborhood dealer you trust.
You can also look up online for some authentic reviews of the brands you've zeroed in. This way you'll learn about the experiences of real people who have used a certain product that can help you make a truly informed choice.
Whenever you decide to switch to winter tires, make sure you change all the four tires of your car, and not just use winter tires on the front axle. Mismatched tires can cause problems, such as fishtailing, and can be risky.