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Expert explains whether you should opt for all-season or winter tires

By Halie Kines, AccuWeather staff writer

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Choosing the correct tires in general is important, but deciding whether or not to have winter tires can be a tough decision. Having winter tires in harsh, winter conditions can be the difference in making it to your destination safely.

Michael Sipe, master automotive service excellence (ASE) certified and automotive instructor at Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology, said there are several notable differences between all-season and winter tires.

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Motorists are stacked up in a line of vehicles slowed to a crawl along Logan Street by high winds driving granular snow into drifts early Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


“The rubber composition of the [winter] tire is much softer, and they do not usually come with a treadwear rating,” Sipe said. A treadwear rating is an assessment of how long a tire should last, based on proper alignment and rotating.

“Winter treads are made more aggressive so that they can dig into the snow and get a better bite of the snow. You can get them with or without studs on them,” he said.

If you have winter tires with studs, be sure to check with your state laws to make sure they’re legal and that you’re using them during the designated time period. For example, winter treads with studded tires can only be used between Nov. 1 and April 15 in Pennsylvania, according to Sipe.

Studded tires work well in snow and ice, but the studs are much harder on pavement. If you were to keep them on throughout the year and drive normally, the metal would eventually wear off and wouldn't provide the traction needed in ice and snow.

Winter tires can be used all year round—as long as they aren't studded—but Sipe explained that doing so could lead to wearing them out quicker. Sipe said if winter tires are used all year they may last for only 20,000 miles.

If you're deciding whether or not you need to purchase winter tires, it’s important to take driving conditions into consideration. For example, if you live in the mountains or a place where there’s little winter maintenance—plowing or salting the roads—you may want to go with a winter tire or a studded winter tire.

If you live in a development or don’t go off the main roads, Sipe says you may be fine with just using an all-season tire. If you are required to be at work no matter what is happening with the weather, Sipe suggests they have an all-wheel drive car with winter tires.

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When buying all-season tires, Sipe suggests checking the treadwear rating and comparing it against the amount of driving you’ll be doing. For example, if you’re driving only 10,000 miles a year, Sipe said you can get away with getting a lower treadwear rating.

Sipe said if you’re driving a lot, you’ll want to get a higher treadwear rating. If you’re not putting on all-season tires, check the tread pattern. The more cross grooves there are, the better it’s going to handle and the more traction you’ll get, according to Sipe.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests installing winter tires in the fall to be prepared before the snow comes. It’s also recommended to check the tire pressure, because as the temperature drops, so will the pressure.

When buying tires, look for tires with a three-peak mountain snowflake symbol on them. This symbol means it meets the requirements of performance while testing it in snow. The test only measures the acceleration of a tire on medium-packed snow.


For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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