For many of us, winter means driving in snow and ice. If cold describes your winter weather, no doubt you’ve prepped for the season by checking your truck’s antifreeze, changing its oil and verifying that parts like wiper blades and lights are okay. But how about your truck’s tires?
Running on appropriate tires is one of the most important tasks to consider when it’s time for winter driving — checking pressure and tread depth is not enough. And don’t be fooled by terminology, because all-season tires are not winter tires. Their tread pattern and rubber compounds are designed to work in a wide range of conditions, but all-weathers are not the best choice for winter driving.
If you drive in cold weather, snow or ice, you need tires that are specifically designed for maximum traction when both the tires and road are cold. Winter tire tread patterns are unique, too, configured to give good grip when accelerating or stopping, but at the same time keep snow from packing into the tread.
Tire manufacturers recommend that, for best safety and performance, you install the same tires in all positions, but it isn’t unusual for owners to put snow tires only on the front of front-wheel drive vehicles or the back of rear wheel drive vehicles.
Drivers who deal with icy roads might decide to opt for studded tires (typically snow tires with metal studs in the treads). Studded tires can help your truck gain traction on ice while providing all the benefits of snow tires, but they do have drawbacks:
- Studs can damage road surfaces, so some states don’t allow studded tires at all and others limit the months they can be used.
- Driving with studded tires on dry pavement can make the truck more difficult to stop, because the metal studs keep some of the rubber from touching the road.
Tire chains are another winter driving alternative. On the plus side, chains improve traction in both snow and ice, and can be put on and taken off as needed. The downside? Chains can’t be left in place when driving on dry pavement. Leaving them on will damage the pavement, damage the chains and damage the tires. And, if a chain breaks, damage the vehicle or anything else in its path. Older chains were time-consuming to install, and some types still are, but you’ll find newer chain designs that are easier to handle.
Every tire company sells its own versions of winter/snow tires, and some offer a variety of tire designs to suit different needs and price ranges. When it’s time to shop for snow tires:
- Determine how much you can afford (remember that “expensive” doesn’t necessarily mean “best”)
- Read tire reviews online
- Ask friends for tire recommendations
- Get to know your local tire dealer and ask for recommendations