As the winter weather grows closer on the horizon it’s time to consider the condition and selection of the tires on our vehicles. Snow, ice, and slush on the roadways greatly affect the handling and performance of cars and trucks. The tire is the only part of the vehicle that touches the road; take the time to ensure your tires are ready for these winter driving conditions.
First consider the tire rating. The U.S. has an established rating system for tire tread wear, traction performance, and temperature resistance. The federal government requires each tire to be rated with the information placed on the tire sidewall. An explanation of the rating system, along with a searchable data base of tire manufactures/models can be found at safercar.gov. A higher rated tire is going to last longer and perform better than a lower rated tire.
Secondly, determine if snow tires are required. An all-season radial tire will likely have the M+S rating; this denotes a tread design intended to perform well in mud and snow. However, a snow rated tire, denoted by the mountain snowflake symbol, is a better indicator of increased traction in snow. Not only does a snow tire have a deeper tread design and more siping (engineered slits in the tire's tread pattern that come open as the tire rolls over the snow, creating more biting edges) it is made of a softer rubber compound designed to remain supple in colder environments. To qualify for this rating, the tread design and depth must provide 10% more snow traction than the standard or all-season tire. Snow tires perform much better in snowy conditions, but the softer compounds will not wear well on dry pavement so seasonal changing of the tires is required. Check out this link to Tirerack.com for a complete explanation of winter tire selection. A little research will be helpful in making a good decision.
Regardless of the tire selection, proper maintenance is vital. Frequent inspection of the tread and sidewall condition, rotation on a regular basis (such as with each oil change), and checking for proper inflation pressure are all vital. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has produced a comprehensive brochure regarding tire safety. You can also access prior Safety Net postings. Search “tires” for additional useful information regarding transportation safety, or register for the January 2013 MEMIC Winter Driving webinar. Take care of your tires so they can take care of you!