Snow Tires vs Winter Tires: What's The Difference?
Published February 1, 2018
Winter tires. Snow tires. Do you need them? What's the difference?
In practice today, they are the same thing. The difference between the two has to do with the snowy roads in Finland.
The first snow tire debuted in Finland in 1934. At that time in Finland, few roads were paved so truck tires would often freeze up and lose traction on packed, slick snow. The Tire Manufacturer Nokian created a tire to prevent skidding and make winter driving safe. It featured a transverse groove pattern, a design that introduced large teeth into the tread. This new pattern allowed the tires to grab the snow and hold traction.
Snow tires became winter tires as the number of cars on the road increased. More cars meant plowing to make the road safe for driving. While plowing removed snow, it introduced icy roadways. This led to the introduction of studded tires, a type of winter tire featuring metal studs embedded in the tire. The metal studs bit into the ice, but destroyed paved roads.
Regulations to prevent road wear from studs led to innovation from leading tire manufacturers like Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, and Michelin. The snow tire had become the winter tire.
How is the Modern Winter Tire Made?
Rubber Compounds: Engineers have developed rubber that remains flexible at colder temperatures. The standard all-season tire becomes rigid in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4 degrees Celsius. This decreases the tire's grip and increases the risk of skidding. The new compounds allow winter tires to retain their grip on snow, ice, and cold wet surfaces.
Deeper Tread Depths: Deeper tread enables winter tires to release snow and slush from beneath a tire. Snow-on-snow traction improves as snow gets packed between treads. Be sure to periodically measure the tire tread depth of your snow tires to be sure they will properly grip the road.
Sipes: If you look closely at winter snow tires you'll notice tiny grooves in the tread. These are sipes. They provide thousands of edges to grip icy roads and support starting without spinning tires and stopping without skidding.
Do I need Winter/Snow Tires?
Winter tires work best in temperatures below 44 degrees. They provide the biggest benefit to anyone who lives in a winter climate that features extended and continuous cold and snow. Climates like those in the northern U.S. and Canada (and of course, Finland!) often see long, snowy winters where cars and trucks benefit from winter/snow tires.
Climates where winter temperatures fluctuate between mild and cold may not be ideal. There are of course exceptions. For example, anyone who drives a snow plow, for personal or commercial use, might want this type of tire.
All Wheel Drive & All-Season Tires vs. Winter Tires
Advances in driving technologylike electronic stability control and tires designed as all-season creates several questions. Let's look at a few of them:
Does an SUV with all-wheel drive need winter tires? All-wheel drive provides power to handle snow and ice. Electronic stability control (ESC) helps prevent skidding by adjusting brakes when traction is lost. In a moderate climate, it may be enough. In a winter climate with a long, snowy winter, winter tires improve traction and enhance the effectiveness of all-wheel drive and ESC.
Can you get through winter with all-season tires? If the temperature often moves above 44 degrees or streets are well-plowed and treated in your area, all-season tires may work just fine.
Can you leave winter tires on once the weather warms up? The rubber compounds that allow winter tires to retain flexibility in freezing temperatures make them soft when the weather warms. This reduces traction and speeds wear, ruining the investment in your winter tires fast, so it's best to switch out your tires when the weather is right.
Do you need winter tires? If yes, you have a lot of options. Our Customer Service representatives can help find the best tires for your situation and budget. They can even recommend options to make switching from warm weather to winter tires easier too!