Snow Tires 101

Fall in Steamboat.  Time to enjoy the colors, dig out your sweaters, and…check your tires.

Yes, winter driving in the mountains is no joke, and having good snow tires is the first step in improving your safety. If you have some questions about your tires this winter, our Q&A may help:

Q: My car has all-season tires. Aren’t those good enough?

Short answer: Not really, no.

Long answer: All-season tires are designed to cope with all sorts of conditions, including dry roads and rain, but are not optimized for any one condition. They are generally made from harder materials that don’t conform to the road surface as well in low temperatures, like snow tires do.

Q: Can I put snow tires on just the drive wheels of my car?

A: No! Putting just two snow tires on your car is a bad idea. If you have a front-wheel-drive car and put snow tires on the front only, the back wheels won’t have anywhere near as much grip as the front wheels. This will make the car much more likely to spin out while braking or cornering. Likewise, if you put snow tires on the just back wheels of a rear-wheel-drive car, the wheels that do the steering won’t grip as well as those that provide the power, so the car may not respond when the steering wheel is turned — it will simply plow straight ahead. Always install snow tires as a full set of four.

Q: Can I leave my snow tires on all year?

A: Sure, but you’ll be wasting money. Snow tires are made from softer compounds, which means they will wear out faster, particularly in warm weather.  Don’t wear down your expensive snow tires when you don’t have to.  Also, snow tires tend to be much noisier, bothersome when driving on dry roads.

Q: Unmounting one set of tires and mounting another at the beginning and end of winter is a pain. Is there an easier way?

A: Yes! Buy an extra set of wheels from a salvage yard and use those for your snow tires. The wheels don’t have to be the exact same design, so long as they are the same diameter and have the same bolt pattern as your car’s original wheels. If you’ve purchased aftermarket wheels, keep the stock wheels and use those for your snow tires. That way, when it comes time to change from summer tires to snow tires, all you have to do is have the wheels changed — a quick and inexpensive job.

Q: How do I know if I need to replace my snow tires?

A: With snow tires, tread matters.  Do the penny test: Place a penny head first into several tread grooves across the tire. If you always see the top of Lincoln’s head, your treads are shallow and worn. If this is the case, your tires need to be replaced. If part of Lincoln’s head is always covered by the tread, you have more than 2/32 of an inch of tread depth remaining. For summer, that would be fine, but for winter you want a good 1/8-1/4″ tread on your tires.

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