Black Magic – Winter Tires Prove All-Seasons Are Anything But

AutoInformed.com Winter Tire Testing - sll rights reserved

Dedicated snow tires are clearly the best choice.

In Michigan I call it the folly of physics-ignorant drivers since they lose control – a skidding tire has no traction – making them passengers as the car heads toward the center median, shoulder, guardrail or a multi-vehicle accident during wintry conditions.

The first snowfall every year puts the non-Newtonians on view – hapless drivers on the road with inadequate tires driving toward the potentially dire consequences of a zero coefficient of friction where the rubber meets the road.

What is black-ice – as an example – makes glaringly clear is that your cautious winter driving might not be enough. Steering and stopping on snowy, icy roads or any combination of wintry mix is complicated because many tires labor to grab the surface. The Federal Highway Administration says 24% of all vehicle crashes are weather related.

AutoInformed.com on Winter TiresAfter a couple days of re-honing my winter driving techniques – I attended and passed, but not before burying a car up to its side mirrors in snow after a  spectacular slide, Michelin Ice driving school in Colorado during the last century. I reached a conclusion that resulted in my buying several sets of Bridgestone Blizzak dedicated winter tires mounted on steel wheels during ensuing years.

This time I was with people from Michelin and multi- brand seller Tire Rack. On Olympic and NHL sized rinks at the flourishing Notre Dame campus in Indiana it was clear that dedicated snows work.

I alternated driving Kia SUVs comparing the Michelin Latitude Latitude X-Ice Ix2 snow tires (yes that’s the name) and Michelin all-season tires. The “snows” allowed faster stopping – consistently with much less slipping and sliding. The all seasons were lacking.

Do not mistake thinking you are safe enough with all season tires and a good ABS/traction and/or yaw control system. All-season tires are engineered for a quiet and smooth ride, good tread life and fuel economy, but they lack the grip and therefore stopping ability and the better handling or turning ability of a dedicated snow tire.

Newton’s F=MA means that the Force involved is the vehicle speed that is a combination of Mass and Acceleration. When you encounter slippery conditions after your traction control has optimized the acceleration of your vehicle weight (Mass), you need another force to slow it down or turn. Remember an object in motion tends to stay in motion – unless it is acted on by another force. As stated a skidding tire has little or no traction. It can’t supply the force needed to alter course.

As to the other drivers out there, they could also become passengers at this point with no control. They are the automotive equivalent of what invokes an NHL charging or boarding penalty with you as an un-padded victim. Dedicated snow tires provide a clear advantage here – but not an infallible solution. This is where safety belts and airbags can prove their worth.

Snow tires, according to Matt Edwards, executive vice president of Tire Rack, a national online tire purveyor, said snow braking, handling, lateral adherence, low speed hill climbing, and braking are considerably enhanced by winter-specific tires. These tires are also capable of driving well on dry and wet conditions through cold weather months. No argument from AutoInformed. Tire Rack is a must-see web site when considering any kind of tire purchase because of its wealth of information.

Newer snow tires have so-called cross sipes (little slits, along the tread block edges and “micro pumps” to clean tread of snow for better traction. A driver still needs caution and common sense and the ability to avoid – like frost bite – cell phones and texting (sexting if you are in Congress or broadcast media), to monitor how the specialized tires are gripping the road surface.

An all-season tire becomes brittle and thereby less agile in extreme cold because of its chemical composition that is optimized for varying conditions. Snow tires like those of Michelin offer a combination of tread patterns, materials and construction techniques to reduce snow buildup and sustain traction. The breakthrough here occurred in the last century when Bridgestone introduced its Blizzack snow tire. It’s been a marketing and engineering battle among makers ever since.

Tire pressure changes ~1 PSI for every 10-degree F drop in temperature.

  • Proper inflation is crucial to optimum tire performance, longevity and safety.
  • Check the readiness of the spare, especially after freeze/thaw cycles when a pothole can take out a tire in a second.
  • Plan your route by checking your local and regional police department or Department of Transportation to make sure roads are open and accessible.
  • If a snow storm looms or is waxing, do you really need to run errands?
  • When possible let someone know where you are going – particularly for longer trips – and when you expect to arrive.
  • Keep your cell phone and GPS charged to deliver alternate routes or help when needed.

Do You Need Snow Tires?

Edwards says anyone who drives through punishing winters benefits. The price isn’t cheap: four snow tires, wheels and maybe tire monitoring systems for the best possible traction. You might have to pay someone to put on the tires and find a place to store the all-season tires ’til spring since snow tires wear rapidly on hot roads.

An investment of, oh, $500 to $1,000 initially and the cost of swapping wheels and tires twice a year might be about the same as the deductible for a car accident, not to mention possibly far greater ruinous outlays in medical care, lawsuits and lost wages in a really bad one. more than a choice of blackwalls or whitewalls is involved here. You’re the driver – so do it safely.

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.

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