When winter arrives, cold weather, snow and ice can wreak havoc on your car and be potentially dangerous if your automobile isn’t properly winterized. One of the most important steps to take is considering a switch to winter tires. These tires are specifically designed to handle snowy and icy road conditions, as well as cold temperatures, which can harden all-season tires and reduce traction. Proper tires go a long way in keeping you safe. After all, they are the only part of the car that touches the ground.
Do I need winter tires?
The answer to this question depends mostly on where you live. If you experience just a few light snowfalls during the winter, you’ll most likely be fine with all-season tires. However, if you travel over snowy roads throughout the season, you should consider switching over to winter tires.
All-season tires are designed to be just that: tires that will be the effective and efficient throughout the year. This works well during warmer months, as all-season tires have the proper traction and tread to handle clean, dry roads while maintaining peak fuel efficiency. But a tire designed to work well for most of the year, sacrifices features needed to properly handle driving in cold, snowy weather. “All-season tires, the type that most vehicles have, are a bit of a compromise,” said John Paul, AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. “They need to work well in all seasons, at all temperatures and the reality is – that like ‘one size fits all’ – that isn’t the case.”
“An old rule that I still use is that all-season tires work about 60-70 percent as well as winter tires in four-five inches of snow,” Paul said. “If you need to be out before the snow plows or want the best traction for your vehicle, winter tires are the best option.”
Winter tires vs. all-season tires
Winter tires have specific features that distinguish them from all-season tires. The first difference is the materials from which they are made.
Tire rubber must be flexible in order to grip the road, but the rubber on all-season tires stiffens at a relatively high temperature. The rubber compounds of winter tires, however, are designed differently. “Winter tires have rubber compounds that stay flexible and sticky as the temperatures drop below freezing,” Paul said.
Winter tires also have unique tread patterns and deeper tread depths, which help channel snow and slush and expel water. The tread depths reduce snow buildup, allowing the tires to get better traction.
Buying winter tires
There are a few things to consider when switching to winter tires. Whenever possible, it is important to get the same size tires as the ones that are currently on the vehicle – some sports cars will allow for replacements that retain the same height but have a narrower profile.
Paul suggests always buying four tires and have them installed on spare wheels. “Depending on the vehicle, you may also need to purchase four tire pressure monitors for the four new wheels and tires.”
Once the weather warms up, it’s important to switch back to all-season tires once the weather warms up. The softer rubber compounds of winter tires will cause the tread to wear out on dry roads much faster.
Other tips on how to winterize your car
Check your fluids
Not adjusting car fluids could cause them to freeze and damage your car. “The antifreeze/engine coolant should be clean and protect the engine against freezing,” Paul said. “A 50/50 mix of engine coolant and water will protect an engine to 34 degrees below zero.” Other fluids to refill or replace include freeze-resistant washer fluid, transmission fluid, and power steering and brake fluid.
Test your battery
Get your battery tested if it’s more than three years old and replaced if it’s more than five years old. Cold temperature limits your car battery’s power output while simultaneously requiring more power to work. “A car engine needs about 30 percent more energy to start when the temperatures drop to freezing,” Paul said. “And at zero degrees your vehicle battery can only deliver at 50 percent of its rated capacity.”
Ice buildup can freeze your car doors shut. If you find yourself in that situation, don’t use hot water. You’ll melt the ice but leave behind more water to freeze later. Use de-icer spray instead but remember – prevention is the key. When it’s dry outside, wipe down the door seals and spray the gaskets with silicone to prevent freezing.
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