Good Grips: Snow Tires Make Driving Easier, Safer This Winter

December 30, 2010

When the icy, snowy roads you’re driving turn more than simply inconvenient and become treacherous death traps in-the-making, it’s too late to reconsider your inclination to purchase snow tires. One way to avoid becoming a snow-wreck statistic is to get prepared now for the next few months of Old Man Winter.

Think you won’t get caught – and stuck – on impassable roads? Well, if you live in most parts of California, any part of Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina (and a few others), most likely you’ll be okay without snow tires. But try to venture into ski country in California and you’ll not only need snow tires, you’ll also need chains. But that’s a different story.

Since winter driving is something most Midwesterners know quite a bit about, it’s still amazing that more drivers don’t consider purchasing snow tires for their vehicles – especially when these cars, minivans, CUVs and SUVs convey such precious cargo – the family. It used to be, back in the day (and probably still today), that if you owned a muscle car or sports car (Mustang, Camaro, Corvette, etc.), when the snow started drifting over the roads and highways and buried cars, you kept your vehicle parked in the garage and used alternate transportation.

At least, that’s what I did, if I could. I recall trying to navigate I-96 on many a wintry morning and evening enroute to and from work and it was sheer terror. Aside from the fact that I was driving a performance car (Z28 Camaro) sans snow tires, all types of vehicles in front, beside, and behind me were literally slip-sliding and careening off into ditches and into each other. After one particularly hairy spin – during which I saw my life flashing in front of me – I wound up facing a bridge abutment. I was fortunate enough to stop just inches from  total disaster. Somehow I managed to turn the car around the right way (I had been facing oncoming traffic) and get back on the freeway.

Needless to say, I got snow tires the next day. I also avoided the freeway for a while, but had to endure the potholes on Eight Mile Road (and dozens of lights) until the freeways were snowplowed, piled with salt, and more driveable.

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The moral of the story is that even suburban drivers of all types of vehicles in the Chicago area, all of the Midwest, blizzardy Northeast, and the mountainous areas of the Western states can benefit from snow tires. Think of it this way: Tires are where all cars meet the road. Snow tires are specially engineered and constructed for maximum grip on slippery surfaces in cold weather-- everything from a special rubber formula that provides extra grip on road surfaces and remains flexible in cold weather to tread pattern that compacts and grips snow.

Who makes snow tires? Every major tire manufacturer, including Bridgestone, Goodyear, Cooper, Firestone, Michelin and Pirelli – to name just a few – make them. Best time to get a deal on a set of four snow tires is when you don’t need them. Buy in the summer and store until it’s time for installation.

Oh, another recommendation is to have the snow tires installed on less expensive steel wheels. Salt is so destructive on those chrome and alloy wheels.

Tire experts caution that snow tires need to be removed after the winter months, so, depending on where you live and what the calendar (and the weatherman) says, expect to change them out around early March. As for when to have them put on again, Thanksgiving is probably about right.

Extra expense? It could be worth it. How much does your life – and that of your family members – mean to you?

For tips on winter driving, se Bengt Halvorson’s great advice in The Car Connection. Also see Family Car Guide Survival Tips for a Winter Breakdown.

[Detroit Free Press, The Car Connection]

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