Snow Tiring / by Erin Wade


Snow Tires

Every year, as the weather turns colder, I go through a ritual that involves hauling out a jack, removing one set of wheels from each of our cars, and putting another set in their place. Actually, I'll admit that, as I've gotten a little older, I try to make arrangements to have someone else do the heavy lifting in the project, though this year, a combination of busy schedule and procrastination meant that it was up to me.

I've been putting snow tires on my cars for at least the last 15 years. Until the Internet pretty much eliminated the magazine from my life, I was a regular reader of car magazines, particularly Car & Driver. They could be counted upon every year to do a roundup of snow tires, including routine measurements and demonstrations of vehicle capabilities on snow and ice with and without winter rubber.

Most people don't do this, of course. Most cars come with "all weather" tires that are designed to provide some reasonable level of grip in, well, all kinds of weather. Snow tires represent an additional cost - one is purchasing an entire additional set of tires for the vehicle, of course - and often a storage issue, unless one has a friendly tire shop which will agree to hold on to the off-season wheels. In the United States, at least, the common "extra-step" approach to dealing with winter weather is to buy a vehicle with some variation of four- or all-wheel drive.

I can speak from personal experience, incidentally, when I say that four-wheel drive does an exceptional job of getting one through very deep snow. Unfortunately, it does absolutely nothing with respect to helping the vehicle turn or stop in slippery winter conditions. I can, unfortunately, speak from personal experience in that regard as well.

By dint of busy schedule and procrastination, however, I am quite late in getting the snow tires on the car this year. As such, I had the opportunity to drive my car with its all-weather tires through a bit of snow the weekend of December 18th.

I have to admit that I may have periodically gotten a bit frustrated with other drivers in the winter, as they move so incredibly slowly in front of me following a dusting of the white stuff. It's remotely possible that I've called one or two of my fellow travelers less-than-flattering names from behind the safety of my window glass. It's been many, many years since I've had to navigate a winter landscape on anything other than purpose-built tires, and so I didn't understand.

But now, fellow traveler, I understand again why the winter snowfall makes you operate your vehicle like an octogenarian who's just left the optometrist having had his eyes dilated:

Your tires suck. They suck balls.

I realized this most acutely as I approached an intersection with a stoplight, preparing to turn left. My foot was firmly planted on the brake, the anti-lock brakes could be heard to do their work, pumping away. It was all for naught, the notion of stopping at the stop line in the intersection mere whimsy, the thought of the vehicle actually turning in response to the physical motion of the steering wheel, laughable.

I came through my non-stop without incident, I'm happy to say. But it was a painful reminder that "all-weather" really just means "compromise". Given how very different - how very much better - vehicles perform in the snow with winter tires, I'm honestly a little surprised snow belt states don't require them.