The Engineering of Snow Tires vs. Regular Tires

Tires…they are very complex engineered components, but if I had to take a guess, at least 9 out of 10 drivers takes them for granted. Really when you think about it, you can’t blame these people. Tires do what they are supposed to do just about every time you’recounting on them. There is so much that is and can be discussed around the tires alone, but when you look around it’s largely overlooked. With this being said, let’s dive in and gain some appreciation for what makes tires tick.

This post is dedicated to snow tire vs. regular tires. Regular tires here will be defined as your average all season (or M+S) radial tires. Now when it comes to comparing snow tires and regular tires, there are countless number of points that can be compared. If we spend the time comparing all of these points, I’ll lose your interest somewhere around the discussion around “Chains vs. Studs vs. Studless”. Today we’re going to focus on tire material, tread pattern and tread depth, which I feel is a good place to start with comparing snow tires and regular tires.

Snow_tires

Courtesy of ChapmanPayson.

Material

Tires are mainly made of a rubber formulation. Most of us know this. But formulations vary greatly depending on the intended use. All season tires use formulations that are relatively stable through the entire temperature range, but this ends up being a compromise at one end of the temperature spectrum. Either it hardens more than desired on the cold end, affecting dry and wet handling, or softens a lot on the warm end, affecting expected wear and tire life.

Other materials play a serious role in the construction and performance characteristics of tires. A lot of tires use steel belts to form the mechanical structure of the tire. It’s strong and stable, but temperature adversely affects the performance of steel. Other tires have introduced belt materials such as nylon, which performs the same regardless of temperature but is not as strong. When looking at snow tires, these belts are going to be designed for a tight temperature range; therefore they will perform the best in cold conditions.

Tread Pattern

Treads are so important to your tires. Most people say tires are the only thing between you and the road, but in reality your treads are the only thing between you and the road. Tread patterns come in all shapes and textures. This becomes extremely important when thinking about snow tires vs. regular tires. Snow tires will be more knobby and have lots of little grooves and cutouts that allow for biting traction against the snow. Regular tires don’t have this level of detail so their ability to bite against the snow is immediately limited in comparison. The best regular tire will never stick the snowy road as well as an average snow tire. Even having all wheel drive isn’t an automatic win over a comparable non all wheel drive vehicle equipped with snow tires. But it’s all in the tread.

Tread Depth

Talk about an aspect of the tire that is taken for granted… When was the last time you checked your tread depth? Do you know where it should be, and when it indicates that the tires are no longer effective for its intended application?

The DOT regulation says you need a minimum of 2/32” tread depth for any tire to be safe from failing. Experts say you need a minimum 6/32” of tread depth to be able to compact the snow.You have to be able to compact the snow, otherwise you won’t make proper contact with the road. Tread depth and pattern work hand in hand. If one of them is an area of weakness, the tire won’t perform as desired. Snow tires excel in the tread depth department. Regular tires come with a maximum 11/32” depth. Some snow tires go deeper for added performance and tire longevity.

Performance_car

Courtesy of TheDriverBlog.

Bottom Line

Don’t underestimate the positive effect that snow tires can have on your snow driving experience. Everyone’s situation is different and needs to be evaluated on an individual basis. The case for snow tires is amplified when compared against summer tires which aren’t appropriate under 40°F due to their construction and rubber formulation. Evaluate your situation, your car, driving style and weather conditions, and decide whether they are appropriate for you.

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