I know, I know. The timing of this post is just as bad as all the grocery stores putting Christmas decorations out already. No one wants to think about snow when there are PSLs to be had and cider mills to visit! But hear me out:
Snow tires can be a huge benefit to your bottom line and your peace of mind. And there’s no better time to be talking about them than BEFORE you need them.
“What are snow tires and why do I need them?”
Snow tires (also called winter tires) are a separate set of tires that you can buy and put on your vehicle specifically for the winter months to drastically increase traction in the snow, rain, and ice. Then come spring time, you swap them back out for your summer tires.
“But I have all-season tires.”
Technically, your all season tires will work in winter. Until they don’t. Snow tires drastically outperform even the best all-season tires. They are made of a different material and have special treads.
Snow tires are made of a softer rubber that provides better grip to the road in temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit / 7 degrees Celsius. They also have a more aggressive tread pattern than standard all-season tires to plow through snow.
Because of this, you should not drive with snow tires in the summer; the hot pavement will ruin them or could cause a blowout. In the winter months, however, they are a life saver (literally!).
Plan to get all 4 new snow tires if you choose this. It may sound like a bit of a hassle to have two full sets of tires, but after driving for 10 years without them, and now having had them for 5 years, I will tell you snow tires really work.
Here Are a Few Reasons to Get Snow Tires
Having grown up in Michigan, I’ve experienced enough winters and enough snow to last me a lifetime. For those of you in the same boat as me, (or car rather) I know you’ll agree that driving somewhere during even a light snowstorm can be a huge hassle. Snow tires can eliminate that sense of dread.
In fact, when I see a few fresh inches of snow on the ground, I almost looked forward to getting in my car and passing all the cars in the ditch. Schadenfreude isn’t healthy, but sometimes you just can’t help it.
It’s Like Turning Your Front-Wheel Drive Car Into an All-Wheel Drive Car
Especially if you don’t own a vehicle with all-wheel drive (AWD), snow tires can be an incredible improvement to your winter driving experience. Most sedans are front-wheel drive (FWD), and even many SUVs can be front-wheel drive. People drive SUVs in Florida and simply don’t need AWD.
A lot of drivers on the road are oblivious to the differences and they think just because they have an SUV they are immune to slippery snow conditions. Many people in northern states buy an SUV with all-wheel drive simply because they have anxiety about snowy roads. That’s a fair concern, and if you can afford that as an option, great. But if purchasing a new AWD sedan or SUV isn’t in your upcoming holiday budget, you may want to consider getting winter tires instead.
Front-Wheel Drive Vehicles Have a Lower Up-front Cost as Well as a Lower Total Cost of Ownership
Whether a sedan or SUV, all-wheel drive systems in vehicles are more complicated and require more parts. This means the sticker price at the dealership and the repairs and replacements you make over the lifetime of the vehicle will both be higher than a comparable front-wheel drive vehicle.
Snow tires are a great option if you can’t (or just don’t want to) shell out all the extra cash just to have a false sense of confidence on the road.
Front-wheel Drive Vehicles Generally Get Better Gas Mileage
AWD cars send power to all 4 wheels and both axles all the time or at least some of the time with more advanced systems. This additional power consumption leads to higher gasoline usage.
So especially if you have a long commute in the summer, when AWD is doing nothing for you, your AWD car will cost more. Keeping your FWD car and getting a good set of snow tires can pay for themselves very quickly.
More ways to save money:
Snow Tires May Prevent an Accident
Not only is an accident or sliding into a ditch a perfect way to ruin your plans for that day or week, it’s super expensive too! You may get a ticket if you are at fault, your insurance premiums will increase, and you may need to pay some out-of-pocket money to repair your vehicle.
The safety and peace of mind that comes from having better control over your vehicle in the snow is hard to put a price tag on.
Snow Tires Will Increase the Length of Time You Can Use Your Summer Tires
You are essentially putting half the miles on each set of your tires, so both sets will last longer. And if you buy an extra set of wheels, your nicer summer rims won’t be subject to rust and corrosion from all the salt and mud inherent to winter driving.
The Downside to Snow Tires
The main downside to this system is you’ll need to actually schedule an appointment at a tire shop once in the fall and once again in the spring to do the swap each year. However, many retailers such as Discount Tire and Belle Tire have entire businesses that revolve around this task so it’s gotten pretty user-friendly in recent years.
They will even store your tires in their own warehouses so you don’t need to keep them at home and transport them. This may be helpful if you live in a small apartment, but I found it wasn’t a hassle to keep them in my basement. Your mileage may vary.
Picking Your Snow Tires
I’m definitely no expert on the various pros and cons of the different winter tire brands. I simply am speaking from experience when I say they make a world of difference. I personally owned Bridgestone Blizzaks for my Ford Focus which were top of the line and worth every penny.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you I could comfortably drive through almost any amount of snow, often times with more control than the trucks and SUVs around me.
Tirerack.com is a reputable tire supplier and you can learn more about the various options for your car there. I also only used Discount Tire because they only deal with tires. You can get in and out much quicker there because they aren’t in the business of oil changes or any other time-consuming car repairs.
Even after accounting for the cost of the snow tires (and extra set of wheels if you choose) the overall cost and safety of your FWD sedan or SUV with snow tires will be better than a similarly equipped AWD vehicle without snow tires. It may also allow you to forego buying a new car for a few years which can save you thousands more.
Happy driving and may all your winter commutes look like this!