Finding the right tire for winter driving
November 1, 2013
With winter fast approaching, preparing your car for extreme conditions is a necessity in the Roaring Fork Valley. One of the most important areas to address is the tires on your vehicle. The wrong tires in winter conditions can make a dangerous situation much worse.
Dave Halverson is the owner of Aspen Tire and Detail and said a lot of people in the Aspen area use all-season tires. He said all-season tires are a solid choice except when temperatures get low.
"There's a difference in the rubber compound of an all-season and a snow tire," Halverson said. "When the temperature drops below 45 degrees, an all-season tire tends to harden and loses some contact area with the road. Snow tires are made to stay pliable in cold conditions, giving them a larger road-contact area."
Another advantage of using snow tires is it allows the option of adding studs. A tire stud is a metal pin that protrudes beyond the tire tread and contacts the pavement surface.
Studs were developed to enhance traction in icy conditions and designed to provide more ice traction as they repeatedly chipped into the driving surface. Consequently, when the road isn't covered with snow or ice, tire studs noisily chip into the road itself.
Studded tires ultimately cost taxpayers millions of dollars in road wear every year, according to Tirerack.com. As studded tires chip into the concrete, they eventually cut ruts in the road that will fill with water to create a hydroplaning hazard when it rains. This has prompted states to prohibit studded winter tires completely or restrict them to seasonal use.
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In Colorado, there is no requirement to remove studded tires at any time.
There's also a technique called siping. The siping process became popular in the past decade and involves cutting small slits into the tire tread to create thousands of extra edges. While siping does provide more edges to grip the road and increase braking power, most tire manufacturers discourage retailers from siping tires. Siping can lead to quicker wear of tires and the loss of the manufacturer's warranty.
Chains are another option and in some areas can be required, but they need to be the correct size and put on tires carefully. Chains provide improved starting and stopping in icy conditions but aren't recommended on regular surfaces. A loose chain can break and wrap around a tire or the undercarriage and cause damage. It's also recommended to not drive faster than 30 mph when chains are used.
"We've come a long way in recent years with tire technology," Halverson said. "Some of the newer snow tires are almost as effective in icy conditions as studs."
Halverson said since snow tires are made with a softer compound, they'd wear out faster in normal conditions and last longer on a snowy surface.
Ultimately, Halverson said he recommends using snow tires in the winter months.
"Depending on how much you drive, if you rotate your tires and swap them out in the winter, they can last up to five years," he said. "You'll also be safer using the right tires in the right conditions."