Winter has begun to embrace the country in its icy grasp, and that means it's past time you started thinking about winter tires. But are they really worth it and what do they actually do?
Our friend Jason Fenske from Engineering Explained is here to help us understand the massive difference winter tires make versus all seasons and summer tires when temperatures drop and snow falls.
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Jason has a pair of vehicles designed for different types of driving. In one corner of his garage sits his Honda S2000 project car, which is getting a nice fresh set of summer tires. In the other corner is a Subaru XV Crosstrek that will serve as his daily winter driver; it will get the winter tires.
One of the major factors that makes a winter tire better in the winter and a summer tire better in the summer is something called the glass transition temperature. This is the temperature at which molecules in the tire begin to move around less freely, and the tire becomes harder. In a summer tire, this transition happens at a far warmer temperature compared to a winter tire. On the flip side, when things get hotter the compound of the summer tire helps it get nice and sticky whereas the winter tire gets mushy and starts washing out and wearing more heavily.
Winter tires also have more sipes and deeper tread to gather snow. Summer tires have stiffer sidewalls to improve handling.
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If you live in an area where it snows, you should invest in a proper set of winter tires for your vehicle. When the weather turns bright, sunny, and warm, you should happily switch over to summer rubber. Each tire is designed to perform best in a given climate condition. Now you know why, so you no longer have an excuse to run the wrong tires based on the season.