Winter tire frequently asked questions

Q: What makes winter tires different from regular tires?

A: Winter tiresshave tread patterns specifically designed to dig down and bite into snow and ice, plus they are made from softer rubber compounds that retain their flexibility in cold weather, allowing the tire to better conform to the surface of the road. (Regular tires tend to get hard and brittle in cold temperatures.) As a result, winter tires keep a better grip on snowy and icy surfaces than regular all-season or summer tires. Grip is critical -- not just to avoid getting stuck, but to ensure that the car can stop and steer. Life-saving safety technologies such as antilock brakes, electronic stability control and all-wheel-drive cannot do their jobs if the tires can't maintain their grip on the road surface.

Q: My car has all-season tires. Aren't those good enough?

Short answer: Not really, no.

Long answer: All-season (also known as all-weather) tires are designed to cope with all sorts of conditions, including dry roads and rain, but are not optimized for any one condition. They are generally made from harder materials that don't conform to the road surface as well in low temperatures. Think of all-season tires as sneakers and winter tires as heavy-duty snow boots. It is possible to walk down a snowy, icy sidewalk wearing sneakers -- but it's a lot easier and safer to do it with proper snow boots.

Q: Can I put winter tires on just the drive wheels of my car?

A: Putting just two winter tires on your car is a bad idea. If you have a front-wheel-drive car and put winter tires on the front only, the back wheels won't have anywhere near as much grip as the front wheels. This will make the car much more likely to spin out while braking or cornering. Likewise, if you put winter tires on the just back wheels of a rear-wheel-drive car, the wheels that do the steering won't grip as well as those that provide the power, so the car may not respond when the steering wheel is turned -- it will simply plow straight ahead. Always install winter tires as a full set of four.

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