Winter Tire Safety Tips

Photo courtesy of Discount Tires.

Colorado has already seen its fair share of heavy weather this winter and there’s plenty more of it to be expected. That’s why tire safety is of the utmost importance this time of year and to better help drive that point home, North Forty recently sat down with Ty Mansfield, store manager for Discount Tires in Boulder. Whether you shop with Discount Tires or anywhere else, there are certain safety facts regarding winter tires that remain true no matter where your dollar gets spent and that’s what Ty gave a hand in helping understand.

For instance, in extreme cold, did you know that the rubber of an all-season or summer tire stiffens and becomes less able to provide sufficient traction on snow or ice? Ty said that the biggest advantage to winter tires over all-season or even an all-weather tire is the biggest component that’s going to keep your traction is the flexibility in a rubber compound. To best understand this concept, Ty said it’s easiest to think of a hockey puck on ice vs. a sponge.

“The sponge has more nukes and crannies that are going to roll over a rough surface and grab those and keep the friction whereas a hockey puck is so hard it’s just going to slide right over smoothly,” Ty said. “That’s the basic idea behind a winter tire and an all-season. Your summer tire gets hard and doesn’t allow for flexibility where the tread can hold to the road’s surface and therefore it skips right over because it’s so hard, where a winter tire retains that flexibility from 40 degrees and below causing it to keep its friction, which then causes more traction.”

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Another important fact to keep in mind is that at 45 degrees, you can start to see your breath, which is the same temperature that all-season tires start to lose their traction and gripping capabilities, which Ty said can turn dangerous fast in cold and wet weather.

“This is the case whether there’s snow on the ground or not,” Ty said. “So, as your tire gets harder, you’ll lose traction even on a perfectly dry road surface. The flexibility of the tire just isn’t there, so that’s why we try to change the verbiage and say winter tires vs. snow tires because there’s still an advantage in even just cold temperatures.”

Additionally, Ty said winter tires deliver as much as a 25-50% increase in traction over all-season tires, which could be the margin that saves you from disaster when stopping on dangerous roads. He said that usually with an all-season tire, the stopping distance is roughly 110 feet if stopping at 30MPH in winter conditions, whereas with a winter tire that number dramatically drops to 81 feet. But Ty adds it’s important to keep in mind that also depends on the condition of the tire.

“If your all-season tire is half worn, you can expect it to be considerably longer than 110 feet,” Ty said. “But a winter tire keeps its traction pretty close to that brand new feel for at least 50%.You stay safer for considerably longer. And in the winter, most people might think they can’t get up a hill to go to a grocery store or wherever they might be trying to get to, but we try to change that thinking to where when you need to turn or stop to avoid something, that’s where you really see a winter tire shine, it’s a much better stopping and steering part than it is about an acceleration part.”

It’s not always easy to know the condition of your tires just by looking at them but at the same time, it’s not always easy to make the time to bring your car into a shop to get your tires check either, especially if you’re not certain they need it. So, if you find yourself in such a situation, Ty offered a simple trick you can perform yourself at home to better gage whether it’s time for new tires and it literally only costs a penny. 

“The penny trick is if you take Lincoln’s head on a penny and you put it down into the tread, if you can see his head, then your tires are below the recommended level for safety,” Ty said. “Now, that’s general safety overall, whether you live Texas, you live in Phoenix, you live in Washington D.C., but if you’re in a weather climate, if you can see his head, you’re far past your capabilities in the snow.”

Penny trick to check your tire’s tread.

So, let’s say you try the penny trick and Lincoln’s head is nowhere to be found; once you have even the slightest inclination that you might need new tires, Ty said it’s important to make the trip to your trusted tire shop because it could be make all the difference when considering your personal safety. According to Ty, the last third of your tire is not exactly rated for snow, so often when you think your tires are in good shape, they’re often not.

“The other thing that a winter tire is going to have an advantage over an all-season is the construction of the thread compound, so the tire just looks meatier,” Ty said. “Some tires that are even rated all-season, it’s a classification of lite snow, which just means there’s snow on the ground, it doesn’t mean there’s any accumulation necessarily. If your tires are worn past half, you don’t have much to go on as far as once the snow starts to accumulate on the ground. So, you have plenty of tread for another summer but then if you get into a set of winter tires, your safety just shoots through the roof, it’s a night and day difference.”

Ty said that’s why Discount Tires like to encourage people to come by as soon as possible because they do three tire inspection checks with no appointment necessary. You can come by anytime and they’ll check your air pressure for free and do a quick scan of your tires using a laser tool that measures your tire’s tread to give you real time data on where they’re at and what to expect out of that tread depth.

“We have considerably more tire options than most tire shops because that’s all we do. Most tire shops will stock 200 to 300 tires in their stores where Discount Tires stocks 3,000 to 4,000. When it’s snowing and you need tires now, we’ve got more options and more availability 99.9% of the time. Not only do we have the best selection, it’s easy to get into our stores when you need it and we always guarantee the best price. So, all of those things combined make us the leader in the industry for sure.