The negative, though, is that the softer rubber increases tire wear on dry roads. A benefit of all-season tires, which maybe should be called “all-temperature” instead, is that they remain pliable in much colder conditions than summer tires can handle.
One more thing: You want to have winter tires at both the front and rear, no matter which wheels are doing the driving.
Why would you need winter rubber at the front if your car is rear-drive like my pre-turn-of-the-century wagon? It’s so you’ll be able to turn corners when the road gets slick. Likewise, traction is crucial for braking, which transfers weight onto the front tires. And having equal grip at both ends of the car, no matter which pair of wheels are powered, makes the reactions to turning and slowing more predictable and controllable.
They’re worth the hassle
Buying four tires — and ideally wheels to mount them on — is not cheap, usually about $1,000, and swapping them out twice a year is a hassle, but the safety and peace-of-mind benefits are considerable, especially if you have less-experienced teenagers driving. Owners can save money on having a garage do the swaps by mounting their winter tires on less-expensive plain steel wheels.
Ideally, it’s best to put some miles on a new set of winter tires before the snow falls. Typically, the manufacturing process includes the application of a lubricant to keep the rubber from sticking to the mold in which the tire is formed, and it can take some miles for this release agent to wear away.
And what do you do with those off-season tires? That’s a challenge for apartment dwellers, though some retailers offer storage. Homeowners, assuming they can clear space in the garage, should put tires away clean and dry, out of direct sunlight. An airtight storage bag is recommended, and if the tires are mounted on rims, store them standing on the tread surface.
One last reminder: The most important factor in safe winter driving is the person behind the wheel. You can find some helpful tips here to stay out of ditches and drive safely.
Smarter Driving is a new series all about how to buy, own, drive, and maintain your car better. Have something you’d like us to cover? Reach out to Smarter Driving’s editor, James Schembari, at firstname.lastname@example.org.