As leaves fall and temperatures drop, snow will soon be in the forecast for many parts of the country. For those planning holiday travel, one winter weather necessity may be in short supply: snow tires.
If you’re thinking of making a winter tire purchase, now may be the time to buy. Tire shop experts say mid-September through October is when drivers should do their shopping. Manufacturers typically make a limited number each year to satisfy pre-orders from distributors and retailers, plus a little extra so the market is already sparse. But as supply chain issues exacerbate the problem this year, the industry expects inventory to dwindle even sooner.
“[Winter tires] are not usually manufactured all year round so there is a finite amount available,” said Tire Agent CEO and founder Jared Kugel. “All-weather tires, on the other hand, are made and generally available throughout the entire year, though.”
We spoke in depth with Kugel to better understand what drivers should be considering as they shop for tires to make for a safer drive this winter.
According to Kugel, not everyone in colder climates need winter tires. Drivers should look to past winters in their areas to dictate their buying decisions, he said.
“Winter tire selections will absolutely differ depending on where you live and what you experience,” he explained. “Someone who lives in the mountains in Vermont or Colorado does not buy the same tire as someone in Brooklyn, New York.”
People who are preparing to commute in a light to medium snow region and do not have time to swap out tires each year can opt for all-weather tires, which are certified to be driven in extreme weather conditions. These are not to be confused with all-season tires, which have poorer traction.
When shopping for tires, drivers can differentiate between tire types by looking for special indicators. All-season tires are stamped M&S for mud and snow, and they are capable of handling rain and light snowy conditions. In recent years, manufacturers launched all-weather tires, which are also stamped M&S but include a 3-peak mountain snowflake, as well. Prior to this, the snowflake had been used only on winter tires to indicate certification for use in extreme winter weather conditions like heavy snow and slush.
For icy roads and hills, tire experts recommend drivers opt for winter tires for extra grip and added safety. In areas that are particularly mountainous, studdable winter tires with metal studs provide the most traction.
So where do drivers in the market for winter tires begin? Kugel said the first step is to know what type of winter you are solving for — medium snow, heavy snow, slush, icy roads, or hills/mountainous roads — then consider your tire options like studdless, studdable, and pre-studded.
Studdless and studdable are the most common winter tires because they can be used for most of the harsh winter weather conditions. These ship from manufacturers without studs. There are also varying stud sizes, engineered to meet tire specifications, so it is recommended to call a professional for installation. Drivers can purchase pre-studded tires from their local tire retailer. All three of these types are preferred for those who drive on uneven, icy roads and need maximum grip.
The caveat lies with SUVs and trucks. For these vehicles, all-terrain tires are perfectly fine for drivers looking for a little extra traction during the winter than typical all-season highway treads would provide. These are suitable for highway driving with some off-road capability.
Additionally, winter tires come in all shapes and sizes to match a specific vehicle’s make and model. Using truck tires on a car will change the ride drastically. Manufacturers do make tires suitable for both vehicle types, and these will be explicitly labeled as such. Drivers in the market for this type of tire can look to examples like Continental’s VikingContact7, which claims to be versatile enough to work on cars and SUVs.
If you’re worried buying a brand name will break the bank, Kugel said the investment is not as much as you may think.
“Like any product, there are economy, value, and premium brands,” Kugel said. “The quality difference between an economy and premium is pretty drastic. There are some brands that are good that you may not have heard of before.”
For those seeking a balance between good quality and affordability, Kugel said there are plenty of options available. He recommends looking at brands like Hankook and General. For those seeking top of the line, he suggests European brand Nokian, as well as household names Michelin, Continental, and Pirelli. Nokian also offers tires pre-studded at the factory for those commuting in the harshest winter conditions.
When buying online through retailers, customers may be able to opt for payment plans. Kugel said Tire Agent recognized winter tires can sometimes be expensive, so his company offers the widest variety of payment plan options, including weekly or bi-weekly payments, no money down, and long payment terms. They also have payment options for those with no credit score, making a safe winter commute more accessible to all.
Shopping for the right winter tire is imperative but there are also other precautions you can take to make for a safe drive for you and your family.
“More than anything, you have to know your car and its capabilities,” Kugel said. “Where’s your traction control button?” Drivers also need to consider whether their vehicles have four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, forward-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive, he added.
Insurance companies like AAA offer safe winter driving tips like:
- Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you
- Drive slowly
- Brake much sooner than you usually do and brake gradually
- Make sure your tires are properly inflated before driving
- If you lose control, do not overcorrect
Other, not so obvious tips are to keep snacks and water in your vehicle as well as roadside essentials like flares and orange cones in case of emergencies, plus keeping your phone charged. Experts also recommend using wiper fluid rated for -30 degrees and informing people where you’re going.