Even in Maine, some people don’t get it

Car stuck in snow

Towing by the woods on a snowy evening

While out and about in yesterday’s  8″ “dusting”, I saw a large number of cars skidding, sliding and just plain going nowhere, even on plowed roads. That’s almost certainly because the cars were equipped with summer or “all-season” tires, in defiance of the certain knowledge that “all-season” refers to seasons in parts of the country that never see snow. If you live where it does snow, you need a different tire.

Edmunds did an interesting experiment testing the capabilities of “summer”, “all-season” and “snow” tires, first on snow, then on dry pavement. The result? Snows were pretty useless in dry California conditions, and fabulous in Minnesota, while summer tires were the reverse. All-Season tires gave the most balanced performance: they sucked in both conditions.

Summing Up
What can we make of all this? For one, low-friction surfaces demand respect. Our stopping distances in the wet range 30-40 percent longer than those recorded on dry pavement. Meanwhile, stops on snow consume at least three times the distance as they do on dry asphalt, even with the use of best-case tires in each situation.

Second, no single tire type excels on all surfaces, and the differences between each are sometimes striking. These differences are so massive, in fact, that we feel that certain generalizations can be extrapolated from our small trio of carefully selected test tires.

To the surprise of exactly no one, our winter tires dominate in snow and the summer tires dominate in the dry. The eye-opener here relates to wet performance, where a well-developed summer tire embarrasses an all-season tire made for the same car by the same folks. Anyone who never sees or visits snow would be very well served by summer tires for year-round use.

Another key take-away from this exercise is the utter worthlessness of those same summer tires on snow. Anyone who uses snow tires in winter and summer tires the rest of the year — a good strategy to maximize performance and control all year — needs to time the switch-over carefully to avoid getting caught out by the first rogue snow accumulation of the season.

And the lameness of summer tires on snow makes it easy to see why the California Highway Patrol and other local authorities can have a hair-trigger when it comes to requiring snow chains. It also explains why so many carmakers spend a lot of energy on all-season tires; they don’t know where you live or where you’ll drive, so they want to make sure you’ve got passable winter rubber.

But in delivering this capability, all-season tires sacrifice a noticeable bit of dry and wet performance. Meanwhile, snow and summer tires provide clear benefits to those who can use them. In this particular test, at least, all-season tires live up to the old figure of speech our old dad used to trot out on occasion: “jack of all trades, master of none.”

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Even in Maine, some people don’t get it

  1. I’ve had great luck with Michelin snow tires. I have a set of X-Ice tires on now, but I’ve had the PA’s in the past and they’re great too.

    http://www.tirerack.com/winter/brand.jsp?brand=Michelin

    If you buy them from tirerack.com you can get them mounted on alloy or steel wheels and shipped out ready to put on the car. If you plan on keeping the car for a few years the cost of the extra set of wheels will be offset by the lower cost of having them put on the car every year. You’ll also have less stress on the tires since they won’t have to get pulled off the wheel every year.

  2. uminn65

    wonder why this six year old study is appearing now.

    • Nah, it’s an old article, I just dug it out of the web ’cause I was looking for something more authoritative than my own uninformed, anecdotal opinion. Wasn’t plot to sell tires for their advertisers.

  3. Anonymous

    Big fat tires (low aspect ratio) don’t work as well as narrow skinny ones in snow. They apply more PSI for traction. Physics.

    Tires with hydrophilic compounds (“snow tires”) fare better.

    The opposite is true on sand where you want big fat tires with low grip tread.
    The worst thing that has happened is that today’s cars seem to come with ever bigger wheels and ever fatter tires. The Toyota Venza (for example) comes with 20″ tires! The unsprung weight it adds along with the narrow sidewall ensures bad snow handling, many flats and dented wheels. Not picking on Toyota–all brands are in an arms race to have bigger wheels.

    On icy roads, nothing helps except staying home. The optimal solution? a ‘tin lizzie’ with studs on 30″ inchers and full time 4WD. 🙂