You may be wondering why you even need winter tires when the tires currently on your car are called all-season tires, but winter tires really are worth the money – especially if you live in a location where it becomes icy and snows on a regular basis in the colder months of the year.
Many people buy all-wheel drive cars, thinking that will be enough to protect them from driving in the snow and ice. We get it, four wheels makes people feel more invincible than two. But when it comes to slippery road conditions, a winter tire will beat out an all-season tire every time. They perform better when stopping or turning, and they allow better mobility when driving on slick roads.
Winter tires are important for your safety. Yet, they’re not cheap. We’ll show you exactly what to look for before you purchase your tires and which options are the best winter tires you could buy this year.
Winter Tire Buyer’s Guide
Tires were created to control the car while in motion and help you stay on the road, and your mobility will only be as good as the tires on your car. Different types of tires are broken down based on these three main characteristics:
- Tread pattern
- Tread compound
- Tread depth
When it comes to winter tires, you’ll notice they have a different tread pattern that’s designed for low-traction situations. The depth of the tread is sufficient as well, which makes them perfect at holding steady through snow or slush. Finally, although you can’t see a winter tire’s compound unless you can see at a molecular level, winter tires are made to remain soft and grippy in low temperatures.
Regular tires, on the other hand, may work well under warm driving conditions. But when the temperature drops, they become hard as a rock and the material becomes brittle and breakable. This means you’re more likely to wear down your regular tires in the winter months, not to mention the drastic decrease in traction.
Here are a few important factors to consider before buying winter tires:
- Compound – Because your tires’ PSI changes with each 10-degree drop in temperature outside, the compound your tires are comprised of can help you go longer without needing to air up your tires or check the air pressure.
- Tread – Each brand will offer a different thread for winter tires they’ve designed as unique to them. They’re all vastly different, but the edges will be designed to grip the road while the gaps in the tread contour to the road for added stability.
- Time – Expect your winter tires to last for three winter seasons. Some top models can last up to five seasons.
- Size – Check what size your car needs, as not all tires are created for all sized cars. The placard located in your driver’s side door jam should display the proper information you need.
- Warranty – Instead of including treadwear mileage markers as your warranty would with regular tires, winter tire warranties include inch-depth fractions and the number of years.
- Weather – If the winter weather where you live is commonly harsh, with large amounts of snow piling up, you may need studs or deeper tread whereas ice requires more stopping power.
Buy Four Tires, Not Only Two
Don’t think, however, that you can get away with only placing winter tires on two of your car’s wheels. Even if your car is only front-wheel drive, you need to put winter tires on all four wheels to maximize the handling of your vehicle. If you only have winter tires on the front, for example, and you lose traction on the back wheels alone, the car will move as if it’s on roller skates instead of tires.
Studs or Performance Tires
Another choice you’ll need to make involving winter tires comes down to studs or no studs. Studded winter tires are embedded with metal along the tread, which physically digs into the ice to provide added traction. The problem here is that they also dig into the pavement and can damage the surface of roads, so they’re banned in some states while others only ban them during the months they’re unnecessary.
Over time, winter tires with metal studs have become less popular. Newer models are now made to instead use tiny gaps in the thread called sipes to grip snow or ice along with compounds like silica.
Performance winter tires, alternatively, are better if you tend to drive during freezing cold temperatures without much ice. When winter is the worst, a studded tire is ideal. Both are made using a unique type of compound that maximizes your traction in the ice and snow, as they’re designed to grip water. However, neither type is best for performance during warm weather.
If you live in the snowy backroads or have a job where it’s important for you to travel into work on time regardless of the weather, go with studded tires. Anyone living in a location where the winter temperature is typically under 45 degrees F needs winter tires. If you live in the suburbs or city, don’t travel long distances, or don’t always face harsh winters, performance tires are the best option for you.
Even if you live somewhere that doesn’t experience ice or snowy winters, you still need winter tires. Frankly, the rubber makes all the difference and you don’t want your regular tires to crack. Whether the roads are dry or wet, winter tires reduce your drive time and the tension on your tires.
Mountain Snowflake Symbol
No matter which type of winter tire you select, look for the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol located on a winter tire’s sidewall near the rim. This symbol means the tire has passed a standardized traction test, and the brand M + S next to the mountain means the tire is designed to perform well even in moderate winter conditions.
If you want to save some money, you can always purchase the tread itself and use your same rim for your different types of tires. However, you’d need to have a professional take care of the process. Or, you can have two pairs of tires with rims attached to each.
With the rim included, the tire can weigh around 50 pounds, which may make it harder to move them around for storage, but does allow you to change the tires yourself when the time is right rather than visit the shop.
No Storage? No Problem
If you’re wondering how you plan to store four tires around your home so you can switch between winter tires and your warm season rubber, look at local shops near you. Some will change the tires for you and place the other tires in your trunk or offer storage at the shop, so your home garage won’t feel cluttered. Whether you have a shed or garage at home makes no difference.
Some larger franchises may even complete future tire changes for you at no added price, which is often done in hopes that you purchase your tire needs from them in the future. Shop around and look for price match guarantees to ensure you find the best deal.
10 Best Winter Tires
For ultimate safety under harsh winter conditions, winter tires on all four wheels are vital. Now that you know what to look for in a winter tire retreading, here are the best winter tires you can find at an affordable price. These are the 10 options that are worth buying this winter to keep you and your loved ones safe, no matter what conditions you face.
Michelin X-Ice X13 Winter Tires
A leading winter tire and highly trusted tire brand in America, Michelin create the best tires available. They’re a high-quality option that never stops improving, and the X-Ice X13 tires are created with cross z sipes to add durability to any type of winter condition. With the independent should function, unique tread marks, and grippy compound materials, you can hit the winter road at higher speeds and stay safe.
This tire is the top pick because it performs better in one area than any other tire on this list: when the snow begins to melt on the roads. This versatility allows you to travel safely during ice and snow, but also during muddy, slushy weather.
Not much of a car person? There are even visible indicators melded into the tires to show when your traction is reduced during wet weather conditions. This is a truly revolutionary tire, and you can tell Michelin thought about how people use their winter tires when constructing this design.
Bridgestone Blizzak WS80
Bridgestone’s winter tires are among the best you can find for a good reason. They’re designed using 3D zig-zag patterned sipes that are exclusive to the brand to help you grip the snow better than any other standard snow tire. It also has a compound that seeks water, and the hydraulic coating works well in wet conditions for added dexterity. When you need to keep direction most, these tires help you out.
Whether you’re driving in ice or slush, this tire will keep you safe. Bridgestone comes with a rating higher than the industry’s current requirements for safe winter tires, and the contact patch is optimized to perform well in packed snow. The best part is that the warranty lasts five years or the first 1/32-inches of wear in the tires, so you can drive on them for a long time.
Yokohama W.drive V905
If you have an extra-large truck, these are the snow tires for you. This is a great option because these tires combine a good price with superior quality. Expect your Yokohama tires to last, with an excellent warranty of five years or 2/32-inches of wear that back up this claim. For a balanced ride that handles smoothly, the two-ply polyester casing evens the playing field between different drivers.
Yokohama will keep you safe during blizzards or ice storms. These tires offer a unique tread, an orange oil-infused compound near the tread, and highly durable construction. They have triple 3D sipes that allow maximum grip, and even if you do feel like you’re about to hydroplane, the added traction quickly sets you back on track.
Dunlop SP Sport 5000 All-Season Tire
Dunlop knows that creating the best tires is all about safety, so they made the digital rolling simulation technology in order to boost the strength, stress level, and durability of your tires. Another unique tread pattern, Dunlop tires handle well on the highway and remain balanced in either wet or dry conditions. The warranty only lasts a year or the first 2/32-inches of wear, which is okay.
The drive is comfortable, and owners of these tires say they were able to extend their winter tire life from three seasons to five because they’re just that durable. When it comes to the price, a good winter tire that lasts this long makes it a must-have if dependability and price are important factors for you.
Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT
Finally, a tire whose name says it all! Goodyear’s winter tires offer the best traction for the price. They grip the ice, even in the worst winter conditions, and when the temperature plummets into single digits, these tires never stop performing well. They tackle snow and ice with ease, and they even supersede severe snow service vehicle requirements for a safe ride.
Wet, dry, or fluffy snow makes no difference when you have these tires. With ready to install studs you can individually include on each tire, you have more versatility over your tires’ performance. Simply set the studs in place when the snow reaches new heights and remove them when the road conditions improve. These tires are great for anyone living in the north, who may face the harshest weather.
The only thing that could make this tire better is the warranty. Only one year or up to 2/32-inches of wear isn’t enough for such a high performing winter tire. Yet, the ability to face subzero temperatures may be the tradeoff.
Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3
Another popular winter option, Pirelli outdid themselves with these tires. They can come either standard or run-flat style, which offers versatility. The high-density sipes improve braking on the ice, and their special winter compound is designed in a directional pattern that comes with a large contact patch. Water and slush won’t stand in your way, but these tires may not perform as well in the snow as other options available on the market today.
Customers still adore these tires thanks to their strong cold and ice capabilities, so if the weather is often icier than snowy where you live, they may be perfect for your needs. The tread may not last long though, and the lack of a warranty is another bummer for the high price tag. But if you need run-flats, they may be the best choice for you.
Bridgestone Blizzak DM
Similar to Bridgestone’s top-performing Blizzak WS80 model, these winter tires are another offering in the popular series that offer top quality and traction. They grip the ice without studs and can easily improve the dexterity of your vehicle on the slipperiest roads. An industry trendsetter, new Blizzaks offer 15% more traction than previous models and they just keep getting better.
The only reason they’re not ranked higher is because of the warranty. This tire offers no yearly warranty, so you are only covered for the first 1/32-inches of wear. However, they can handle much heavier loads of over 9,000 pounds and come with a visible depth indicator to check the tread easily.
Yokohama Iceguard iG52c
These tires are known as Yokohama’s most ecologically-friendly winter option, with a high-density trad compound and unique materials to allow the tire to handle perfectly in cold weather. They offer to lock sipes for stability when turning corners, come in varying sizes that are harder to find, and perform well on the ice but not deep snow.
The downside is that there’s no warranty offered, and these tires are not available in the larger sizes that SUV drivers will need. However, it does come in many size options, even as low as 175/70R13. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly winter tire and don’t travel in thick snow, this is the tire for you.
Firestone Winterforce UV
Firestone is another industry-leader in tires, and these winter tires offer a unique tread that’s designed with a wider contact pad to clutch closer to the roadway. This added durability combines with added control overturning and maneuverability to keep you in control of where your car heads. With this model, you can also install studs easily by yourself when the snow piles up.
However, no yearly warranty is offered with these tires, which many customers find a huge disappointment. For a tire with such great grip, many people hoped they would also last longer.
Continental Wintercontact SI
As the SI in the name of these tires suggests, this option performs well in both the snow and ice. Like many of the other options on this list, Continental features a compound the specially designed to help the rubber remain flexible in the coldest temperatures, which also aids traction and provides more grip. The multi-angled zigzag sipes keep you safe on wet, slushy roads while the groove ridges aid braking.
This option also comes with a tread depth indicator to help drivers know when they need new snow tires, and they come with a year-long warranty plus a year-long road hazard warranty. Even better, you can try them out for 60 days and return them if you don’t enjoy the ride. However, the biggest downside to this tire is the price. For such a high price tag, many customers find them simply not affordable.
How We Chose Our Ratings
Helping you find the best winter tires available on the market today to keep you safe on the ice or snow is important to us, so we rate the options based on safety. Winter tires need to perform well under harsh conditions like snow and ice, keep people safe, and provide smooth rides. We locate the best by reading through real customer reviews and checking what tire pros in the industry think is best.