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Winter Tires vs Snow TiresIf you live in a cold, snowy region of the world, you know how important proper traction is. Accidents increase in nearly every state in the US during the winter, and that is directly attributable to how difficult it is to maintain grip when snow and ice build up on the roads.

With that said, as a responsible driver, you’ll naturally want to get the right tires so you can continue to travel and commute, but choosing between winter tires or snow tires can be tricky, especially since they otherwise sound like the same thing.

Winter Tires and Snow Tires Are (Almost) The Same Thing

What used to be marketed as “snow tires” are called “winter tires” these days, and that fact alone might make you think “case closed,” but in actuality, there’s an important distinction to make that depends on what people mean when they refer to a set of wheels as snow tires.

Studded Tires: Rubber vs. Metal

Today, when someone refers to snow tires, they most likely mean studded winter tires, which have holes in the treads where users must install metal (typically tungsten) or rubber studs that stick out of the tread by around 1/32” and pierce through the snow.

There are two kinds of studs for winter tires: rubber and metal. Of course, metal studs will be much harsher on bare pavement than rubber studs, which is why the following eleven states ban their use entirely:

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin

That said, these six states allow metal studded tires with no restrictions:

  • Colorado
  • Kentucky
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • Vermont
  • Wyoming

All other states have date restrictions for metal studded tires, meaning they can only be used during winter months. Generally, states are more lax about rubber studs, but most still restrict their use to winter driving only. If you’re ever in doubt, check your state’s laws.

Winter Tires

In order to provide superior performance in winter weather, winter tires carry several important distinctions in contrast to all-season or summer tires, such as:

Softer Rubber

Winter tire rubber starts softer than other types of tires in order to remain pliable in cold temperatures.

Deeper Treads

With deep grooves, winter tires can get their treads deeper in snow and ice than other tires, giving them a better chance to grip solid ground.

Intricate Tread Patterns

It’s not just deeper grooves that make the difference; it’s also how the tread itself is designed. Each winter tire tread block has tiny sipes that are incredibly effective at biting into ice and pushing snow out of the way.

When to Install Winter Tires

Since winter tires don’t perform well in warm, dry weather, you should reserve them for only when you need them. You can either have a tire shop install them before inclement weather is on its way, or you can keep four spare rims with winter tires and put them on your car yourself. Ultimately, if you can see your breath outside, that’s how you know it’s time for winter tires.

As winter weather comes around, it’s natural to want to be as prepared and safe as possible on the roads. Understanding the difference between winter and snow tires can help make that goal a reality.

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