“They’re called all-season tires, so I can use them in all four seasons. Right?”
Nope. Not if you live in a place with cold winter temperatures and regular ice and snow. The fact is, winter tires are completely different than all-season tires. They’re purpose-built for winter driving conditions, with special tread materials and tread features that provide traction in extreme cold, snow, and ice. Even if there’s no snow or ice on the road, if it’s very cold, your all-season tires are not good enough. In this post, we’ll talk about some of the technologies that make winter tires a must-have in many areas of the country.
Sipes slurp up water and enhance traction on ice and snow
Most winter tires feature sipes, which are tiny slits cut into the tread rubber. Sipes help improve the tire’s grip on ice. Here’s how it works: Ice releases a thin film of water when weight (like the weight of
your car) is placed on it. This invisible slick of water can cause tires to slide on ice. Sipes in the tire’s tread open up as they meet ice and siphon up the water. The zig-zag pattern of winter sipes also provides what the tire industry likes to call “biting edges.” When the sipes open up, their edges chomp into snow and ice, providing excellent traction.
The General Altimax Arctic is a great example of a winter tire with sipes – you can see the multitude of tiny zig-zagging slits in the close-up of the tread to the left.
Wondering why they’re called sipes? We did, so we investigated. Turns out they’re named after a 1920s butcher named John Sipe, who used a knife to cut slits in his rubber-soled shoes for better traction on the wet floors in his slaughterhouse. Yuck – but now you know!
High-tech tread compounds grip in all types of winter weather
Winter tires use special tread materials that stay flexible even in extremely cold weather, so they can provide excellent grip in winter conditions. Contrast this with all-season tires, which are made of hard rubber compounds. All-season tires can become so firm in cold weather that they no longer provide effective road contact and traction.
Many winter tires use tread compounds that contain silica – for example, Michelin’s FleX-Ice compound. Silica helps the tread compound stay pliable in low temperatures, so it provides exceptional traction in a variety of winter conditions – like bare, dry roads in extremely cold temperatures, or roads covered with compact snow and ice.
Bridgestone uses a proprietary technology called Tube Multicell Technology with Bite Particles in its Blizzak winter tires. The tread compound contains microscopic bubbles that act like sponges to soak up that surface film of water we mentioned earlier. Then, tiny bite particles embedded in the surface of the tire go to work, digging into ice and delivering enhanced traction.
Winter tires for the win: Improved handling, safety, and driving confidence
If you’ve been getting through winter on your all-season tires, and dreading every cold and snowy drive, you might be surprised at just how much a set of winter tires can improve your vehicle’s handling and safety, not to mention your level of confidence every time you get in the car.
If you’d like help finding the right set of winter tires for your vehicle, our tire experts are ready to help – just give them a call at (866) 961-8668.