Winter Tires Primer: Not All Tires are Created Equal

Posted on January 18, 2013 by

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Tires are among the most crucial components of a vehicle and are vital to safety, as they are literally the rubber that meets the road. A tire’s ability to meet the road and respond to the driver’s intentions are heavily influenced by external factors. Weather, road conditions and temperature affect a tire’s performance in different ways. Tire manufacturers have responded with tires engineered for various elemental conditions, winter tires among them.

ecause the limousine industry emphasizes safe and comfortable transportation for clients, it may seem like common sense for operators to equip their cars with different tires for each season. But a common mistake many people make is to believe that winter tires are the same thing as snow tires, and that if they do not drive in a region that receives snow, they have no need for winter tires.

Temperature plays a big role in tire performance and safety, and operators in regions that don’t snow may consider switching to winter tires based on several factors.

“Winter tires used to be called snow tires, but that is no longer the case,” says Bob Ulrich, renowned tire expert and award-winning editor of Modern Tire Dealer magazine. “Winter tires are built for the winter season, which includes cold temperatures, and possibly rain, ice and snow. So winter tires will necessarily perform better than average in any of those conditions. But [operators] should pay attention to temperature. It may not snow or rain or get icy in your region, but if it gets cold enough, you might want to switch to winter tires to ensure safety.”

Modern Tire Dealer editor Bob Ulrich says winter tires and snow tires are not the same thing.
Modern Tire Dealer editor Bob Ulrich says winter tires and snow tires are not the same thing.

When the temperature drops below 45 or 44 degrees Farenheit, the rubber in the tire gets harder, which affects the tire’s ability to perform, Ulrich says. Winter tires are made with a softer compound that keeps them pliable and improves their grip on the road in colder climates.

“Winter tires not only stop faster, they retain traction and braking ability [in the cold], and ultimately braking is the key because you want to be able to hit the brakes and have the car stop,” Ulrich says.

In addition to the compound of the rubber, winter tires are designed with different tread depths and patterns, with channels that displace water or snow and allow the tire to remain on the road.

Conversely, summer tires are good for warmer conditions and should be worn when temperatures rise. People who don’t want to buy two sets of tires often opt for an all-season tire.

Dave Brodoway, a limousine operator based out of Lethbridge and Calgary, Alberta, Canada, uses all-season tires in place of “true winter tires” because they “actually makes a rougher ride, and over the years we have found that a higher quality all-season tire works best, as limos seem to track pretty well in the snow and poor road conditions,” Brodoway says.

“The weather in my area can drastically swing depending on the mood of Mother nature,” Brodoway says. “Chinook winds, which are warm, dry winds that move down the eastern slope of the Rockies, can bring the temperature from frigid cold to T-shirt weather within an hour.”

Brodoway’s limousines wear the all-season tire from about November to March. He switches to performance touring rubber from mid-March to mid-October.

Canadian operator Dave Brodoway routinely coordinates chauffeured runs during harsh winters, making him an expert on winter tires for his fleet.
Canadian operator Dave Brodoway routinely coordinates chauffeured runs during harsh winters, making him an expert on winter tires for his fleet.

“As it gets colder and begins to rain and snow, an all-season tire is fine,” Ulrich says. “But it isn’t as good in winter as a winter tire, and from a safety standpoint, winter tires are the best. You can really feel a difference with a winter tire. It stops and handles very well in winter weather.”

Since limousine fleets have grown more diverse in recent years, operators should consult with independent tire dealers to determine if their vehicles need winter tires and what their options are.

Of the many makes and models of winter tires, the ones in the following list rank among the best.

Due to their special construction and design, winter tires wear out faster than ordinary tires. They should be swapped out in the spring and stored until the next winter season. Depending on the amount of use and abuse, winter tires can last multiple seasons, “roughly three to four years,” Ulrich says.

Ulrich encourages operators to speak with their local tire dealer to help them assess their needs and options. Coach builders and dealers also may have tire experts on hand or be able to recommend one.
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