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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.”
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.
“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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Headquartered in Nokia, Finland, Nokian Tyres are internationally known for their winter tires. Nokian operates the only permanent winter tire testing facility in the world. Nokian Tyres developed the first winter tires in 1934 and has more winter tire patents than any other manufacturer. More information can be found at www.nokiantires.com.
Bridgstone Blizzak WS70 / DM-V1
The Blizzak WS70 is Bridgestone’s studless ice and snow winter tire developed for the coupes, sedans, minivans and crossover vehicles. It features a dual-compound tread with Bridgestone’s NanoPro-Tech silica-enhanced Tube Multicell compound layered on top of a standard winter compound.
The Tube Multicell compound features thousands of microscopic tubes and cells uniformly distributed throughout the compound (which makes the rubber look like Swiss cheese when examined through a microscope) that wick away the water that often forms between the tire’s contact patch and the surface of snow-packed and icy roads.
The Blizzak DM-V1 is Bridgestone’s light truck/SUV studless ice and snow winter tire developed for pickup, crossover and SUVs. They are designed with a focus on ice traction and braking, as well as wet road handling and hydroplaning resistance.
The first 55% of the Blizzak DM-V1 tread depth features the Multicell Z Compound while the remaining 45% features a standard winter tire compound. When the Blizzak DM-V1 is about 50% worn, a depth indicator molded into the tread design lets the driver know that the remaining tread is reaching the end of its ability to provide beneficial snow traction.
Michelin Pilot Alpin
The Pilot Alpin PA2 molds a tread rubber compound that remains flexible at lower temperatures for greater grip into a high-contact tread design. The tread blocks feature Michelin’s “Bi-Directional Sipes System” technology that enhances performance on wet, snow-packed and icy roads. The tire’s internal structure features twin steel belts reinforced by Michelin’s size-optimized BAZ technology where nylon cord is Banded At Zero degrees to the direction of travel.
Goodyear Ultra Grip Winter
These tires feature a winter compound molded into a directional tread design that enhances cold weather flexibility and helps evacuate water on wet and slush-covered roads. Strong shoulder blocks promote dry road stability and even treadwear. Wide tread grooves help evacuate loose snow and slush to enhance wintertime traction while multiple sipes increase the number of biting edges to improve grip on ice and snow. Alternating rows of optional metal studs can be added in the shoulder and intermediate tread blocks to increase traction on hard-packed snow and icy roads.
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