Are Snow Tires Really Necessary?

To buy or not to buy -- this age-old dilemma certainly applies to snow tires. Those inclined to gamble on the weather should know that the Farmer's Almanac forecast calls for a repeat of last winter. That means extreme cold periods with lots of storm activity and plenty of snow in much of the United States. Under the (predicted) circumstance, winter tires will be a must for drivers in some regions of the country.

There are several factors to consider when weighing the pros and cons of investing in snow tires. There are also ways to trim your outlay if you decide to forge ahead.


The decision about snow tires rides primarily on location. Anyone who lives in a snow-prone region, in the path of lake-effect snow, or at high elevations, where rain turns to clumps of white flakes, would be wise to install a set of snow tires for winter driving. Consumers who reside on the border of the Snowbelt, in cities such as Nashville and Seattle, may be able to skate by during the cold months without snow tires.

All-Season Tires.

In regions where drivers don't encounter much snow and ice, all-season tires live up to their name. These tires are designed for good performance under a variety of conditions, from dry roads to wet roads, in moderate temperatures. Just be sure the tires are in good condition before relying on them year-round. Once the treads start to wear, traction is compromised and control can be dicey on snowy and icy surfaces. The tread on all-season tires generally lasts longer than the tread on winter tires, but it's advisable to check periodically, and especially before the first snowfall. The next step is obvious: Replace worn tires.

Snow Tires.

Unlike all-season tires, which try to master the road in all seasons -- but don't necessarily succeed on icy, snow-packed surfaces -- snow tires are designed specifically to perform in challenging precipitation and very cold temperatures. The deeper tread on winter tires plows through snow and ice, and the rubber is formulated to withstand frigid air. On the other hand, snow tires take longer than all-season tires to stop on wet and dry surfaces, and they tend to lose tread faster. In other words, don't leave them on the car year-round. And don't buy just two; if you equip the car with winter tires, you need four for an even drive and even control.

How to Save on Snow Tires.

If snow tires seem like a worthy purchase, timing it right is one way to cut the cost. Buying snow tires before winter sets in is a sure way to get in front of demand before it outstrips supply, with the associated run-up in prices and the inevitable "sold out" sign. Comparison shopping for the best deal takes time, so start now. Tire stores and websites are a gold mine for tire deals, as are Costco and Sam's Club. Amazon is also worth checking, but with any online vendor, buyers have to mount the tires themselves or find someone to do the job.