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Best Winter Tires

Updated December 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 17 Models Considered
  • 5 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 93 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best winter tires

    Last Updated December 2018

    When the weather turns bad, changing to winter tires has long been the preferred option. Although all-season tires are advertised as a complete solution, tire experts will tell you that these tires just don't offer sufficient grip when the snow is deep or the road is icy.

    Anyplace where the temperature drops to freezing and below, winter tires offer increased safety for you and your family. As a result, tire manufacturers give you plenty of choices.

    We at BestReviews have investigated what's available. The following buying guide contains invaluable information to help you choose the right winter tires for your vehicle.

    Pneumatic tires were invented in 1847 by a Scot, Robert William Thompson, but it took another 40 years before veterinarian John Boyd Dunlop developed one that was commercially viable.

    Winter tire features to consider

    Construction

    All modern radial tires are made of a combination of fiber cords coated in rubber; steel wires (sometimes with Kevlar added) made into belts and layered together with more rubber; and an outer tread layer. These components give the tire a combination of flexibility (which it needs in order to absorb the sideways pressure exerted during cornering), overall strength, and grip.

    The tread is what distinguishes summer tires from winter tires (also called snow tires).

    Summer tires: These are constructed to put as much rubber on the road as possible. When the rubber warms up sufficiently, it gives maximum grip. Two minor compromises on summer tires include treads cut to disperse water when it rains, and comparatively hard rubber compounds – a middle ground between optimum traction and wear rate.

    Winter tires: These tires have a much deeper tread, more defined tread blocks, and additional tiny cuts (sipes) in the individual tread blocks. They’re designed to do two jobs: slice through and claw into packed snow, holding some of it in the tread to provide increased traction.

    The rubber used in winter tires is softer and more pliable and therefore provides more grip at low temperatures. Tire profiles tend to be taller, with squarer shoulders to maximize contact area.

    More aggressive tread blocks provide better directional control, resulting in you being able to steer the car where you want to go rather than the common problem on ice and snow of losing grip and drifting sideways.

    One of the things that causes loss of grip on ice isn't the ice itself but a very thin layer of water resting on top of the ice. It creates an effect like aquaplaning in which braking makes little or no difference. Recently developed cell technology is being used to counteract this problem on high-end winter tires. Tiny pockets pull the water away from the surface of the ice and eject it behind, just like a summer tire does with rain.

    Studs vs. no studs

    Metal studs were first used in tires in the 1960s. The idea was that each stud would cut into the ice, giving extra traction as the wheels rotate. They’re very effective, too. Nothing gives better grip – as long as there's ice to cut into.

    The problem comes when there is patchy coverage or slush. The studs then either lose traction or cut up the pavement. As a result, studded tires are restricted or completely banned in large parts of the country. If you want to use studded tires, it's important to check your local statutes.

    While most major manufacturers do offer studded winter tires, treads have to be thicker to allow for securing the stud. This means there's less choice.

    For those who want the option, studdable winter tires are available. Supplied without studs but molded to accept them, studs can be added at the user's discretion.

    Overall, there's a definite emphasis on rubber and tread technology that provides enhanced grip in all weather conditions and not just when there is thick ice on the roads.

    CAUTION

    Always buy tires of the right size and speed rating for your vehicle. Cutting corners to save money could be lethal. Look in your owner's manual and on the tire sidewall for specifications.

    SUVs, 4x4s, and all-wheel vehicles

    Modern all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering systems offer increased traction and control compared to standard front- or rear-drive counterparts, but fitting winter tires to these vehicles still makes a significant difference. A survey by one major nationwide tire supplier found that stopping distances were shortened up to 35% using winter tires.

    Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and traction control are also perceived as helping grip in poor weather conditions. Unfortunately that's not what they do.

    ABS: ABS will stop your brakes from locking up if you press the pedal too hard. You may not skid, but if there's no traction between the tire and the road, you won't stop, either!

    Traction control: Likewise, traction control will stop wheel spin if you're heavy on the accelerator, and it does a great job of balancing grip across all four wheels, but if you've got almost zero traction to start with, you're going to go nowhere fast.

    The bottom line is that winter tires increase control whatever you drive.

    Disadvantages of winter tires

    Safety has to be the primary concern, so we always recommend fitting winter tires in areas where weather conditions warrant it. However, it's only fair to point out a few negatives you ought to be aware of:

    • Fuel consumption can be considerably higher.

    • Deeply cut tread blocks make these tires noisier.

    • Hydrophilic treads can wear quickly because they’re restricted to the surface of the tire. The tire still retains winter properties but not the advanced water dispersal.

    • You’re likelier to damage a rim the more often you change tires. If you can afford it (and have the space), it's better to have a spare set of wheels with tires already fitted. Changing them over is quicker and damage far less likely.
    EXPERT TIP

    Having a complete set of spare wheels and winter tires – rather than just the tires – is more expensive, but it makes it much easier to change them at home.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    Don't try to drive on winter tires all year. The softer compound that gives them better grip in the cold also wears much faster when the roads are dry and warm.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Winter tire prices

    Cheap winter tires are not something we would recommend. Your safety is more important than saving a few bucks.

    Good winter tires are more expensive than standard tires, but they don't have to be prohibitive. Bear in mind they'll probably last several years. Tires you can trust from well-known brands start at around $80, depending on your vehicle. Tires for SUVs and high-performance vehicles are normally more expensive than those for the average family sedan, but even top-rated winter tires rarely exceed $200.

    Tips

    • Never buy partly worn or retread winter tires. At best, they're ineffective; at worst, they're dangerous.

    • Change all four tires, not just two. If you don’t, you'll dramatically affect the balance of your car. You'll have one end that grips the road and another that doesn't. Handling and braking will both suffer.

    • Check tire pressure regularly. Doing it once a month is a good habit to get into. However, your tires can lose one pound per square inch per 10°F temperature drop, so if you're traveling from a warm area to a cold one, it's a good idea to check the pressure along the way – or at least when you arrive. Don't forget that you'll have the opposite effect when you go back.

    • Follow the same winter driving precautions if you use studded tires:

      • Turn slowly.

      • Don't tailgate.

      • Brake gently, well in advance.

      • Take your foot off the gas if you start to slide. Turn toward the slide, not away, to straighten out the vehicle.

    • Clean winter tires with a stiff nylon brush and soapy water before storing. If you're changing wheels and tires, store upright and rotate by 45° once a month so that the weight doesn't always rest on the same area of tread. If you’re storing only tires, store them flat and stacked on top of each other.

    • Check under your car for winter damage or corrosion. When changing over to summer tires, have a good look around under your vehicle to check for any damage.

    • Take a winter driving class. If you're unaccustomed to driving in harsh conditions, you might want to enroll in one of several winter driving courses. Driving on snow and ice in a safe, controlled environment is a lot of fun!
    Winter tires work better than summer ones as soon as the temperature drops below 45°F. Don't wait until there's snow and ice on the roads.

    FAQ

    Q. If I fit winter tires, do I still need snow chains?

    A. It depends on where you live and where you intend to travel. Even using winter tires, snow chains still offer additional grip on roads that are completely covered with snow and ice. And there's another aspect: in some states (and National Parks) snow chains are mandatory in certain conditions regardless of the vehicle you drive or the tires fitted.

    Q. I've got all-season tires. Do I really need winter tires, too?

    A. All-season radial tires are certainly better than standard summer tires when the temperature drops. If you seldom see ice or snow, they’re a reasonable compromise. However, experts tell us that even new all-season tires only offer half the traction of winter tires, and half-worn all-season tires offer no benefit at all when the temperature is below 40°F.

    Q. When should I fit winter tires?

    A. You don't want to get caught out by sudden bad weather, so it's better to be early than late! October is a popular month. Tire manufacturers recommend fitting winter tires when the temperature drops below 45°F (7°C).

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bob
      Bob
      Writer
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer

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