Preparing Your Tires for Winter

Snow TyresPreparing for the rigors of seasonal driving is important. You should ensure that your car is ready for spring, summer, fall, and, most importantly, winter driving. Each season brings its own unique hazards and threats. Summertime sees heavy rainfall, serious storms, strong winds, and more. However, winter is the most dangerous in terms of actual hazards, due to ice, snow, and rainfall on slick roads. One important tip for winter driving prep is to ensure that your tires are up to the task. What do you need to know? 

Check Your Tread Depth

As you use your tires, the rubber in the tread wears down. Eventually, you’ll be left with nothing but smooth rubber, with no tread left at all. Of course, that’s illegal and you should never let your tires get that bad. However, many people aren’t familiar with how to measure tire tread depth and when replacement is necessary. Eyeballing it is not enough. You need to actually measure the remaining tread.

Hit any local auto parts store and you’ll find they sell tire tread gauges. These are simple, affordable devices that combine a metal gauge with a depth indicator. The readings on the indicator should be in 32nds of an inch (which is what tire tread is measured by). In most areas, 3/32 of tread is the legal limit.

To measure your tread, select a location in the center of the tire. Place the gauge as shown in the directions supplied (generally, the flat crossbar section should sit on top of the tread, allowing you to depress the gauge into the space between treads, and then read the resulting number). Check the gauge reading and determine if your tires are good.

As a note, original tread depth varies from tire type to tire type and by manufacturer. A touring style tire will have a different original tread depth than one made for use off-road. However, 3/32nds is the lowest you want to go. In fact, if you’re under 5/32nds, you should consider replacing your tires before the winter gets in full swing.

You can also use this opportunity to check for other potential problems. For instance, if you check the depth across the tire’s width (two or three checks from side to side), you can determine if you have uneven tire wear and whether it’s due to inflation problems, alignment problems or a lack of rotation.

Tire Pressure Plays a Role

Another factor that will play a role in your road safety during winter driving is the pressure within your tires. Ideally, you’ll set the tire pressure to what the manufacturer recommends. You can find this information on the driver’s side door placard. Never set your tires by the sidewall rating (this is the maximum PSI the tire can hold, not what you need when driving).

Tire pressure will affect many things about how your car handles on the road during winter driving conditions. This is particularly true if your tires are overinflated. Generally, over inflation leads to “harder” tires, with less give. Too much pressure and you’ll find that you have almost no traction in slick driving conditions. When it comes to winter driving, it’s better to err on the side of lower pressure than higher pressure, as lower pressure results in a softer tire capable of better traction on the driving surface. However, low tire pressure puts you in danger of other problems, including blowouts. A better option is to make sure that you’re prepared for the winter by having tire chains on hand at all times or by having studded snow tires installed.

These tips will help ensure that you have the best tires on your vehicle and that you’re prepared for winter driving.

Written by Don Elfrink, Owner of AutoMatStore specializes in custom floor mats for your vehicle.

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  1. First a disclaimer. I do happen to work for a tire company, but I’m not saying this to drum up business. If you live in a northern climate where you get snow, a set of snow tires can make a huge difference. My Corolla was awful in the winter time. A couple years ago, since I get a discount on tires I decided to give snow tires a shot. I was amazed at the difference it made. My Corolla is like a tank in the winter with those ties. I used to own a 4WD SUV because of the winter. I am convince a good set of snow tires does far more to help than 4WD ever did. (And they cost a lot less than buying a 4WD vehicle.)

    I know tires aren’t cheap. But if you have to drive a lot in bad weather I think snow tires are a great investment, especially if they keep you out of a costly accident.

    Just be aware that when the weather warms up in the spring, snow tires will deteriorate rapidly on warmer road surfaces. You’ll want to get them off and your regular tires put back on as soon as the threat of bad weather is behind you.

    • Thanks for the input Bob

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