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Does an SUV Need Winter Tires?

Posted: Wednesday, January 9th 2013

This video demonstrates that as truck and SUV speeds increase, winter tires are clearly the best option for winter driving conditions.

A while back we discussed some common misconceptions regarding winter driving and SUVs. We continue to receive questions on this topic. Questions like: My SUV has all-wheel drive (AWD), why would I need winter tires? Do winter tires really make a difference over all-season tires?

It's helpful to first understand winter tires. In 1999, the mountain/snowflake symbol and standard was agreed upon by the U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) and the Rubber Association of Canada (RAC) to ensure consumers can easily identify tires that provide a higher level of snow traction. To earn the emblem, tires must get at least a 110 rating (compared to a standard 100 rating for all-season tires) for real-world performance on ice and snow in American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) tests.

The Benefits of Winter Tires
Although 4WD trucks, SUVs, and crossovers may provide more power than a two-wheel drive sedan, winter driving is all about traction. Stopping, starting, cornering and control are the elements that are controlled primarily by the tires. The facts show that a 4WD vehicle may accelerate quicker in snow, but won't stop any faster or corner any better.

According to “Even in all but the harshest of snowy conditions, a two-wheel-drive vehicle (whether front- or rear-driven) will perform safely and securely in snow with the proper snow tires mounted on all four wheels. Comparison tests performed by automotive-enthusiast magazines in the snow have shown that a 2WD drive vehicle with snow tires on all four wheels will outperform a 4WD vehicle with regular tires."

Driver belief that 4WD vehicles and SUVs can properly handle winter conditions coupled with improper tires for seasonal conditions can lead to winter accidents. While all-season tires are good in a number of general year-round driving conditions, performance can degrade significantly in cold and icy conditions. All-season tires are constructed of rubber compounds which are “averaged" to deliver better wear and good traction in a wide range of conditions, but the trade-off is a decrease in traction below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the point where all-season tire compounds begin to harden and lose traction.

Another thing to remember is many SUVs come with large wide tires. Because of the larger surface area of these tires they don't dig through snow as efficiently as less wide tires, and can actually “hydroplane" on top of snow or ice. This can cause the vehicle to slip during steering and braking maneuvers. The 4WD vehicle may also be at a disadvantage when stopping as many are heavy and take longer to come to a stop

The simple point is this: for maximum winter driving performance a 4WD or AWD vehicle should have winter tires installed. Only winter tires can provide the depth of tread and soft rubber compounds necessary to grip the ice and snow. According to a study conducted by the Quebec Ministry of Transport “proper winter tires can improve braking by up to 25 percent over an all-season radial and can improve collision avoidance by about 38 percent." Furthermore, it's critical to place winter tires on all four wheels – this is especially true for 4WD and AWD vehicles.

When shopping for winter tires, you'll want to make certain that you select a tire branded with the mountain/snowflake symbol. This will assure you have the very best winter traction offered. If you have any questions about winter tires or driving safety, please feel free to call or stop by one of the convenient Dunn Tire locations.