Top 3 Reasons to Buy or Not to Buy Winter Snow Tires (Guide)

2017 notre dame winter driving experience tirerack michelin
from Winter Driving Experience by and Michelin

Those of us who live in the “snow belt” must deal with icy and snowy conditions every season. Are all-season tires good and safe enough year-around? Here are the top three reasons why you should purchase dedicated winter snow tires, and three reasons why you may decide not to.

Laws & Regulations

Certain countries, states, regions, or territories such as Quebec, Canada and Scandinavian countries require and enforce dedicated snow tire usage during winter months. The state of Colorado requires good all-season tires or winter tires on passenger vehicles for traveling over mountain passes during the winter. They require tire chains for commercial vehicles. Non-compliance may result in denial of passage and/or fines.

Here is a tire usage map for North America (provided by Tire Rack and Michelin).

Safety is of paramount importance when considering an automotive purchase and car maintenance. These are some of the trade-offs when it comes to the tire purchases. Let’s break down this winter tire decision process into three areas.

In case you are wondering, we have tested dedicated winter tires on many occasions, and there is absolutely no doubt. Winter tires outperform all-season tires on snow and ice. They offer far superior acceleration, braking, and cornering performance in cold and snowy conditions.

Initial Cost

The first and the most obvious reason is the additional up-front cost of getting a second set of tires for your car. A set of four Michelin X-ICE snow tires that fit a 17-inch rim on a 2017 Toyota Camry is around $552 before shipping costs (approximately $600 including shipping).

This is a substantial amount of money, but consider the following about using winter tires.

  • You are prolonging the life of your summer or all-season tires, by not using them in the winter.
  • You may save considerable time when driving during snowy or icy condition – when you do not get stuck. You also have more control of your vehicle and less stress during your commute.
  • Winter tires can help you avoid a costly accident during a snow storm. If you can avoid damage and/or injury, this is money well spent.

AWD & All-Season Tires

The next argument is that a car, a crossover, or a truck with either all-wheel-drive/4×4 system or good all-season tires is good enough to handle pretty much any winter condition. It’s true that a vehicle with an AWD/4×4 system can help you get moving on a snowy and icy surface, but it will not help you much when time comes to slow down or stop. This is why it’s wise to drive at much slower speeds in the snow. The slower you are moving, the more control you have over making a turn or slowing down.

Tire technology continues to improve at a great pace. The latest all-season tires are getting better with handling low traction surfaces. Still, a great all-season tire cannot match the performance of a snow tire in the snow.

Naturally, a vehicle with an all-wheel-drive system and good all-season tires will help you navigate a winter storm, as long as you are mindful of the conditions and take precautions like using much slower driving speeds and allow for much longer stopping distances.

Inconvenience & Maintenance

Let’s say you purchased a set of winter tires. Now what? You need to store the extra set of tires that you are not currently using, keep track of the miles or number of seasons you have used each set, and schedule the times to swap and/or rotate the tires at your local tire shop or dealership.

Indeed, dedicated winter/snow tires work best at temperatures below 44 F (according to Michelin). Winter tires can handle a warm and dry winter day where temperatures get into the 50 – 65 F range. However, as soon as temperatures consistently get above 55F – it’s time to remove the winter tires, and go the other set.

Do you have to endure long lines at the tire shop in November and April? Do you have to worry about them damaging either the rims or the tires during these repetitive tire mounting procedures? No, there is another option that can ease some of these worries. You can buy a dedicate set of winter wheels and tires. How much is this?

A full set of X-ICE winter tires and 16-inch wheels package for a 2017 Toyota Camry is $687 (before shipping). This is just about $130 more than buying 17-inch winter tires for the same car. Purchasing an entire wheel/tire package is relatively affordable because you can downsize the rim size, and increase the sidewall size of the tire. This makes the tire less expensive. It also means, that you can swap wheels/tires yourself in your garage or driveway.

This is what I did personally three years ago for my VW Golf. I live just north of Denver, Colorado, and I own two set of wheels/tires. Both my all-season tires and winter tires are still in great shape, and my winter commute is a bit less stressful.

Let us know in the comments below what you think about this winter tire vs. all-season tire debate.

Here is winter tire performance demonstration we did a couple of years ago. Our Michelin X-ICE tire demo video is coming soon.