Feature Friday: Winter Tires

Feature Friday: Winter Tires
I recently tested the Michelin X-Ice Snow tires in Quebec, Canada, and in some instances, they were able to stop up to five car lengths faster than a competitive brand. (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

Yeah, I know it’s technically spring. And, yes, I also know it’s in the 60s today in Chicago. But I’d be surprised if we didn’t get one more bout of snow before Mother’s Day. Plus, it’s never to early to plan ahead for next year’s winter nip.

So, I’m going to plant a springtime seed in your head: If you don’t already have winter tires, you should consider getting them.

You might argue we don’t get a lot of snow in Chicago. But it’s not just about the cold white wet stuff. Its about actual cold weather.

During a recent pre-COVID-19 trip to Quebec, Canada, the folks at Michelin explained most experts recommend winter tires at consistent temperatures less than 40 degrees. This isn’t about grip or the ability to plow through snow. This is about the compound tires are made of and whether they stay pliant or get stiff — which could cause slippage on dry pavement.

I’m one of those weird people who actually keeps rubber samples in her freezer to show people the difference between compounds used for summer, all-season and winter tires. It’s significant, as you can see in the image below.

Michelin Tire Rubber Samples

These are the rubber samples I keep in my freezer. The winter compound is not the current X-Ice Snow compound, but it still paints a vivid picture. (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

While we were in Quebec, we tested Michelin’s new X-Ice Snow tires, which have the winter compound as well as special grooves and biting edges designed to handle the weather. We compared them to some top-brand competitors, and while there wasn’t a huge difference, the X-Ice Snow tires did grip a little quicker than competitors and move more confidently through deep snow — both in new and worn conditions.

One of the big reasons why: The grooved pattern on the tires as well as the winter weather rubber compound run down through a 2/32nds depth — and this is when tires should be replaced at 4/32nds.

A lot of competitors don’t go deep — which means they’re competitive when they’re new, but there’s a huge difference in stopability when they begin to wear.

In tests, Michelin said the stopping distance could be as much as five car lengths quicker in the X-Ice Snow tires. That can mean the difference between an accident an keeping your car dent free.

If you would like to see a full review of our test experience, be sure to visit my story on The Median.

But the overall moral of the story: Winter tires make a huge difference.

Other items in the Feature Friday series:

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  • I never figured out why they said to put snow tires on the nondriving wheels, and generally why a front wheel drive car needs them.

  • In reply to jack:

    Even non-driving wheels can contribute to grip when trying to stop, so pliability of material as well as appropriate groves on all wheels contribute to traction. I've done test before in rear-, front- and all-wheel-drive vehicles with and without winter tires, and the winter tires in every instance help you stop carlengths (2 to 5 in my experience) faster than those without.

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