Choosing to forgo winter tires could be a costly mistake if you're not careful -- even if you live somewhere where it rarely snows.
Winter tires are not only for those who drive in the snow frequently; they are beneficial in any area where the temperatures regularly drop below 45 degrees, regardless of whether the roads are slick.
Here's how to determine if winter tires are a wise choice for your car and what you can do if a second set of tires aren't in your budget.
So who really needs winter tires for their car? Anyone who lives in an area where temperatures are regularly below 45 degrees is a good candidate. To determine how important it is, take a look at your car. First, check to see whether you have summer or all-season tires by consulting your owner's manual, asking your mechanic or by checking the code on the tire's sidewall on a tire website such as TireRack.com.
Summer tires use compounds that are particularly susceptible to hardening in cold temperatures, resulting in seriously compromised performance. All-season tires will perform better in cold weather, though less optimally. In one test conducted by a site on Edmunds.com, Inside Line, it took 16 percent to 18 percent longer to stop on ice and snow with all-season tires than with winter tires. It took 120 percent longer with summer tires.
Next, look at your car's features. Does it have stability control, all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive? Each of these features will help your car compensate for decreased tire performance, though none will completely make up the difference. If your car has at least one of these features and is equipped with all-season tires, you have less of a need for winter tires. If your car lacks any of these features, you are a strong candidate for winter tires.
Generally, winter tires are no more expensive than other types. But if it's just not feasible to pony up several hundred dollars for winter tires, you can still improve your fuel economy. Increase your tire pressure 3 pounds to 5 pounds per square inch, or PSI, more than the manufacturer's recommended pressure.
In cold-weather driving, remember that your summer or all-season tires will have decreased traction in straight-line acceleration, reduced stopping power and compromised grip when cornering. To help avoid a collision, press gently on the accelerator, give yourself plenty of extra space to brake and slow down overall.
Ask the adviserIf you have a car question, e-mail it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories.
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