2009 Winter Auto Guide
An ice blue convertible car with a light blue background with ice in the corner
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Snow tires: Investment can save money

Old Man Winter is here again and if you live in the Snow Belt investing in snow tires will serve you better in the longrun than depending on your all-season radials -- and save you money, too. 

"Changing to snow tires is a lot like changing your shoes," says Matt Edmonds, vice president of Tire Rack, the nation's largest independent tire dealer. "When the weather gets bad and we want the ultimate in terms of control and safety, we put on a good pair of winter boots. The same goes for tires."

Worth having

Tire troubles begin long before the snow flies. On a standard tire, traction loss starts at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and lower temperatures can further reduce flexibility and grip, says Edmonds. "At 32 degrees, the summer tires found on many performance vehicles are so stiff they offer no traction at all."

Modern winter tires, in contrast, are designed to excel and provide maximum traction in the colder temperatures, slush, snow and ice. They possess deeper tread depths for maximum traction and incorporate advanced silicone-rubber compounds that keep them pliant and flexible in wintry weather. In independent testing conducted by Tire Rack winter tires were found to deliver 21 percent better traction than all-season tires.

Look for the logo

There are no longer separate temperature, traction or wear ratings to fret over when selecting winter/snow tires, and thanks to the adoption of a unified labeling standard, consumers need no longer fear buying a bad set, says Edmonds.

In 1999, The U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association, or RMA, and the Rubber Association of Canada, or RAC, agreed on a standard to identify passenger and light truck tires that satisfied certain handling and traction criteria in snow testing. Since then, all winter/snow tires have an easily recognizable "Snowflake in the Mountain" logo embossed on their sidewalls.

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"Winter tires fall into one of two categories: studless ice-and-snow tires and performance winter tires," says Steve Jambor, manager of Richlonn's Tire Service Center in Greenfield, Wis. "The former use a softer silicone rubber compound and they'll give you much better traction in the ice and snow. The latter will be a little stiffer and, internally, have more backbone, and they'll be much more responsive and offer more performance on dry pavement."

Your local tire service center will help you determine which winter tire options will be the best fit based upon your area's particular climate, driving, and your car's specific tire needs because, in some applications, it's actually recommended to downsize winter tires.

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