Best winter tires

Tires & Wheels

There’s a temptation just to change the tires on the driving wheels because that’s what generates most traction. However, not changing all four will upset the balance of the vehicle at a time when you most need full control.

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Which winter tires are best?

According to the Federal Highway Administration, over 70% of America’s roads run through regions that receive more than five inches of snow per year. Added to that, 17% of all road traffic accidents happen in extreme weather.

The tires you have on your vehicle during the summer can’t cope when it starts to freeze. Winter tires are the only sensible option.

We’ve recently taken a fresh look at the best of what’s available to help make your decision easier. Below, we’ve chosen a few favorites, and our concise overview will help you pick what you need for your vehicle.

Best winter tires of 2021

  1. Bridgestone Blizzak: Advanced compound now upgraded to provide safer, more predictable handling in harsh conditions. This Bridgestone tire is a long-standing top pick of ours.
     
  2. Firestone Winterforce 2: A returning favorite to our shortlist, this value-for-money option delivers reliable performance in snow and ice.
     
  3. Goodyear Ultra Grip: Zooming onto our list for the first time, this is a durable choice for small and medium-sized cars at a surprisingly competitive price.

Find more details at the end of the article.

What to know before you buy winter tires

With winter tires at anywhere from around $65 each to over $250, it’s important to know what you’re looking at. Some of that is down to the amount of rubber and overall construction. Winter tires for a compact are obviously a lot different than winter tires for a big SUV, crossover or pickup. However, compound and tread design also have an impact.

We’ve seen that some people recommend going down a size for winter tires, the theory being a smaller contact area cuts through snow better. We disagree. Modern vehicles, particularly those with anti-lock brakes and traction control, rely on each component — including the tires — for proper balance and control. As a result, your winter tires should always match the dimensions of your summer tires (it’s marked on the sidewalls).

Where summer tires generate grip by getting as much rubber on the road as possible, winter tires excel at cutting through ice and snow, and clearing water and slush. To maximize traction, the treads are more open and angular. To clear melting snow, wide grooves run around the circumference.

Winter tires also have softer rubber than summer models, so they work well at colder temperatures. In addition, some formulations have silica and other chemicals added, making them hydrophilic. This helps increase friction where water and ice are present.

Many good winter tires have their sidewalls marked with a symbol called the ‘three-peak mountain snowflake.’ These tires have been tested for their performance in snow to standards agreed by the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association and the Rubber Association of Canada. Something worth looking out for.

Some winter tires are made to have screw-in metal studs added as an option. These can be a benefit in severe ice and hard-packed snow, cutting through very effectively. However, they do detract from the tire’s performance on dry asphalt. Studs can usually only be fitted when the tire is new (any wear reduces the amount of thread available) and you need to check with local authorities, too. Some don’t allow them, whatever the road conditions.

One final consideration is whether to buy a new set of wheels to go with your winter tires. Changing the tire itself is not something most people can do at home — so you’re going to have to pay someone to do that (and back to summer ones). Most people can change a wheel, though. While new wheels aren’t cheap, the cost will be spread over the life of your winter tires, and many people find the convenience outweighs the difference.

Winter tires FAQ

Q. Does fitting winter tires mean I don’t need snow chains?

A. There are a couple of considerations. First, some areas mandate chains whatever tires you run, so you need to check where you’re going. Also, if you don’t have studded tires then chains can still give added traction, especially on hard-pack and iced-up roads.

Q. When should I change over to winter tires?

A. Before it snows! Seriously though, it depends where you live. Most manufacturers suggest it’s a good idea when the average temperature gets down to 45°F.

What are the best winter tires to buy?

Top winter tires

Bridgestone Blizzak

Bridgestone Blizzak

What we like: Hydrophilic rubber sheds water and remains flexible in extreme cold, giving unrivaled grip and control under braking. Z-shaped tread bites into snow and ice. Comfortable and quiet ride.

What we dislike: Very little. Stiff sidewalls can be a bit harsh over broken surfaces.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top winter tires for the money

Firestone Winterforce 2

Firestone Winterforce 2

What we like: Deep tread pattern with open shoulder slots provides superior traction for pickups and SUVs. Steel belts improve ride comfort and dry-weather handling. Can be studded.

What we dislike: Not much, though tread wears rapidly when roads improve.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Goodyear Ultra Grip

Goodyear Ultra Grip

What we like: Tread offers lots of bite edges for extra grip, plus wide grooves to clear water and slush. Studs can be added. Good performance for the money.

What we dislike: A little noisy. Cornering grip could be better on dry roads.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

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Bob Beacham writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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