Winter Road Survival in the West Starts From the Ground Up

Track-tested consumer tips for maximizing safety on snowy roads and slippery slopes

Wednesday, January 20 2010 15:52   Tips & Guides
The West offers drivers a variety of winter conditions, from the ice and slush found in such cities as Denver, St. Louis and Minneapolis to the rain and mud that heavy storms bring throughout much of the Southwest.

With that in mind, Travel & History Magazine asked the experts at Tire Rack, America's largest independent tire tester and consumer-direct source for tires, to share some driving tips and tire information for our readers, starting with using tires dedicated for winter conditions.

With the right gear, winter driving doesn't have to be a "white knuckle" experience, said the Tire Rack experts. Switching to winter-grade tires isn't just smart in theory; it can save drivers real money and even their lives.

Crash rates spike during the October through February time frame, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2007, 738,000 crashes occurred in rain, sleet or snow. Most resulted in costly property damage, and on average, one in three involved an injury or fatality.

"Those numbers are needlessly high," said Matt Edmonds, vice president at Tire Rack. "A little caution, a little research and most importantly the right ‘footwear' can mean the difference between wintertime gripping and slipping."

For a stress-free winter behind the wheel, the Tire Rack team offers the following tips.

Choose the Right Footwear

Function, not fashion, should dictate a driver's choice. Like snow boots, purpose-designed winter tires offer maximum traction and control in cold, snow and ice. In Tire Rack tests, winter tires offered up to 21 percent more traction than All-Season tires. Here's a quick look at the classes of tires:

Let Your Tires Lunch on the Elements

If rain and wet roads are a concern, you should consider replacing your tires when they reach approximately 4/32" of remaining tread depth. Use a quarter to measure tread depth - not a penny.

Insufficient tread depth can double your stopping distance, a fact that Tire Rack team proved through testing. Since water can't be compressed, you need enough tread depth to allow it to escape through the tire's tread grooves. If the water can't escape fast enough, your vehicle's tires will be forced to hydroplane (actually rise up on top of the water), loosing contact with the road and thus traction.

If snow-covered roads are in your future, consider replacing your tires when they reach approximately 6/32" of remaining tread depth to maintain good mobility. You need more tread depth in snow because your tires need to compress the snow in their grooves and release it as they roll. If there isn't enough tread depth, the "bites" of snow your tires can take on each revolution will be so small that your traction will be reduced.

It's All About the Pressure

Tires don't carry the weight of your vehicle, the air inside them does. For every 10-degree drop in temperature, tires lose 1psi of air pressure. A tire filled to 32psi at 70-degrees will have only 28psi at 30-degrees.

Underinflated tires offer less traction, can reduce fuel mileage, can wear out prematurely and most importantly suffer unnoticeable and irreparable damage that compromises their performance.

Check tire pressures monthly with a quality air pressure gauge. Fill them to vehicle manufacturer specifications. For a list of quality air pressure gauges or to address all of your tire buying needs visit .

Stay in Traction

Traction loss starts at about 40-degrees Fahrenheit, even without rain or snow on the ground. Lower temperatures reduce a tire's flexibility and grip. At 32-degrees, the summer tires found on many performance vehicles are so stiff they offer no traction at all.

Stay Off Their Tail

Adding distance behind the vehicle ahead gives you more time to react and distance to stop. In rain and snow follow two seconds behind at 30 mph; four seconds at 60 mph.

Be a Smooth Operator

Accelerate, brake and steer as if you had a full cup of hot coffee on the dashboard. Just as abrupt actions would spill the coffee, so too could they cause a loss of control. It's also one of the best ways to improve fuel mileage.

Hedge Your Bets

Winter tires are cheap insurance. The best way to improve winter traction and increase safety is with a set of dedicated winter tires. Starting as low as $300 for a set of four, winter tires can last three or more winter seasons, depending on your driving habits.

According to Tire Rack, that's significantly less cost than most insurance deductibles and potential rate increases should you have a winter driving-related collision. Resting your regular tires during the winter season also increases their lifespan, saving you even more money in the long run.

Consumers can consult a free tire decision guide and a wealth of additional information about buying the correct tires for any driving condition and climate at

About Tire Rack

Tire Rack, family-owned and headquartered in South Bend, Indiana, is America's largest independent tire tester and consumer-direct source for tires, wheels and performance accessories.

Its team of 90-plus test drivers tests tires from every major tire manufacturer on the company's state-of-the-art, 10-acre test facility. The findings are then posted on the company's website,, where consumers can make an educated decision on a tire, wheel or performance accessory purchase.

Tire Rack has also collected results from more than 150,000 consumer surveys representing over 2.5 billion miles of real-world tire data, the largest known cache of such information anywhere. In addition various testing and informational videos are available online in their Video Center at .


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