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Winter tires: What are they and do you need them?

Here are the differences between winter, summer and all-season tires.

December is here, and temperatures have dropped across the country. That means it’s time to put on your car’s winter tires. And if you don’t have winter tires, perhaps you should consider it.

A few things make it a winter tire. First, they have large tread blocks and deep grooves for biting into snow. Second, they tend to have a squared off shoulder to dog into snow when cornering. The different rubber compound is the reason winter tires are not just for snow and ice. On dry pavement where all-season tires tend to be less effective, the winter tires really excel.

There are some significant downsides to winter tires however. They give you more grip at lower temperatures, typically between 40 and 50 degrees and below, but they have less grip than the alternatives above that level. That means come springtime you have to switch to all-season or summer tires. There’s the cost of the second set of tires, you typically pay to have them switched twice a year, and then there’s the issue of storing the second set. Four tires take up a good amount of room.

Winter tires are arguably most important for powerful performance cars. This type of car often comes with standard summer tires, the opposite of winter tires. They give you better grip when it’s warm, but are downright harzardous when it’s cold.

All-season tires are better than they’ve ever been, and they’ll work for most people. But if you want the absolute best performance at all temperatures, winter tires and summer tires are the way to go.