Are Winter Tires Worth the Investment?

Snow in parking lot
HAYKIRDI/Getty Images

Like it or not, winter is coming. And it will keep coming year after year. If you’re a driver in a region that experiences snow, ice and freezing temperatures, winter tires could be your key to safety on the road.

In a recent survey commissioned by Michelin, 67% of respondents believed they didn’t need winter tires, because they had all-season tires. Similarly, 53% of respondents didn’t see the need for winter tires if they had all-wheel drive.

Yet the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada reports that winter tires:

  • Prevent collisions and fatalities.
  • Reduce hospital emergency costs.
  • Reduce emergency responses during winter.
  • Lower insurance payouts (both size and frequency).
  • Reduce traffic congestion.

Simply put: Many drivers in the northern half of the U.S. are at risk each winter and don’t even know it.

Benefits of Winter Tires

Car accident on winter roads
FatCamera/Getty Images

To learn more about winter tires, I spoke with Lauren Fix, aka The Car Coach, and Richard Reina, a lifelong automotive expert and current product training director for CARiD.com. Fix explained that while all-wheel-drive systems help with traction, drivers in snowy conditions are still susceptible to increased braking distances and trouble with handling.

Winter tires, by design, solve for both of those problems. “Today’s rubber compounds are designed to provide maximum traction in the coldest temperatures, so it’s not just about the grippy tread pattern,” Reina explained. In fact, in terms of traction, a new set of all-season tires is the equivalent to half-worn winter tires. A recent study even showed that winter tires can decrease braking distance in wintry conditions by 35%.

“If you plan to keep your vehicle for several years, consider getting your winter tires mounted on dedicated wheels,” Reina added. “Although the initial cost seems high, the ease and expense of making the seasonal switch is greatly reduced, making the investment worth it.”

Cost is typically the biggest inhibitor to getting winter tires. A quality set can cost $1,000, especially if you have the tires mounted to dedicated wheels as Reina suggests.

However, the cost of the tires is largely offset by how long your all-season and winter tires will last. If you keep your all-season tires on year-round, you will likely have to replace them within three to four years. But if you have all-season tires half the year and winter tires half the year, together they should last you six to eight years.

More importantly, winter tires do prevent accidents. Of course, they don’t prevent all accidents, but they prevent many. Not only do they protect you from injury and death, but they could also keep you from paying a hefty deductible for vehicle repair and seeing a sharp increase in monthly insurance premiums.

Drawbacks of Winter Tires

Changing a tire
franckreporter/Getty Images

The main drawback to winter tires is the cost upfront, but you also must consider the cost of switching out the tires at the mechanic twice a year. (Again, mounting the tires to dedicated wheels would reduce this biannual maintenance cost.)

Another drawback is storage. With two sets of tires, you will need to be able to store four tires year-round. If you do not have the garage or shed space, or if you live in an apartment, you would need to consider an alternate (likely paid) storage solution. And if you have a smaller car, the hassle of transporting four tires to and from a nearby mechanic can prove troublesome.

Ultimately, the safety and potential insurance savings winter tires provide make them worth the investment if you can determine a convenient storage solution.

What to Look for in a Winter Tire

Car driving on winter roads
LeManna/Getty Images

As with most things, the more expensive winter tire brands typically generate better reviews and safety ratings. However, the cost of these can be a little overwhelming.

Fix provided a few tips for selecting a set of winter tires, so you don’t fall prey to an expensive premium product just because you recognize the brand name. “Tires marked with the mountain snowflake symbol meet or exceed industry requirements and have been designed specifically for use in cold weather and severe snow conditions. Also look for a tire with a 40,000-mile warranty,” she said.

Last winter, InsuranceHotline.com ranked the 10 best winter tires of 2017. While the rankings will likely shift slightly this winter season, these tires should still be on your list for consideration.

Additional Winter Driving Tips

Windshield wipers
Willowpix/Getty Images

Winter tires and all-wheel drive are great defensive tools in the winter, but there is more you can do to ensure your safety in wintry road conditions.

“One of the easiest and cheapest things you can do is change your wiper blades, and begin using a solution of 100% washer solvent for your windshield,” Reina advised. “Perform a walk around of the vehicle to ensure that all your headlights and taillights are working properly.”

More importantly, adjust your driving habits in snowy or icy conditions. Reina told me, “The No. 1 mistake people make is driving too fast for conditions. This doesn’t just refer to hotshots who are driving 25 mph over the speed limit in the snow, just as they do all year round. It also includes the drivers who have been lulled into a false sense of security with their all-wheel-drive systems, who don’t understand that increased traction does not give them improved handling and braking.”

The Penny Hoarder’s own Nicole Dow has even more ways to drive safely this winter.

Timothy Moore is an editor and freelance writer in Ohio. He has written for the automotive industry for more than six years and has been featured on TheNewsWheel.com.