Choosing the Right Tire
Live where it snows?
Hmm, "all season", that says about everything, doesn't it? All you have to do is get a set of these and it's clear sailing in spring, summer, fall, and yes, even winter. After all, all season means all season, right? Nope. At one time the M+S (mud and snow) designation simply meant that a tire had the proper geometry of tread design to navigate through mud or snow, and that designation differentiated it from straight-ribbed designs meant for early cars and trucks. Later when radial tires were introduced, it was discovered that they had better traction than their predecessors did, and if they threw in a little more aggressive tread design, "bam! All seasons!" ...or so the advertising went. Today's consumer rating tires should figure "All Season" and "Mud And Snow" tires might represent the same tire properties with "All Season" appearing as more of a wording for branding and the "M+S" designation more likely to be a part of the tire designation as seen on the sidewall information.
The truth is that all season tires do not perform nearly as well as made-for-the-snow tires in snow, and I'll bet a good many people sadly learned that the hard way on their way to work over the years. If you are one of these unfortunate individuals or if you may just know one of those folks that are lucky and may be driving on borrowed time then I have good news for you. In 1999 a new standard was created that snow tires had to meet in order to earn the highest ratings for snow traction in a joint agreement between the United States and Canada (The U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) and the Rubber Association of Canada (RAC). Now in order to boast the best snow traction performance bragging rights, a tire must bear this designation:
While rating tires, consider the hardness of all season vs. snow tires. Made-for-winter tires are made of softer, more pliable rubber than so-called all season tires and all terrain tires. Some of the tread designs may look just as good as a snow tire for winter traction but in very cold temperatures the rubber is stiff and can not "bite" as well as it can when the temperatures are warmer.
Studded Snow Tires
If you are new to the cold and ice then you might not have heard of "studded" tires, but they've actually been around since about 1890. These winter tires provide anywhere between 60 and 120 small hard metal studs that have been inserted into the tire track surface. The idea behind them assumes the studs will be able to penetrate ice to grip it for both better traction while driving and stopping. These conditions merit the term treacherous and studded tires have proven they can help in them, but these occasions occur relatively rarely in comparison to normal driving conditions. If these conditions sound common for you then the studs may be the proper choice. I must point out too that studded tires create a lot of road noise that you will have to live with, but I think you'll agree that how quiet the ride was boasts little value when you are stuck in a ditch.
Unless you encounter ice a majority of time, though, then you probably shouldn't consider tires with metal studs. Studded snow tires may not only offer no additional traction or safety measures in non-icy conditions, they may actually decrease them... and not just for you. The studs can create ruts that can fill up with water and cause cars to hydroplane. Additionally they can polish some road surfaces smooth which makes it easier for cars to skid and actually wear away road markings that warn drivers of certain hazards or cautions ahead. The problems for roads are so prevalent that Minnesota, Illinois, and Maryland banned their use and the rest of the states have restricted use of studded snow tires to just a few months a year.