When it comes to treacherous driving conditions, winter is the season that challenges drivers the most. Snow, sleet and ice make for dangerous commutes that will test the traction on even the best all-season tires. So it makes sense to switch to winter tires when the temperature drops and the chance for accumulation rises. But the question remains: do you need to switch all of your tires or will two do just fine?
Why do I need winter tires?
It has to do with temperature. When the mercury drops, the rubber used on all-season tires hardens, becoming less able to offer traction to grip the road. Winter tires are designed to remain flexible and offer deeper tread depths to reduce snow and slush buildup.
So, can I get away with installing two?
In a word: no. Some motorists who have either front- or rear-wheel drive may think they only need to install winter tires on their driver wheels. Those motorists would be wrong. In fact, those motorists are actually putting themselves in danger.
Using snow tires only on the front means your back tires won’t have as much grip, causing your car to fishtail or spin out when cornering or braking. Likewise, installing winter tires only on the rear means the wheels that do the steering won’t grip as well as those that provide the power to your car. The result is a loss of steering control and overall handling that could lead to a collision. The safest option is to always install four winter tires.
Why not use winter tires year-round, then?
Simply put, it’s not what they were designed for. The pliable rubber that increases traction in cold weather is too soft to offer crisp driving performance and response when the temperature rises. The softer tread will also wear down faster in warmer weather, which means you’ll have to replace your tires more often—and that means you’re costing yourself more money in the long run.