Choosing The Right Kind Of Tires For Chicago Winter
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The Correct Tires For Chicago’s Cold Weather
Chicago is essentially a slip and slide right now with all of this snow coming down (see below for Chicago’s weather forecast). Of course with snow comes auto accidents. It’s by no accident that we happen to be the authority on this, so we want to cover one major component of preventing accidents due to weather conditions, TIRES. With our shop seeing an increase in collision repair with all of the recent snow and ice, we want to talk a little bit about tires for those that want to make sure they have the best grip possible no matter what curveball the Chicago forecast throws at us.
Driving In Chicago Winter Conditions
Some of the most difficult and dangerous driving conditions that can be encountered here in Chicago are created by inclement winter weather. While for millions of Americans, slick winter roads are an annual reality, the unique nature of the conditions should not be forgotten or overlooked. Snow-, ice-, and slush-covered roads are not “normal.” They require a tire engineering solution to pose a unique traction challenge.
Specialized, specifically-engineered tires are a must for proper vehicle performance in winter conditions, like other extreme driving environments, such as motorsport tires for the race track or mud-terrain tires for severe off-road terrain. Specific tire treads are made for a reason.
When shopping for tires, the mountain/snowflake symbol has been the marker of tires specializing in winter traction for many years. On the sidewall of tires that meet certain winter traction criteria, you will find this symbol stamped. This is how it looks:
However, while the symbol used to be associated only with specifically engineered winter tires, the symbol now qualifies for more types of tires than ever. Tire manufacturers have made a real effort to tackle the winter traction problem head on, and provide a variety of tires for Chicago drivers of cars, trucks, and SUVs that will more effectively meet the winter driving challenge. (The “all-season tires” have not always provided sufficient winter traction, despite the apparent implications of the name.)
There has been some confusion over the widespread implementation of the symbol of the mountain/snowflake, which created an obvious equalization of different types of tires that when Old Man Winter really comes knocking, are not really equal.
So let’s answer some significant questions, set the record straight, and get you equipped for your vehicle and circumstances to make the right tire choice.
What does the symbol for the mountain/snowflake actually mean?
The mountain/snowflake is the product of a United States joint effort. To establish a meaningful winter time traction baseline, the Tire Manufacturers Association and the Rubber Association of Canada.
The mountain/snowflake fundamentally signifies advanced traction on packed snow. In snow testing conditions, tires that qualify for the symbol must exhibit significantly superior traction compared to a reference tire.
What exactly does that mean? In particular, longitudinal, or straight ahead traction, not traction capabilities for cornering or dynamic handling.
Most winter driving situations are not limited to just straight line traction on packed snow, so you can see how the various challenges you can face in extreme weather do not really capture this.
In all winter road conditions, the mountain/snowflake traction criteria are meaningful, but not necessarily a guarantee of strong traction. It’s the highest qualification for winter traction yet to be developed, but it’s arguably limited.
What are tires for snow?
This is a comparison of a snow-rated all-terrain tire on the left and a winter tire on the right. You will notice the slits that are intended for better grip in icy and slushy conditions.
Rarely, if ever, do tire manufacturers refer to any tire as a snow tire. This is a classification of tires that has gained momentum in tire shops and water coolers around the office. (You’re also talking about tires in your water cooler, right?)
Because the only tires qualifying for the mountain/snowflake symbol have been full-fledged winter tires for many years, winter and snow tires have become synonymous.
It is necessary to draw a distinction today. Mountain/snowflake (“snow tires”) qualifying tires are not necessarily true winter tires.
What are tires for winter?
Because motorsport tires are for race tracks, winter tires are for winter road conditions, and mud-terrain tires are for extreme off-road environments. They are the specialized, specifically-engineered solution to the driving challenges Chicago winter conditions present. Of course, that means snow, but also ice, slush, freezing wet winter roads, dry sub zero winter roads, and all that’s in between.
The overall output of true winter tires far exceeds the criteria for snow traction represented by the mountain/snowflake.
And so, while the symbolization of winter tires and other types of tires on the tire sidewalls may be the same, the performance capabilities of all-round winter time are not necessarily equal with mountain/snowflake credentials, all-weather and all-terrain tires
Outside of winter tires, all-weather tires and select all-terrain tires have most commonly qualified for the mountain/snowflake symbol.
All-weather tires are a newer category of tires and represent a comprehensive effort to develop a tire that is appropriate for the full range of road conditions throughout the year, including variable winter conditions.
Examples are the Toyo Celsius and the Celsius CUV. “Variable-conditions tires,” Toyo calls them.
Early testing information on all-weather tires suggests that in variable winter conditions, many will deliver near-winter tire performance. These tires are, without a doubt, the closest to true, year-round, four-season tires yet.
Generally, all-terrain tires with the qualification of mountain/snowflake are a different breed. The loose sediment traction characteristic of many of these tires, straight ahead, lends itself to achieving the above snow traction criteria.
While in other circumstances, some all-terrain tires may also deliver outstanding winter traction, note again that the mountain/snowflake symbol alone is not a guarantee of diverse traction and performance for wintertime.
When do I change tires for snow?
The question of when to switch over to snow tires depends very much on the variations in weather that Chicago tends to have. Some years we experience a winter beginning much earlier and much later than others. It’s time to switch to snow tires when you check the long-term weather forecast and start seeing temperatures consistently around or below 40 ° Fahrenheit, and/or the opportunity for winter precipitation.
In Chicago, a shift to snow tires often occurs around mid-November, and then in mid-March, depending on how long Old Man Winter hangs around. Winter storms can hit as early as October and as late as April or May.
A bit of friendly advice from those with ample (maybe too much) experience in the tire shop: before the real winter weather hits, you’ll have better luck beating the crowds, and drivers learn their tires are no longer fit for duty.
Be sure to store your tires properly for maximum tire life when snow tires are disassembled. Nothing is worse than a set of tires dedicated to winter being dry rotted by improperly storing them.
Winter tires and snow tires are not the same, and it is necessary to draw a distinction, especially these days. In making an informed decision on tires, it is very important to understand the difference.
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Chicago, IL 60614