Let's assume that folks in the Midwest already know the answer to that question. But if you live elsewhere and you're undecided on snow tires, remember, it's better to be safe than sorry. Our friends at Pepboys say that if you live in an area that only sees a few light snows a year, then all-season tires are probably the way to go.
But, if you regularly drive in cold and/or snowy conditions during winter months then good snow tires are a smart investment. And hopefully, if you do need them, Santa left them under your Christmas tree!
What are the advantages? It's all in the design of the tires.
A winter tire’s tread design is very important. It includes specialized “lugs” that are raised blocks of tread designed to channel snow, ice, slush or water away from the tire’s surface and improve “bite” where traction has been diminished by snow or slush build-up on the road surface. Winter snow tires also have more “sipes,” or razor-thin grooves within the tread. These “sipes” allow better contact between the tires and wet road surfaces by providing additional biting surface in wet or snowy conditions.
Some winter-use tires are designed to allow for the installation of “studs,” small, sturdy metal pins almost like nail points that can be inserted into the tread. Studs provide increased bite in icy conditions. It’s a good idea to check with your state or municipality to determine whether studs are legal. They can contribute to the deterioration of some road surfaces.
Pepboys also points out that it does not sell snow tires in less than a complete set. The reason for this is that winter tires provide optimal traction in adverse winter conditions the likes of which cannot be replicated by normal all-season tires. It is assumed by many that simply putting two winter tires on the drive axle of a vehicle will deliver the traction and safety needed in winter driving. This is NOT the case. The two winter snow tires would provide unequal grip compared to the non-winter tires. For example, if winter tires were installed on the front axle of a front wheel drive vehicle, the rear of the vehicle could lose traction much sooner in an abrupt turning situation causing oversteer. This could result in a spin out. So the overriding concern for safety dictates that Pepboys sell winter tires only in a full set.
Last but not least, Remember: Change back to your all-season or summer tires when snow and ice come to an end. Using your winter tires in warm, dry conditions can wear them out prematurely.