(NEXSTAR) – It’s that time of year when driving becomes a little more treacherous for some states as snow and ice creep into forecasts, but are winter tires worth the money?
The answer, unfortunately, is that it depends on a few factors.
The most popular type of tire in the U.S. is the all-season tire, according to Bridgestone, which is built to handle wet and dry conditions, along with some snow.
Less economical but more effective in extreme winter conditions, winter or snow tires are made with a tread compound that stays softer in frigid weather for enhanced grip, have deeper treads and may even come with studs that will further increase traction.
“Think about it this way, when going on a long hike, a pair of hiking shoes will help you traverse almost any terrain. Even some snow,” tiremaker Les Schwab’s website explains. “But when you get to packed snow and ice, snowshoes are the only way to go. They’re designed for winter conditions.”
Some sets of winter tires can cost over $1,000 and will have to be stored during the summer, but AAA says there’s no doubt that they provide superior traction in cold, snowy and icy conditions.
“Fluctuation in temperature is also an important consideration when deciding the need for winter tires as part of your car care routine,” according to AAA. In areas where the temperature is above freezing during the day and then quickly dips below freezing at night, extremely slippery ice can be formed which is particularly dangerous.”
A 2022 study by Canada’s independent Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) concluded that winter tires not only make driving safer on snow and ice, but also in dry conditions when temperatures dip below 44 degrees Fahrenheit.
“With regard to braking comparisons in particular, the differences in stopping distances could be sufficiently significant to avoid a collision,” the study reads.
TIRF research also suggested that alternating by season between winter and summer tires can be less expensive long-term thanks to improved fuel economy.
Tips for buying winter tires
To choose a set of winter tires, don’t assume that the higher-priced models are superior, according to AAA.
Instead, research test results and consumer reviews to compare different brands.
Make sure to pay attention to the specifications of your current tires, as you’ll want to make sure the diameter, width, speed rating and load index are identical, AAA says.
While winter tires might be pricey, make sure to buy a set of four tires of the same brand and manufacturer and replace all four at once. AAA warns that putting on only two winter tires, for instance, can lead to braking and steering problems, or lead to the car spinning out completely.
Be sure to follow manufacturer guidance when it comes to storing and caring for the tires to maximize your investment.