Grip when temperatures dip

The 11 Best Winter and Snow Tires of 2017


Updated for 2017: This post has been updated to include the best new winter tires for the 2017-2018 winter season. Links and specs have also been updated.


Best All-Around Winter Tire of 2017: Bridgestone Blizzak WS80

When it comes to balancing price and performance, Blizzaks are legendary. The unique NanoPro-Tech Multicell hydrophilic compound wicks water off the road while microscopic bite particles blended into the rubber dig into icy surfaces.

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Introduction

Every pro driver will tell you a car is only as good as its tires. You can go out of your way to get a car with the best handling and the most intelligent AWD system on the market, but if you can’t put the power down with proper traction, all those millions of dollars in R&D are worth precisely nil.

Winter tires are impressive feats of engineering: water, slush, snow and salt are controlled and pumped out from underneath via intricate channels between treads while the soft rubber composition molds to and grips the road surface, despite low temperatures. That’s why winter tires look so much more extreme in design than summer or all-season tires. Where a summer tire’s near-slick surface would simply aquaplane, the tread on a winter tire shovels and pumps water out of the way while gripping firmly to keep you going in the right direction. They are the right tools for the job; for cars that tackle winter weather, they are the most necessary upgrade.

Buying Guide

The Benefits of Winter Tires vs. All-Season Tires

Not all tires are created equal. And that is particularly true of all-season tires. Although they are the most commonly purchased tire, they are also necessarily the most compromised design-wise because they have a larger window of operation — to be good in every season, a tire can’t be excellent at any one season in particular. In the most extreme conditions is where they find their limit.

According to Woody Rodgers, Tire Information Specialist at The Tire Rack, “Difficult winter driving conditions often come with challenging visibility from blowing rain, snow and darkness. And it’s common for drivers to find the limit of winter season traction when driving on all-season tires. For example, spinning tires as the car struggles to get up a hill, engaging anti-lock brakes when coming to a stop at a slippery intersection, struggling to make a turn and not having the confidence to pull into the passing lane because of challenging surface conditions are all indications you’ve found the limits of the traction of your tires.”

It’s at that limit where all-season tires seem to give up and winter tire performance continues to give you the confidence to drive down even the most snow-packed back roads. Winter tires are specially engineered to make the most of conditions using special compounds and tread patterns. See “Understanding Winter Tire Design” below for the rundown.

Picking the Right Tires

The winter tire market is a vast one, and picking the right tires for your vehicle can seem to be the hardest part — but it can actually be quite simple. Rodgers explains: “Think about the worst conditions you’ll encounter and how often that will happen. Prioritize your needs and wants, including snow and ice traction, clear road handling and driving fun.” There’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars on super high-performance tires if all you’re doing is commuting in the family sedan or truck. Likewise, if you’re looking to do winter autocross or you have a high horsepower sports car, specially-designed performance rubber may be what you want.

Understanding Winter Tire Design

All tires are not created equal, and the same goes for the winter tires subset. The most basic categories winter tires fall into are Studless Ice and Snow, Studdable and Performance. From there, things get more specific depending on vehicle type: passenger cars, trucks and SUVs.

Studless tires have incredibly complex tread design, specifically meant to pump standing water away from the tread. In addition, those designs also grip and hold onto packable snow and ice with super soft rubber and intricate, multi-layered tread-block patterns in order to — counterintuitively, perhaps — provide more traction.

Studdable tires are, compared to their studless cousins, less extreme in design with regards to the tread but are outfitted to accept metal studs. Studdable tires greatly improve traction on ice, but as Rogers points out “they come with a trade-off in the form of noisy clear-road driving, damage to bare road surfaces and are of no benefit when driving on snow. Many states restrict or ban the use of studded tires.” So quite often studdable tires never see their full potential.

Performance winter tires focus more on clear road handling than on actual snow and ice. Even though you may never see snow or ice, winter tires are still recommended for cold weather and low temperatures because of their softer rubber compound which grips the road surface despite the much lower temperatures. This focus lets the driver get more use out of their sports car’s performance.

Terms to Know:
Tread blocks – Tread blocks refer to the larger sections of rubber that give the tire’s pattern its overall design. Depending on how they are arranged and angled can affect a tires efficiency to pump away water and grip road surfaces.
Siping – Invented by John F. Sipe in 1923, siping is the process of cutting thin grooves across a tires tread blocks to increase grip in wet and wintery conditions. The tactic makes the rubber tread blocks more pliable and flexible and better at gripping snow, cold asphalt and pumping away water mitigating hydroplaning. (You’ve also seen siping on the bottom of Sperry boat shoes.)
Compound – The compound of the tire refers to the mixture of ingredients in the rubber of the tire itself. Modern winter tires have a higher silica content than say an all-season or summer tire because it allows the winter tire to stay softer at lower temperatures, stay malleable and grip the road better.

Pro Tip: Look for the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMSF) symbol. The 3PMSF symbol confirms the tire meets a minimum requirement for acceleration and traction on snow in conditions considered severe by the weather service. All dedicated winter tires will have the symbol. But be aware that a small but growing number of all-season tires also have this mark.

How to Get Unstuck From Snow

Because winter rubber alone may not be enough to get you out of that parking space the plow truck so kindly buried you in. If you don’t have a shovel, it’ll take time, patience and a little ingenuity to get you back on the road. All-wheel-drive and winter tires will get the job done faster, but escaping isn’t impossible without them. Here are a few tips and tricks that’ll get you and your car out of a snowbank and, hopefully, to work on time.

1. Clear your pipes. Before you even start the engine, check the tailpipe to make sure it’s clear and not blocked by snow in order to avoid deadly exhaust gasses leaking into your car. Once the tailpipe is clear, start your car to warm it up.

2. Clear the snow. Using a small utility shovel ($15), clear all the extra snow from the windows and top of your car, then clear the area around your tires. Break up any ice around your tires with a tire iron or a similar tool to free your tires — the rougher, shattered chunks of ice can provide a little traction as well.

3. Get a grip. When snow is in the forecast, Traction Mats ($154) will do wonders should you get stuck. Alternatively, lay a generous amount of rock salt ($23) (keep some in your trunk) in front of and behind the driven wheels to help melt ice and provide extra traction.

4. Get a-rockin’. Make sure the front wheels are facing straight ahead. Going very easy on the gas, making sure not to break traction and spin your tires, gently roll the car as far forward as you can. Apply the brake, put it in reverse and use the momentum to roll back the other way. Then forward again. Build up momentum until you can ease out of the snow.

5. Let some air out of your tires. It should be said, this is something of a last resort. Slightly deflated tires give you a larger contact patch, allowing the tire to better grip the ground. It’s important to remember to properly inflate your tires once you’re free.

6. Watch your speed. When you begin moving, take note of your engine speed. If your tires are spinning but your car is moving very slowly, when they find traction on dry pavement the car will lurch.

Winter Driving Tips

With large portions of the country soon to be blanketed in snow, you might find it challenging to get to work or even step out to get groceries. Even with a well-maintained road, appropriate tires and all-wheel-drive, you can still never be too careful about driving in snowy or icy conditions.

1. Look where you want to go. Instead of looking at what you don’t want to hit, look where you want to go. If you start to lose the control of your car, don’t look at oncoming traffic because your eyes and hands have a natural tendency to move in the same direction.

2. Don’t panic. In order to accomplish step 1, you have to keep your cool. Easier said than done? Probably, but it’s important. Prevent panic-inducing situations by driving smart, smooth and slowing down on the ice.

3. Allow time for the car to react. A lot of people don’t understand just how much the vehicle weighs; on slippery surfaces, it’s going to take a while for it to move around in response to your course corrections. The people who drive out of their means are the dudes always getting into accidents.

4. Let the vehicle find its way. If something happens, concentrate on relaxing your hands and moving them slowly, look where you want to go and let the vehicle find its way. The worst thing you can do if you’re coming around the corner and start to slide is slamming on the brakes to avoid obstacles or other vehicles; momentum is going to take you wherever it wants to take you.

The 11 Best Winter Tires of 2017

Standard Tires

Most Environmentally Friendly: Yokohama BluEarth Winter V905

Not only does the Yokohama BluEarth Winter V905 fall closer to the perfromance end of the spectrum, but its high silica rubber and orange oil infused compund make it environmentally responsible. The surface tread pattern works to help funnel water and slush away in wet conditions. But the tread you can’t see — the tread in between the blocks — works to grip snow and also maintain its block rigidity despite a softer rubber makeup.

Three Peak Mountain Snow-Flake Cerified: Yes

Most Versatile Line of Tires: Goodyear Ultra Grip

Where most tire are developed for one type of car, the Goodyear Ultra Grip’s design allows it to be put to use on anything from coupes and sedans to crossovers, minivans and SUVS. If you’re looking for dependable winter performance and have multiple, varying sized cars in the garage, the Goodyear Ultra Grip line is a one stop shop.

Three Peak Mountain Snow-Flake Cerified: Yes

Best High-Mileage Tire: Pirelli Cinturato Winter

The Cinturato was designed with European winter driving in mind. That is to say, the Cinturato was built specifically for coupes and sedans and to handle a wide array of environmental changes over a greater chunk of the year. The steeply angled tread pattern helps evacuate water from underneath the tire, allowing for stabilty at highway speeds on clear or wet roads. The density of siping on each tread block greatly reduces the risk of hydroplaning, and, at the same time claws back grip on snow and ice.

Three Peak Mountain Snow-Flake Cerified: Yes

Best All-Around Winter Tire: Bridgestone Blizzak WS80

When it comes to balancing price and performance, Blizzaks are legendary. The unique NanoPro-Tech Multicell hydrophilic compound wicks water off the road while microscopic bite particles, blended into the rubber dig into icy surfaces.

Three Peak Mountain Snow-Flake Cerified: Yes

Truck Tires

Best Shoulder (Transitioning) Season Truck Tire: Michelin Latitude X-Ice Xi2

Michelin’s X-tra-Ice silica-based winter tread rubber compound gives the X-Ice Xi2 a larger temperature window to work in. The compound remains stiff at higher temperatures for better traction in dry or wet conditions but is still soft enough at low temperatures to give you traction on snow and ice, regardless if you’re driving a compact crossover or light duty truck.

Three Peak Mountain Snow-Flake Cerified: Yes

Best All-Around Truck Tire: Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2

Much like the standard Blizzak is a fantastic all-around tire for coupes and sedans, the DM-V2 carries that reputation over into the truck universe. The same hydrophilic, multi-cell compound and aggressive siping design pumps away slush and holds on to snow for more grip on ice, but with a size designed for pickups, crossovers and SUVS.

Three Peak Mountain Snow-Flake Cerified: Yes

Best Performance Truck Tire: Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9

Where most studdable winter tires actually carry a design, more akin to an all-season with stud holes throughout the tread pattern, the Hakkapeliitta 9 is designed as a grear winter tire, first and foremost. Perfromance on snow and ice is its main objective, the option to place studs is merely a plus should you find yourself in winter conditions that are really getting out of hand.

Three Peak Mountain Snow-Flake Cerified: Yes

Best Budget Truck Tire: Firestone Winterforce UV

When it comes tires in general, it’s always worth spending a little extra since the tires are the only thing touching the road and are therefore the most important aspect when grip is the topic of conversation. But it is understandable to say buying a whole new set of tires just to use for a few months out of the year is a costly endeavor. So if you are aiming for the economical route, Firestone Winterforce UVs are your best bet.

Three Peak Mountain Snow-Flake Cerified: Yes

Pure Perfromance Tires

Best Winter Performance Tire: Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4

Just because the skies aren’t blue and road conditions aren’t ideal for high-horsepower performance cars, it doesn’t mean your sports car has to stay hidden all winter. The Alpin PA4 is the winter equivalent of Michelin’s remarkable Sport Cup 2 summer tires. They’re designed to give high-end sports cars the grip they need even when the temperatures dip and the roads are miserable.

Three Peak Mountain Snow-Flake Cerified: Yes

Best Budget Performance Tire: Falken Espia EPZ II

If you’re looking for pure performance but don’t see the need to spend too much money, the Falken Espia EPZ II is your tire. The tread design and rubber compound mimic the higher-teir perfromance tires well, but doesn’t offer as much grip. The Espia EPZ II still offers great winter perfromance, just at the fraction of the price.

Three Peak Mountain Snow-Flake Cerified: Yes

Best Perfromance SUV Tire: Yokohama iceGuard iG51V

Now that manufacturers are building more and more street performance-oriented SUVs and crossovers — and the public are buying them up — there’s more demand for a specialized winter tire that can keep up. The Yokohama iceGuard iG51V brings together the best aspects of performance winter tires and also meets demands an SUV or Truck asks of its tires.

Three Peak Mountain Snow-Flake Cerified: Yes
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