Are Snow Tires Necessary in North Carolina?

snow tiresThis time of year, people sometimes ask us about snow tires: specifically, do they really make a car significantly safer during the winter—especially in an area like the Triangle that usually doesn’t see much snow?

This is a judgment call, of course, but one important factor is this: in the event of a snow or ice storm, how likely is it that you will still need to drive your vehicle? If you live in an outlying rural area, you may end up waiting several days (or longer) before roadways are plowed. While snowfall tends to be light in this region, even a slight accumulation can make road conditions hazardous.

Snow tires (also known as winter tires) can help improve traction and make your vehicle safer. There are a couple of key physical differences in the design and construction of snow tires as contrasted with conventional (“all-season”) tires.

  • The chemical makeup of the rubber. All-season tires are designed to provide good performance across a wide temperature range, which they generally do. However, during the coldest season of the year, the rubber has a tendency to harden, which can cause the tires to lose their grip on road surfaces. The rubber on snow tires is specifically designed for low temperatures, which allows them to keep a good grip even as temperatures fall.
  • The design of the tread pattern. Snow tire tread is deeper, and it features a greater number of slits to maximize surface edge contact with the road. This is important, because more edges create a stronger grip. (Note: the standard “penny test” is usually not accurate for the purpose of determining when to replace winter tires. Be sure to check the tire manufacturer’s specifications for tread depth.)

It’s not just snow and ice.

Temperature alone can affect your tires’ ability to keep their grip on the road, even if there is only slush, or even if there is no accumulation at all. So, while North Carolina has seen very little accumulation during many winters, it is common for temperatures to fall into the low 20’s.

Don’t drive on snow tires all year.

Winter tires are made for the winter only. The rubber compound and tread pattern that allows for a greater grip becomes a disadvantage when the spring comes. During warm weather, winter tires will wear more quickly than all-season tires. If you do purchase winter tires, be sure to have them changed out as soon as the warm temperatures return.

During unsafe road conditions, the best bet is to avoid driving when possible. However, if the requirements of your job or personal situation do not allow you this option, you may want to consider equipping your vehicle with winter tires for greater safety.

If you’re wondering about whether you need winter tires for your vehicle, give us a call today to speak with one of our trained technicians. If you decide to purchase winter tires, we are happy to install them on your vehicle at any one of our convenient Triangle locations.