Studded vs. Studless Snow Tires
November 19, 2012 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Studded or studless winter tires for our AWD Volvo S70? We're moving for the winter to an house that sits at about 7500' outside of Bozeman, MT. There's *always* snow on the driveway, which is reasonably steep. And usually (not frequently, but USUALLY) some snow on the paved road into town, which is about 20 miles long.

I'm more concerned about snow than ice, and my understanding is that the studless are better on ice. They also wear faster, but are better for a bare road. The topic was touched on previously, but the circumstances in Denver are different than mine.

FWIW, both my wife and I are pretty cautious drivers, but we routinely have a toddler in the car, and she is *very* distracting.

I've called tire places in Bozeman, and most have said we should err on the side of studded. But I fear it's confirmation bias, but it's because my experience with studded tires has been fantastic. I'm a little hesitant with studless, because "microscopic film of water" be damned, when I stop or turn, I want something clawing into the terrain!
posted by thomsplace to Travel & Transportation around Bozeman, Mt (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Studless are useless on steep icy/packed snow driveways compared to studded in my extensive experience having steep driveways in snowy places. Yes, even Blizzacks. They get worse the colder they are so usually at their most useless as you gaily slide sideways down your driveway into traffic first thing in the morning.

On packed snow with AWD regular snow tires are fine, even regular all seasons are usually fine. But the driveway would 100% convince me to get studs. I've gotten stuck or slid out of control in my own driveway far, far more often than all other places combined.
posted by fshgrl at 11:20 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Studded. Studded. Studded.

I live in Canada. It snows like a sonofabitch here. I know on a very personal level the type of differnce studs make.
I have been in cars in the winter that have failed to make it up not-very-steep driveways and not-very-steep hills in the winter. 4WD or not, even the most rugged and offroady vehicle can be turned in to a cow on ice in no time flat sans studs.
It is awful to have to always worry about whether your car is going to stop or if you're going to be able to get going again if you do have to stop.
It seriously doesn't take much to make a driveway utterly trecherous. If it always has snow on it in the winter, and if there is a moderate incline, then you're already on your way towards trecherous.
You have a toddler in the car with you, which is another reason why I wouldn't even think twice about it.

You need studded tires.

Seriously, if you have had them before and loved them, why are you even considering NOT getting them?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:34 AM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Go studded! I'm running studless, but I live in Portland where shite weather like that is the exception, not the rule. They'd be less effective than studded tires on ice, but my thinking is that I can try and stay off the roads on those few icy days we end up getting.

It doesn't sound like you have that luxury, though! If I were in your position I'd get a quality set of studded tires without thinking twice about it.
posted by Chutzler at 11:43 AM on November 19, 2012


We're having regular snow here plus a rather steep driveway, and road, down into main traffic. I've driven without studs for years, with studs for at least five years, and now, I've been fine with no studs for another four or five.

People usually advise against studs if there's a chance that you'll be driving a lot on well-cleaned (bare) roads (because they lead to a longer breaking distance in that case). Also, regular snow tires have become so much better.

Still. I'm having snow tires now because I occasionally have to take my car to countries where studs are not allowed. Otherwise I'd totally prefer the all-around more consistent stud-feel, and I certainly would in conditions like you describe.

As others have mentioned, the real tiresome bit is getting down from somewhere. Your AWD kicks you up onto the most unbelievable ledges, and there you are, perched like Wile E. Coyote, and wonder what in heaven you're gonna do next. I remember a central-heating technician who bounced up to us in his AWD minibus, worked for a while, and then almost put his vehicle through the kitchen window of the downhill neighbors on the way out. No, no.
posted by Namlit at 12:12 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Disclaimer: The following is, so far as I can tell, a minority opinion.

I feel that it is fundamentally dangerous to drive a vehicle in the winter with no "backup" mechanism for traction. Doing so is an invitation to getting yourself stuck somewhere and an invitation to drive in a fundamentally dangerous way without realizing it. In both scenarios, there is nothing available to get yourself out of the situation. With studded tires, the only "step up" for traction is chains, which offer only marginally better traction than studded tires (versus much better traction than non-studded snow tires). In other words, if you rely on studded tires for your daily driving, the moment you make a slight mistake in driving, there's nothing for you to do. Instead, you should rely on a lower traction device (ie, studless snow tires) and have a backup in case you end up in a situation that you weren't planning for (in your case, that would be chains/cables, although if you had a 4WD vehicle, that could be the low range on the 4WD setting).

For what it's worth, I've never used snow tires at all for this reason, which I feel has made me much more cognizant of the limits of the vehicle I drive. I have lived in areas that have similar weather to Bozeman, and coincidentally, I have driven to Bozeman in the winter with my vehicle without snow tires.
posted by saeculorum at 12:32 PM on November 19, 2012


People usually advise against studs if there's a chance that you'll be driving a lot on well-cleaned (bare) roads

I chuckled at this. I lived in Bozeman for four winters. There will not be any "well-cleaned (bare) roads." They do not use salt, and sometimes they don't even plow the more minor city streets. The order seemed to go: I-90, Main St, roads around the hospital, 19th, 7th, everything else.

Are you west, past Four Corners? They will plow Huffine, but Norris is a crapshoot. If you live south, off 191, please for the love of god get studded tires, there are too many scary dropoffs.

20 miles outside of town? You are ISOLATED. In a storm there is a good chance you will not see anyone for hours. BE PREPARED.
posted by desjardins at 12:46 PM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I live in Tahoe at 6300 feet, but I often drive over Mt. Rose, which at 9700 ft. is the highest road in the Sierra Nevada open all year round. For years, I happily drove studded tires on my AWD Honda Civic, but last year, based on my mechanic's advice and this video, I opted to switch over to studless tires. And I haven't noticed any difference in the quality of traction. I talked to at least three or four tire shops and mechanics in the Tahoe area (it snows 9 months of the year here), and most of them were quite happy to recommend the newest technology with studless tires.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:02 PM on November 19, 2012


Two interesting points:

Going downhill (especially a slow, steep downhill) with AWD (in an automatic) can be a terrifying experience in the snow. You're trying to slow down but your transmission is still putting power to the rear wheels. Suddenly, your rear end starts coming around. Eek! I suspect the problem is that there's chains on the rear, and the transmission senses the better grip with the rear axle and thus puts more power there. The solution, I found, was to actually put the car in neutral and coast down the hill. This happened to me a few times, but only when I'm going really slow. Hoping that having all four tires with good traction will make this a non-issue.

The second issue is one of overconfidence due to studs. I have chains. They'll be in the back of the car, along with some other winter survival stuff. When I used to drive a van to Mt. Hood for Parks & Wreck (ha ha), we had studded tires and chains. We used the chains when the snow got crazy deep, which it sometimes did in backcountry parking areas.

FWIW, we'll be up in Bridger Canyon, close to Bridger Bowl. It's an easy drive once I get onto Bridger Canyon Rd. I've done it many winters in the Volvo with all-season (not winter) tires. I just go slow. But this year, we'll be there ALL WINTER LONG, rather than just for a vacation. And when the toddler wants milk, by God, we're going to town to get milk!
posted by thomsplace at 2:00 PM on November 19, 2012


In an AWD car you should put chains on the front only or all the way around. Otherwise you just turn it into a rear wheel drive.
posted by fshgrl at 3:35 PM on November 19, 2012


Are studded tires legal in Montana?

Going downhill (especially a slow, steep downhill) with AWD (in an automatic) can be a terrifying experience in the snow. You're trying to slow down but your transmission is still putting power to the rear wheels. Suddenly, your rear end starts coming around. Eek! I suspect the problem is that there's chains on the rear, and the transmission senses the better grip with the rear axle and thus puts more power there. The solution, I found, was to actually put the car in neutral and coast down the hill. This happened to me a few times, but only when I'm going really slow. Hoping that having all four tires with good traction will make this a non-issue.

This is where you should be putting your transmission into "low" or "2", which signals the transmission that you want to do engine braking.
posted by gjc at 6:52 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a fan of studded tires though modern studless tires are somewhat equivalent nowadays with studded tires having less traction in ideal conditions and being better on cold ice and compact snow. Studs also IMO tend to be best in the spring when you sometimes get thin layers of melt water over ice.

saeculorum writes "With studded tires, the only "step up" for traction is chains, which offer only marginally better traction than studded tires (versus much better traction than non-studded snow tires)."

Actual chains (not those goofy cable "chains") are a huge step up in traction compared to studded tires on compact snow or ice of any depth (IE: the only times you'd mount chains). A good set of chains are easily a 50*100% step up in traction in those conditions. And a set of V-Bars are another 50-100% step up over that. A set of V-Bars is like being nailed to the road when it's covered in ice or snow.
posted by Mitheral at 7:52 PM on November 19, 2012


gjc writes "Are studded tires legal in Montana?"

Yes, Oct 1st-May 31st.
posted by Mitheral at 8:11 PM on November 19, 2012


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