Snow tires in Seattle?
January 9, 2013 9:57 PM   Subscribe

Are dedicated snow tires a good idea for Seattlites who only occasionally visit the mountains?

We have a front-wheel drive Sienna minivan with all-season tires (Dunlop SP 4000 T A/S) that came with the car. And we live in Seattle, which doesn't get a whole lot of snow. We're just dipping our toes in the (frozen) water with regard to winter sports in the mountains. I expect we'll go up there maybe 6-8 times this winter.

We've talked about getting snow tires because we sometimes worry about snowy conditions en route to skiing. We do have chains in the car if things get "bad", but you know, there's that period when it's in between "no snow" and "bad enough for chains" that is hard to gauge. On the other hand, 95% of our driving is in rainy conditions instead, and I've read that snow tires don't perform as well as regular tires do on cleared roads.

Are dedicated snow tires a good idea? If yes, what should we be looking for?
posted by rouftop to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total)
Keep in mind that snow tires will wear out quicker than normal tires under warmer conditions. Unless you're willing to change out the tires every time you go up to the mountains, it's probably not worthwhile.
posted by kagredon at 10:47 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

No, all seasons are fine for what you're doing. The most important thing is to drive really slow and pay attention and you should be doing that no matter what kind of tires you have.
posted by fshgrl at 10:54 PM on January 9, 2013

I have lived in Seattle for 20+ years. We go to the mountains about once a winter in our front wheel drive minivan with all season tires. We've never had snow tires or chains, and we've never had a problem.
posted by obol at 10:55 PM on January 9, 2013

True snow tires are good on snow, bad on ice, and lousy on anything else. All season tires are sort of good on snow, bad on ice, and decent on everything else.

If you area has a constant snow pack in the winter -- that is, you don't see the road, you see snow on the road all winter, then, and only then, do you want snow tires. Otherwise, all seasons, and if you go into the mountains, possibly chains. In many parts of Colorado, you are *required* to have chains if you are going into the mountains.

If you do actually need snow tires, what you also want is four cheap steel rims. You mount the snow tires on those. This makes swapping them much easier, and alloy rims have only so many tire changes before they fail -- plus, with all the slipping and such, they're more likely to be damaged.

If your car has a monitoring system for tire pressure, you'll need to deal with that if it's a direct measuring system. Sometimes, this is as simple as special valve stems, but your car needs to be taught to talk to them, which probably means "dealer." You can just deal without them, but the low tire warning light will be on while you're on the snow tires. Indirect systems will cope fine, but you'll probably get a warning until it recalibrates to the new tires.
posted by eriko at 2:28 AM on January 10, 2013

Snow tires are awesome, and I had them for 10 years of living near the mountains. They converted my 1990 Honda Civic into a tank! You don't notice them until there's a bit of snow, at which time you suddenly have amazing traction and can drive your way through anything. While I really didn't need them in the city (I'm in Alberta) I was always happy to have them on the relatively rare occasions when I found myself driving on snow. For me, they were well worth the effort and cost.

eriko's suggestion of winter rims is a good one as you do need to swap your tires over (from all seasons to winter and back) twice a year.
posted by lulu68 at 6:27 AM on January 10, 2013

Just my opinion: I wouldn't bother unless you are actually doing a lot of driving on snow. I've used all season tires for many winters here in Edmonton, Canada where is generally a lot of snow and ice on the roads (we only switched to winter tires this year because has been particularly icy). Of course, having said this it really depends on the conditions in the mountains where you will be going - if you are going to big ski fields you might find the roads are in pretty good shape. I've had few problems, but then again I drive about 20km/hr slower than everyone else in winter...
posted by piyushnz at 10:04 AM on January 10, 2013

Here in Maine I've never needed anything more than all seasons on front wheel drive vehicles and there isn't a snowstorm that's stopped me from venturing out yet.
posted by mbatch at 3:48 PM on January 10, 2013

Best answer: With the front wheel drive I think you are okay with the all season radials. We have 2 cars 1 all wheel drive (BMW X3), and 1 rear wheel drive (BMW 325i). We are in Wisconsin, no mountains but usually a decent amount of snow. We have winter tires on separate rims for the rear wheel drive car.

My recommendation is that stick with the all seasons and buy some chains, the winter tires are not as good in the rain (from what I gather rain is more of an issue in Seattle than snow.) Any time you go into the mountains you should be prepared. (I grew up in western Montana everyone carried chains in the winter). Even if you don't need them very often you will be glad you had them when you do.

I also race a front wheel drive Civic on a slippery dirt track and we only use all season tires.
posted by empty vessel at 2:02 PM on January 11, 2013

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