Snow Tires vs. No Snow Tires
December 24, 2021 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Are snow tires worth it? I’m in Massachusetts. The weather is wildly variable. It could be 70 in January, followed by a skyscraper’s worth of snow in February. I mainly drive on main highways and streets, and I’ve survived until now without them.

I’ve never purchased snow tires before, but perhaps this was a mistake. I’m getting older, and more safety conscious. I’m driving a Bolt EV, and I’m back in the office full time, so I’m averaging around 50 miles a day, plus random trips and errands on the weekends. Much of this is on major arteries, but some is in skinny narrow weird streets.

Given that a lot of the surfaces I will be on will probably be plowed, and handled just by the volume of traffic, and that there’s no knowing what the temperature will be from one day to the next between November and mid-April to May, are snow tires a good choice? I have room to store the spares when not in use, and I’m assuming you just show up with them in your car at something like a Firestone and have them swapped out for you.

This is just a topic I’m pretty much vastly undereducated regarding. It looks like it will cost me about $850-900 for the tires and installation.
posted by instead of three wishes to Travel & Transportation around United States (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I live in a place that (when I moved here 25 years ago) had a ton of snow for at least 3-4 months a year. Because of climate change it’s much more variable. Last week it was well above freezing with no snow on the ground and this week it snowed 60 cm in 36 hours and is -18 C. This cycle will repeat itself over the next few months if the last few winters are anything to go by.

We still put snow tires on every winter. Driving without them is just not a risk I’d want to take. We have studs on ours which may not be necessary for you, but I’d at least recommend snow tires if you live someplace that can get a skyscraper of snow randomly.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:18 AM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]


Yes, in my experience they are worth it. I live in the northeast and drove my small front wheel drive car for several winters without snow tires. With snow tires, I feel a marked improvement over my normal tires (which i think are all season), especially when turning, going uphill and making my way through roads that aren't fully plowed. They won't necessarily help in ice, and I've heard people recommend studded tires over regular snow tires. But I'm alright with just the basic snow tires and feel glad not to whiteknuckle my way through slush anymore!
posted by watrlily at 11:24 AM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I’m in the Midwest but drive my 2016 Hyundai Sonata about as much as you per day. I have Bridgestone Blizzaks on from Thanksgiving-ish until late March and really rate them for snow and icy conditions. It gives me tremendous peace of mind, especially after a couple bad winter driving experiences. My internet research on the topic a few years ago, when I was trying to decide whether to buy an AWD vehicle, was that AWD helps you Go and snow tires help you Stop. I really like being able to stop when I have to.

I keep the spares in my garage and it’s $60 to have the tires swapped, so $120 per year, and my current winter tires are on their 4th winter.
posted by sk932 at 11:25 AM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]


Yes, snow tires are worth it (upstate NY and Boston, MA). You can definitely tell the difference.

I’ve never had studded tires - I think MA (and a lot of other states) have restrictions on them. Just regular studless snow tires are great, though. I am usually just fine when other cars are skidding or spinning their wheels.
posted by Kriesa at 11:45 AM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]


I'm in Boston and some years I'm happy to have my snows on just to get in and out of a parking spot, lol. If you're going to keep the Bolt (it's FWD) and you're going to stay in Massachusetts, it's probably worth it to get snows. Mentally I amortize the cost of the tires themselves over the number of years I plan/hope to have the car, and judge whether I want to pay that annually for peace of mind and time savings for things like shoveling out of a snow bank, fishtailing coming up to a traffic light, etc. (Mine will be 10 years old this winter -- happy birthday, snow tires!) The cost of installing them every year I treat as very low maintenance. And if you sell the car you can often get a couple hundred extra for including a set of snow tires. Just make sure to swap them off after the last big snow so you don't wear out the tread any faster than needed.
posted by cocoagirl at 11:57 AM on December 24, 2021 [2 favorites]


Snow tires add a significant margin of safety for winter driving.

To get that same level of safety without snow tires, you could choose to drive extra slow in snowy conditions to account for regular tires being more slippery, take a winter driving course or watch some videos online, take public transportation or get a ride or stay home on snowy days, etc. These are all great tools. The difference is with snow tires, you don't have to think about it. They work with your regular driving habits, and they're always on your car.

You could also go for a true all-weather tire (note, NOT all-season, to be all-weather they must have the snowflake symbol on them, meaning they've passed certain tests for traction in winter conditions). They hit the sweet spot of traction, durability, and price. If you don't consistently drive on snowy roads and don't want to deal with twice-yearly tire swaps, they are a great option. Here's a Consumer Reports article and a head-to-head test from Wheels.ca.

I'd think about it this way. If the road conditions are kinda iffy, would you take your chances and still drive to work, or would you stay home? If drive to work, then get better tires (either winter or all-weather). If the thought of having to make that call with every snowstorm stresses you out, same thing. Then, if you live in a place with harsh winters and consistent snow, get dedicated snow tires. If you live in a place with inconsistent winters and reasonable plowing, get all-weather tires.
posted by danceswithlight at 12:16 PM on December 24, 2021 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Western Mass here, and Mass native (learned to drive in Boston).

Snow tires will change your experience of driving. They are essential as soon as you get a chance to try them. It only takes one bad storm for them to be worth the cost. I recommend Blizzaks, heartily.

I drive a FWD Mazda3. I live down a long sloping gravel driveway near the top of a small mountain. I have to take gravel roads to get many places. I feel 100% confident in those Blizzaks, and I am a very experienced winter driver who has driven (4wd trucks to be sure) in the Alaskan Arctic in winter on the regular over the last 15 years. So I have no fear of winter conditions and am very used to driving in very tough conditions. And I can't say enough good about proper snow tires. My Blizzaks go on in November and come off in March. They last me 3-4 winters. Amortize that and putting less wear on your all-seasons and the cost comes way down from the $600-700 initial investment plus $100 to mount them if you don't want to do it yourself. Doing it yourself becomes easier (and paying to get it done cheaper) if you also buy a set of cheap steel wheels for your snow tires. Bonus is your nice alloys don't get ruined by winter driving. (Albeit I actually have my current Blizzaks on an older set of alloys). I have a 4wd truck. The little Mazda is BETTER on snow and ice with the Blizzaks.

I pass AWD cars *struggling* on all seasons all the time in my FWD on snows, and I don't have any concerns at all. I can't recall ever breaking grip on those tires.

It takes one bad storm where you have to drive at night on an icy highway to make you say "this was worth it."
posted by spitbull at 12:23 PM on December 24, 2021 [5 favorites]


Meant to add: The major downside of snow tires is that they reduce your fuel mileage in a gas car (about 10-15% for me, but some of that is that cold weather reduces fuel efficiency anyway) and I would guess they reduce battery range in a BEV or hybrid. Also they can be a bit noisier than all season tires. And I guess they feel a bit sloppier on dry pavement in good weather than good all seasons too.

But they can save your life. Seriously.
posted by spitbull at 12:30 PM on December 24, 2021


I have lived in Massachusetts for 25 years and have never had snow tires. There have been a few years when there was enough snow that they might have been useful (like the winter of 2014 - 15), but I don't feel like they are essential at all.
posted by briank at 12:39 PM on December 24, 2021 [2 favorites]


My Minnesotan dad used to say that a set of snow tires are cheaper than an insurance deductible, so if they save you from one crash, they pay for themselves.

I like my snow tires on my Nissan Leaf - they seem to help a lot on shitty Minneapolis roads (plowing is sketchy in the city on side streets and alleys), though sometimes I still have moments of fear if I have to stop at a light or stop sign in deep snow with my low-riding car. They aren’t as good on the Leaf as on my old Honda Civic (that car never spun its wheels at intersections, but maybe I just haven’t adjusted to a car with traction control?). Snow tires are noisier, especially on the highway, and they’re stiffer, but it’s not a big deal. My Leaf is a 2014 with shitty winter battery range in general, so I can’t tell if they make any real difference mileage-wise.

I once parked my old Civic on the roof of a parking ramp in sleet/freezing rain and watched a parade of Toyota Priuses (Preii?) slide backward and have to turn around, going the wrong way down the ramp. My Civic totally dominated without any problems, and I am forever on team Michelin X Ice. I buy mine at Discount Tire and get free wheel swaps at the end of the season - they’ve always treated me well.
posted by Maarika at 12:45 PM on December 24, 2021 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Yes, but you will get a lot of different answers. Every town in MA does their own snow maintenance so you will get wildly varying conditions every few miles on the local roads (everything can change each time you cross a town border) during and after snow. And in my experience the state’s maintenance of the interstates is inconsistent and inadequate. Snow tires are very helpful.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 12:46 PM on December 24, 2021 [2 favorites]


Here in Europe common wisdom is that summer tires degrade in performance under 10C (so 50F). I usually change mine when daily max falls below that, and especially if the tire change falls on a wet day, I can immediately feel the impact in stopping capability. They're not just for actual snow at all, though once that falls, you can really tell who hasn't put theirs on yet.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:55 PM on December 24, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Bear in mind that winter tires aren't just for snow. Regular tires get less flexible in the cold and they consequently grip less effectively. Winter tires are designed to grip better in cold temperatures. Even above freezing in wet conditions or on well-ploughed roads at cold temperatures, winter tires are better than all season or summer tires.
posted by ssg at 12:56 PM on December 24, 2021 [5 favorites]


100% worth it. It's less than one fender bender.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:59 PM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]


We lived in Boston for nearly 20 years* and never got snow tires, but we also only put 1000-2000 miles a year on the car since 2008, at most, summer road trips included, and drove less in winter. If you're doing 50 miles a day in winter, that's not slow city driving where whatever happens is likely to be a fender bender, that's got to include either highway driving (which will be generally well-plowed) or country backroad driving, where who knows. I'd get the snow tires in your case.

* including, yes, the infamous winter of 2015, where we did not drive between January and APRIL of that year because there was just no way to get the car out of the driveway, LOL.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 1:10 PM on December 24, 2021


I live in Western MA and used to have a RWD pickup. Snow tires were essential in that vehicle. It was scary without them.
I currently have an AWD Nissan Rogue and haven't had nearly the same worries in that car - partly from the AWD and partly from the traction control and the antilock brakes.
I'd consider snows, but honestly I don't have the room to store them and my schedule is so tight, it's a hassle to get them swapped on.
posted by plinth at 1:23 PM on December 24, 2021


I live in the upper Midwest, and we always get snow tires… until now, because we hate our new car and don’t want to spend money on. Yesterday we slipped off the road on about an inch of sloppy greasy snow, ended up in a ditch, and will be spending way more money fixing the lousy bumper than we would have on snow tires. Starting Monday, we will be returning to our standard practice of always getting snow tires.
posted by juliapangolin at 2:25 PM on December 24, 2021


I’d be willing to bet that people who say you don’t need them A) have never used them and B) overestimate their winter driving skills.

I grew up in the snowy midwest and learned to drive without them, but having moved back with my southern Californian spouse, didn’t want her to have any problems.

I could not believe what I had been missing. Snow tires on a regular car are way better than any AWD vehicle with regular tires, as is seen by the number of SUVs in the ditches after a storm. Snow tires on an AWD car could be driven up the side of Denali.
posted by hwyengr at 3:04 PM on December 24, 2021 [6 favorites]


Snowflake rated tires are required here so while I know they make a difference it's been so long since I drove all seasons in snow that I can't really quantify it.

However I want to add that money spent on the actual snow tires isn't really an extra cost because they extend the life of your summers. IE: every mile driven on the winters means one less mile on your summers and proportionally longer before you have to replace your summers. And you can go with a better summer tire knowing they don't have to handle winter (the design constraints for rain and snow are diametrically opposed so it is essentially impossible to make a tire that handles both well).

Also while you can get your tires remounted twice a year it is really common here to just buy a second set of steel rims and mount the winters on those leaving the summers on the factory wheels. Doing this saves money long term; the pay back is generally around two years. And it prevents ice and salt/salt substitutes from damaging your fancy wheels. Also if you are inclined you can do the swap over in your driveway which means not having to schedule an appointment (at what is usually a tire shop's busiest time of the year).
posted by Mitheral at 3:08 PM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]


Canadian here. Absolutely worth it. The difference is day and night. Also worth getting the best you can afford, and having them on their own set of steel rims. In places like Quebec it is the law, you must have winter tires.
posted by fimbulvetr at 4:03 PM on December 24, 2021 [2 favorites]




In my experience there are two kinds of drivers who ever drive on snow: those who say "I've never needed snow tires" and those who say "I never knew how much I needed snow tires."
posted by spitbull at 4:56 PM on December 24, 2021 [2 favorites]


You could also go for a true all-weather tire (note, NOT all-season, to be all-weather they must have the snowflake symbol on them, meaning they've passed certain tests for traction in winter conditions). They hit the sweet spot of traction, durability, and price. If you don't consistently drive on snowy roads and don't want to deal with twice-yearly tire swaps, they are a great option. Here's a Consumer Reports article and a head-to-head test from Wheels.ca.

I am on the opposite side of the country, but the "all-weather" option (with snowflake symbol) is what I have ended up deciding on after trying varying options over the years. They are almost as good as the dedicated non-studded winter tires I've had in the past, but with the huge plus of not needing to be swapped out between summer and winter.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:50 PM on December 24, 2021


I live in a country where they are mandated that is surrounded by other countries where they are mandated and let’s just say there is a reason for that. Marked difference.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:34 PM on December 24, 2021


This Ars Technica article is a great overview on why they are so important and useful, and it isn’t just about it being snowy or icy on the roads….

There are three things to consider in a winter tire: performance on dry pavement, snow, and ice. Though that dry pavement might seem the same whether it's winter or summer, your tires act very differently.

As rubber gets colder, it becomes more and more inelastic. The key for traction and mobility is to keep the surface flexible and above the "Glass Transition Temperature" where a rubbery compound (like a tire) transitions into a more brittle "glassy" state. Above this temperature, the tire performs well by gripping the pavement and helping the car go, stop, and turn. Go below this temperature, and performance degrades rapidly. (Naturally, the exact degree varies with each manufacturer and with individual tire compounds. Such information is proprietary and closely guarded.)

All-season tires must perform well at a wider range of temperatures. The cut-off where winter tires really begin to outperform their all-season counterparts is about 45˚F (7˚C); below this point, all-season tires' performance begins to fall off, according to most tire experts I spoke with.

posted by rambling wanderlust at 5:52 AM on December 25, 2021 [3 favorites]


If you can make the transition, snow tires are far better on snow and slush; everything is pretty useless on ice unless you get studded tires or traction devices, which I have only seen on cars in the Rockies, not in Maine.

In addition, if you use snow tires, replace your all-season tires with summer tires, which are quite a bit better in rain.

I have all-season tires, and kind of regret that decision, but I also seldom drive on snow and slush; I'm able to wait until the roads are reasonably clear.

While you're at it, you need a great ice scraper; the brass blade doesn't scratch, but is so much more effective on ice than plastic. Didn't use mine all last winter, but we got an ice storm the other day and it's the best tool.
posted by theora55 at 6:26 AM on December 25, 2021


Vermont here (learned to drive in Boston). Here is my anecdata from today. I live in Vermont where snow tires are less optional because average roads are more poorly maintained and because the quality of the roads generally is not always great. I usually suggest them for people in Mass who may be going places where you'd need them. I'm super happy I have mine. They make my car grippier. This evening it's about 29 degrees out and we were invited to a friend's place for Christmas. The streets were icy because there had been freezing rain earlier in the day. They live a few miles down a dirt road. I drive an AWD car and I have good snow tires. I decided it was a trip that wasn't going to be an absolute mistake and I managed to both go and come home with no incidents not even slipping incidents. I was happy about it. Snow tires are not cheap (though mine cost maybe 60-70% of what yours look like they'd cost) but if you put them on when you need them and take them off early enough they can last many seasons. I am a good winter driver with or without snow tires but snow tires give me better odds. I don't notice the gas mileage dip, partly because I can never tell what is that and what is ethanol in the gasoline.
posted by jessamyn at 5:37 PM on December 25, 2021 [1 favorite]


I have lived all over the northeast and snow tires are 1,000% worth it.
posted by slateyness at 10:52 PM on December 26, 2021 [1 favorite]


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