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How To Get Your Tires Ready For Winter

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When snow, rain and ice hit the roads, it's much harder for your car's tires to get the traction they need. Experts estimate that icy roads kill an average of 467 people in the United States every year, with thousands more injuries and damaged cars. As such, before the winter weather sets in, drivers should take steps to make sure their cars are ready for the challenge ahead. Find out how to get your car tuned up for the snow and ice with the following winter weather tire tips.

Test your tread

A survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that around fifty percent of vehicles tested had at least one tire with half-worn tread. Worn tires are dangerous enough during warm, sunny driving conditions, but when you throw ice and rain into the mix, you can create a recipe for disaster.

A tire is bald when one or more of the grooves becomes 2/32 of an inch deep. Even 2/32 of an inch isn't adequate during winter weather, and experts recommend that 4/32 tread is a better depth to aim for with tires that will drive in wintry conditions.

The easiest option is to ask a mechanic to check the tread on your tires, but you can also run some simple tests at home. The penny test is a simple way to check if you need to replace your tires.

  • Place a penny between the tread ribs on your tire
  • Turn the coin to point Lincoln's head down
  • Check if Lincoln's head disappears

If you cannot see the head, your tread is almost certainly at least 2/32 of an inch. If you can see the head, it's time to invest in new tires.

Check your tire pressure

When the air temperature falls, your tire pressure also decreases. In fact, for every 10 degrees that the temperature drops, your tire pressure loses 1 -2 pounds per square inch. This drop in pressure can materially affect your tires' ability to maintain good traction, so it's a seasonal issue you need to deal with.

As such, you need to take time to regularly check your tire pressure before and during winter months. You can find the target tire pressure for your car in the owner's manual or on the driver's side door jamb. Note also that the inflation pressure you will find on the sidewall of a tire is the maximum pressure and not the recommended tire pressure. Ask your mechanic for advice if you are unsure.

Consider snow tires

If you regularly face a lot of snow during the winter months, it's a good idea to consider installing snow tires. Snow (or winter) tires have several features that enable them to cope with poor driving conditions. These features include:

  • Higher natural rubber content than regular tires. This design allows the tires to stay supple during cold weather. In turn, this allows the tires to grip the road more effectively.
  • Better tread. The surface of a winter tire has thousands of small 'sipes' or channels cut into the rubber. These channels displace surface water more quickly, which means the tire can cope with snow, ice and slush.

Some snow tires also have studs to help maintain grip. You probably only need this type of tire if you intend to drive off-road, or if you live in an area prone to lengthy, heavy snowfall, but talk to your mechanic about this option.

Some drivers prefer to use snow chains for the worst weather conditions. These devices aren't particularly easy to install, but the chains will give you better traction in bad driving conditions.

It's important to fit winter tires to all four wheels. Some drivers mistakenly fit tires to the front or rear wheels only, but this can cause uneven wear and tear on the other wheels. You should also replace winter tires with the regular version during the summer, or your gas mileage will increase unnecessarily.

Winter weather causes thousands of accidents in the United States, so it's important to get your tires ready for the challenge. Take time to winterize your tires before the bad weather sets in, or you could run into problems on the road.