How to Choose the Best Snow Tires for Your Car

A close-up image of a car driving in snow with snow tires on.

Snow tires are that winter chore you put off and have nightmares about. It's always a hassle, but it's also a necessity. There are lots of reasons why you should have snow tires on your vehicle, and some important things you’ll need to know before you buy them. Picking the best snow tires for your car or truck is easier than you think, once you know what to look for!

Do You Even Need Snow Tires?

Changing the tires on your car can be a pretty tedious undertaking. Is it even necessary to put snow tires on your vehicle? If you live in the United States, the short answer is yes. Snow tires aren't made only for places that receive lots of heavy snow. They're also called winter tires, and that's because they're designed for winter weather of all kinds. If you experience temperatures that are less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, freezing rain, snow, sleet, or ice during the winter months, then snow tires are a must-have. Snow tires are made to withstand cold weather and poor road conditions, which means they will help you drive more safely than if you don't have them. They will also lose less air pressure in cold weather than standard tires.

Choosing Snow Tires

When choosing snow tires, the most important thing to know is what size tire you need. Tires typically range from 13 to 18 inches for most standard cars and trucks. Usually, you will buy snow tires that are about an inch smaller than the standard tires you use on your vehicle. Look in your owner's manual to read about the tires, and see if a size for snow tires is specified. If you don't have your manual or can't find the info you want in it, go online or ask a tire technician what size snow tires you need for your make and model of car or truck. Either method will provide an answer within minutes.

How to Read Snow Tires

Snow tires with a snowflake sign.

There are actually multiple types of car and truck tires on the market. You have many more options other than snow tires and non-snow tires. Look for the tire rating before you buy. Tires that are rated M+S are all-season tires designed to be good for most times of the year, but they're not snow tires that are designed for winter driving. While these tires do provide a little extra tread in muddy and snowy conditions (M+S), they're not designed for winter weather like snow tires.

Tires that are marked with a mountain that has a snowflake inside of it, however, are designed for severe snow and winter conditions. They're made with tough tread and durable rubber that can withstand extreme cold. Look for the symbols on tires, and look for the snowflake so you know you're looking at snow tires.

Installing, Removing, and Maintaining Snow Tires

A pair of tire tracks in the snow.

You should put your snow tires on when temperatures drop to 45 degrees Fahrenheit consistently, and when they do, act quickly. Get your tires on before it gets too cold. And if it's already cold outside, get your tires on ASAP. Once the temperature stays consistently above 45 degrees Fahrenheit in spring, you can safely remove your snow tires and store them until next year. When they're off your car, store your snow tires in a cool, dry place; a garage or basement is ideal. You don't want your tires to get too hot, as this can destroy the rubber.

Snow Tire Tips

Some snow tires come with extra features and even some serious bells and whistles. However, in most cases, standard snow tires will do. You don't need studded snow tires, which are specifically designed for icy roads. Studded snow tires can actually damage pavement, and some states have even banned them as a result. You also probably don't need to add snow chains to your tires. Chains can be helpful if you're climbing icy mountain roads, but they are not suitable for highway and street driving. You definitely want to get four matching tires. Don't try to get away with using just two snow tires. This will give you unbalanced tire traction, which is dangerous.

Get the right snow tires for your vehicle, and get your car ready before winter weather strikes. You’ll be able to drive more safely, and you’ll be taking much better care of your vehicle.