Ask A Mechanic: Do I Really Need Winter Tires?

As we get closer to winter (or if you’re like us in Minnesota, where winter has already begun), the talk of winter tires versus all season tires begins. But what’s the real difference, and do you really need to spend a couple hundred dollars on a set of tires you’ll just need to store half of the year?? Read on to find out the real deal from a mechanic who has seen cars come in in February with summer tires on.

Not everyone lives in an area that sees Minnesota amounts of snow every winter, but most people live in an area that gets close to or below freezing. And just like your change your shoes, it’s also time to change your tires.

Good quality winter tires should be very soft and squishy. You should be able to press down on the tread with your fingers. While nothing is a miracle cure for driving on snow and ice-covered roads, the soft tread on winter tires will increase your ability to accelerate, stop, and handle, significantly more than summer or all-season tires. Compare tires to shoes: if you wear a pair of flat soled Sperry’s on ice or snow, you’re going to immediately fall on your butt (or in a cars case, slide into a ditch). But if you wear a pair of Sorel’s, you’re going to be able to complete your walk to the mailbox with confidence (and again in a cars case, stay on the road).

One important caveat: just because you have winter tires doesn’t mean you can drive 80mph on icy roads. You should still drive carefully and to the conditions in winter. Winter tires won’t prevent you from sliding on ice, but they are likely to give you time to react.

Now we need to address the real issue most people have with winter tires: the cost. A set of quality winter tires will likely run you around $400-600, depending on the size. This normally doesn’t include wheels, which can be an additional $300+. You may be wondering, “Why would I need to buy a second set of wheels?” What a great question! Taking tires on and off a set of wheels each spring/winter, instead of having an entirely different set of winter wheels and tires, can put significant stress on the sidewall of your tires. This can make the tires weaker, which can increase the chance of a leaky or flat tire.

Most dealerships offer winter tire and wheel packages, which will likely include installation, and some will even store your summer tires for you! Otherwise you can search for individual tires and wheels at local tire shops. If you’re not sure what size you need, you can call your local brand dealership or enter the year/make/model online for help.

Now that you have your winter tire situation all figured out, what car problem or question would you like addressed next? Leave a comment below or let me know on Twitter!

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