To the untrained eye, a summer tire might not look that different from a winter tire, but there’s some real science behind the design of winter tires. In fact, every winter tire has a host of features at work—only some of which are visible—to keep you safe on winter roads.
Tire engineers have spent years determining how different designs give drivers the most safety through ice, snow and cold temperatures. In Canada, many drivers rely on winter tires. But how exactly do winter tires help you stay on the road?
How winter tires work to ensure safety on the road:
Winter tires need to stay soft and flexible so they can grip the road even in cold temperatures. When the thermometer hits 7 C, summer and all-season tires become hard and lose their effectiveness.
Winter tires, however, are made with a softer compound and they contain more rubber than summer tires. Unlike a hard hockey puck that would slide over ice, your flexible winter tires bend and grip snow like the soles of a winter boot. They also contain silica, which is like sand, and gives the rubber a biting edge on slippery snow.
Some winter tires are also studdable for driving on wet ice or hard-packed snow, but many studless tires have a compound that contains crystal-like particles that act as built-in studs to grip ice.
These hairline cuts in the tread of your tire displace water and grip snow. Winter tires have thousands of these tiny crevices cut into the rubber of your winter tire so you have the traction you need on ice and snow.
On a summer tire, snow clogs the channels and creates a slippery, unsafe surface for winter roads. Sometimes a winter tire’s siping will also contain teeth so that even as the tread wears, the siping remains effective.
Winter tires have a huskier look in part because of the tread design. Winter tire manufacturers have a range of tread designs, from asymmetrical and arrowhead to v-shaped and staggered shoulders. Each is meant to give you more traction by pushing away slush and snow so you can brake and corner safely.
Learn more about how winter tires work to keep you safe in our post on the difference between all season tires and winter tires.