The leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping and winter will soon be here. While snow can be pleasant to look at, it can also wreak havoc on roadways and create hazardous driving conditions during the winter months.
Everyone dreads the nerve-wracking winter commutes, but there’s plenty you can do to prepare your vehicle for inclement conditions. By taking a few precautionary steps in advance of the drop in temperatures, you can make sure your vehicle is better equipped for safe, smooth travel during the colder months.
Tires are one of the most important factors of safe winter driving; they can be the difference between a safe commute and a ride in a tow truck.
“It’s crucial for drivers to be conscious of what type of tires are ideal for their region’s climate and driving conditions,” says Matti Morri, technical customer service manager, Nokian Tyres — the inventor of the winter tire. “Too often, drivers think all-season tires are satisfactory for all conditions, which puts them in an unsafe position during the winter months. Even the most mechanically sound vehicle is no match for winter without proper tires.”
Take the time to make sure your tires are in optimal condition before the first snowfall to make the picturesque beauty of winter more enjoyable.
1. Make sure your tires are suited for the conditions.
Whether a driver needs all-season, all-weather or winter tires depends on the climate the driver is based in.
* All-season tires perform best in temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and above. For most of the country, this means they are ideally suited for spring, summer and fall driving. If you don’t experience snowy, slippery conditions in the winter, all-season tires are sufficient.
* All-weather tires can be used year-round and still provide excellent handling in the snow. All-weather tires are ideal for drivers that experience four seasons but are not designed to withstand the harsher winters in the northern regions.
* Winter tires are designed to grip in colder, winter conditions, not just in snow. These tires provide extreme grip in weather below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter tread patterns are also designed to provide excellent grip in icy and snowy conditions. Winter tires are engineered specifically to perform most effectively in harsh environments where colder temperatures are the norm. They don’t just combat snow and ice, they’re specifically designed and tested to function better in areas where temperatures can drop down well below freezing.
2. Monitor tire pressure.
Once you’ve found the proper tire for your climate, it’s important to closely monitor the tire pressure. As the temperature drops, tire pressure falls with it. In fact, for every 10-degree drop in temperature, tire pressure decreases by 1 pound per square inch.
Low inflation can cause a number of problems with your vehicle. It increases fuel consumption, shortens the life of your tires and creates an unsafe driving experience, as if you don’t already have enough to worry about while driving in the snow.
Tire pressure should be inspected at least once a month and always before a long trip. So grab a tire pressure gauge and your vehicle’s owner manual before hitting the road this winter.
3. Monitor and rotate your tires.
Once your tires are properly inflated, take a look at the tread. Tires are considered legally worn out when they reach 2/32nds of an inch. To err on the side of caution, replace your tires when they reach 5/32nds of the remaining tread depth for winter driving. One way to check is to insert a U.S. penny into the main groove so that the edge of the coin touches the tread and Lincoln’s head is upside down. If the top of Lincoln’s head remains visible from the groove, the tires are fully worn.
Tires need more tread depth during the winter to compress snow in their grooves and release it as they roll. Insufficient tread depth sacrifices the vehicle’s traction and mobility in the snow. You should monitor the tread depth closely throughout the winter and rotate the tires at least every 7,500 miles.
Having proper tires is just the beginning of safe winter driving. Visit a mechanic prior to the first snow to get the rest of your vehicle checked out, and in case all else fails, make sure you have an emergency kit in you car. Drive at a speed that’s appropriate for the weather conditions and stay calm. Drivers should always approach winter driving with extreme caution and use their best judgment before hitting the road. Sometimes even the most prepared driver is no match for Mother Nature.