Autumn is the time when we replace our summer tires with winter ones. Although it’s not freezing or snowing yet, the time has come for drivers to think about choosing the right winter tires for the new season.
Tires are the only component of the vehicle that stays in direct contact with the road. The right match between the tire’s and the vehicle’s features has a great impact on the driving safety and driving experience. The choice of tires is not a question to be treated lightly — you should consider a lot of factors, from your driving habits and the make of your vehicle to the climatic conditions and the roads on which you are most likely to drive.
The main criteria for choosing your winter tires
1. Tire Type and Size
These are indicated on the tire’s sidewall as an alphanumeric code. For example, 205/55 R16, where «205» signifies the nominal section width of the tire in millimeters, «55» — the aspect ratio of the sidewall height as a percentage of the width of the tire, «R» — the design type of the tire (radial in this instance), and 16 — the diameter in inches of the wheel that the tires are designed to fit.
Then we also need to make sure we choose the right load index and the speed rating. These are indicated immediately following the tire size. For example, in 205/55R16 91H (XL), 91 signifies a maximum load of 614 kg each tire can carry, H — a maximum allowable speed rating of 210 km/h, and XL signifies «extra carcass strength» as opposed to the standard tire.
The right and the most exact selection of tires in accordance with the parameters that match your car will ensure the best possible performance of your winter tires, as well as a safe and confident driving.
2. Seasonality and Vehicle Usage
For each basic season (summer/winter) tires are divided into sport tires, tires for driving in urban areas, highway tires, off-road and all-terrain tires, and so on.
Winter tires are subdivided into Nordic-type (Scandinavian) and Central-European-type (Alpine) tires. Such division is based on the difference between the climatic conditions in the wintertime, and, as a consequence, the car operating conditions.
There are also all-season tires, designed for year-round operation in countries where in the wintertime the temperature rarely drops below +5 degrees Celsius. Today, Pirelli experts do not recommend to use such tires in the wintertime in Russia because of its rather harsh climatic conditions (deep low temperatures, icy roads, etc.), in which all-season tires cannot ensure the adequate level of safety.
3. Your Driving Style
The motorist must define which driver type he refers to: does he prefer to drive actively or smoothly, and also, in which conditions he is more likely to use his car — is he going to drive in urban areas, on highways, or off-road, on ice or snow, on dry or wet asphalt.
Once the operating conditions and the driving habits have been defined, it becomes possible to choose the specific tires that best fit this particular driver.
4. Matching the tires’ performance to the driver’s needs
Winter tire production technologies
|High lamella density||Better grip on ice and snow, plus better braking behavior|
|Wide groove pattern||Better traction on wet roads, removal of snow sludge|
|Directional tread pattern design||Enhances grip on ice and snow|
|Low profile tire||Better grip on dry paved roads, wear resistance|
|Asymmetrical tread pattern with different lamella and block angles||Acoustic comfort, better traction, higher lateral stiffness|
|Studs||Better grip on ice|
|High profile tire||Increased comfort|
|3D lamellas||Better handling|
|Acute angle of the shoulder area||Better lateral stability of the vehicle|
|Blocks on the sidewall||Better traction on loose snow|
To a large extent, the performance of winter tires depends on the rubber compound that they are made of, all of whose properties the buyer will not be able to evaluate either visually or by hand-feeling the tire. Therefore, it is always better to ask your sales rep for advice. The sales reps of tire dealerships get specialized training and they are supposed to have complete information on the product that they are selling.
In addition, each authorized dealership offers tire catalogues, from which you get brief description of the tires and match the properties of each tire to your driving habits, climatic conditions, road surface, your driving experience, and personal preferences.
The continuation of this article on choosing the right winter tires for your vehicle contains vital information about the importance of sticking to the type and size of the tires recommended by the manufacturer.
Car manufacturers recommendations on using tires of a specific type and size
Each car has its own specific geometry, technical properties, and is equipped with a great number of electronic systems. The car manufacturer’s engineering team experimentally zooms in on the right tire size that ensures maximum safety when handling and braking, and maximum comfort for each specific make of the vehicle.
The tire engineering process is based on more than 50 parameters, the features of which are carefully studied for finding the best match between the tire and the vehicle. The technical specifications of the vehicle determine specific tire types and sizes. The recommended tire sizes are indicated in the car owner’s manual.
If you install tires not recommended by the manufacturer, this may affect the handling and braking performance of your car, your driving comfort, as well as lead to malfunctioning of the electronic systems that are designed for a specific tire size (width and circumference); this may also lead to an increase in fuel consumption, and cause an extra stress on the undercarriage.
How can we tell if a tire is still good to run another season?
To extend the life of your stored tires, just follow a few simple guidelines.
- Tire storage. This is an important factor because a tire can lose a lot of its useful properties if stored the wrong way. What matters is the storage temperature, humidity, and the way a tire is stored (on rims or without them), and other factors.
- Remaining tread depth. You must replace your tires once you detect a critical tread wear. You can gauge the tire tread depth by the tire wear indicator, which is to be found in the tread grooves. You can find the «wear bars» by looking for the TWI (tire wear indicator) letters on the tire’s sidewall. When the tires reach a certain mark of the indicator (1.6 mm of remaining tread depth for summer tires and 4 mm for winter tires), the tires must be replaced.
- Visual inspection. Check your tire for visual damage, such cracks, bulges, deep cuts, geometry changes, etc.
Speed and other parameters that must be addressed immediately after the tires are replaced.
All new tires require «driving in» or «running in» to prepare the surface of the tire for the road, which means driving your car in a sparing mode, avoiding any sharp accelerating or braking, violent cornering, drifting, etc. An average «driving in» distance in about 500–600 kilometers.
Each new tire requires «running in» because, as a rule, it gets to tire stores directly from the manufacturer. The final stage of the production cycle consists in vulcanizing the tire in heating molds, which allows the tire to take shape, and which leaves on the tire surface a thin invisible layer (± 0.15 mm) that prevents the tire from sticking to the molds.
In the premium tire segment, the manufacturers add shallow cutting over the entire tread surface, exactly the depth of the baked layer, in order to ensure maximum grip from the first moments of the tire’s operation.
New tires have a tread pattern that matches the purpose of using these tires. In order to ensure the best possible operation of the tread pattern, we need to «run in» the tire. During the «running in» process, the tread pattern with lots of slits or «lamellae» «opens up» becoming more functional and fully capable of delivering the performance that it has been designed for.
Studded tires require special care. Large tire manufacturers, such as Pirelli, have their studding process fully automated, with the use of sophisticated machinery. During the studding process, the stud holes are filled with special fluid, and the stud may have air bubbles and a small amount of that fluid in the space between the stud and the rubber compound.
Because of that, if the stud experiences a lot of stress during the driving, this may lead to the stud falling out of its hole, and this is why «driving in» or «running in» of a new studded tire is highly recommended. In the process of «running in», all the air bubbles and the remains of the fluid leave the stud hole, the stud gets heated, and the rubber compound «sticks» to the stud, thus ensuring dependable grip and a long service life of the studded tire.
As we can see, choosing the right winter tires is quite a chore — but what do you do if you already have a set of used tires?
Used tires require balancing, as well as visual inspection for damage, such as cracks, bulges, deep cuts, geometry changes, etc.
If you opt for installing a set of used tires, this creates additional risks when driving in challenging weather or road conditions. In addition to the absence of a certain quantity of studs, the tire’s carcass may have weakened, and the material may have deteriorated and cracked.
Warns the technical expert of TiresVote.com
The difference between a reputable dealership and a small private repair shop
You need to have your tires installed in specialized tire dealerships. Unlike some no-name repair shop, a reputed dealership guarantees:
- a high level of quality control;
- a team of trained professionals;
- claim acceptance and elimination of tire defects after such are discovered;
- the use of modern equipment, which is particularly important for RunFlat tires — a technology of a self-supporting tire whose walls are heavily reinforced to support the vehicle when the air pressure is low or even when the tire has lost all its pressure, which allows you to keep driving about 150 kilometers to find the nearest repair shop;
- minimizing the risk of damaging the tires and wheels;
- seasonal tire storage;
- bonuses and discounts;
- a comfortable waiting lounge;
- custom solutions.
Remember that choosing your tires wisely and expertly is the basis of your driving comfort and your passengers’ driving safety.