Keep Control Of Your Car This Winter With Small Winter Tires

As fall approaches and temperatures begin to drop, it's time to get your car ready for winter driving. If you have large custom wheels, you should replace them with smaller winter tires before the cold of winter arrives. While oversized-tires may look cool during summer, they aren't suited for driving in cold and ice. Here's why small winter tires will give you better control over your car during winter, along with how to find some for your vehicle.

Winter Tires Provide Better Traction in Snow and Cold

Winter tires are sometimes referred to as snow tires, but this latter term doesn't capture all that they do. Winter tires improve traction when it's cold, both when there's snow on the roads and when the roads are dry.

Most winter tires have deep treads that provide excellent traction in snowy and icy conditions. Unlike all-season tires, winter tires' treads aren't just designed to funnel away rainwater. They are made so that they stay in contact with the road even when there's a lot of snow and ice, thus providing you with control over your vehicle in adverse winter driving conditions.

Even if you live in an area that sees little snow, though, winter tires will still provide better traction than all-season custom wheels. Woody Rogers recommends getting winter tires for when the temperature drops below 40°F. Below this point, Edmunds explains, the rubber used in all-season tires stiffens and becomes less pliable. Winter tires, however, are made to remain flexible at low temperatures. They'll bend to the minor changes in the road and give you better control.

Certain Size Tires Are Suitable for Your Car

When selecting winter tires, look for the smallest sized tires that are suitable for your car. You can find possible tire sizes in your owner's manual. They may be listed as a series of numbers and letters, "P205/55/R14" for example. Each of these numbers and letters has a meaning:

  • P is short for P-metric, which is the type of tire used on passenger cars
  • the first number indicates the width between the tire's sidewalls, in millimeters (205 means 205 millimeters)
  • the second number indicates the tire's aspect ratio (55 means that the tire's height is 55 percent of its width)
  • R stands for radial
  • the third number indicates the tire's diameter, in inches (14 equates to 14 inches)

When looking at new tires, you'll see these numbers on the sides of the tires.

Small, Narrow Tires Cut Through Slush

You should seek out a tire that has the lowest first and last numbers allowed for your car. These tires will be smaller and narrower than over-sized custom wheels, and they'll cut through slush on the road more easily.

Tires with short widths (the first number) and small diameters (the last number) have less surface area than larger tires. Counterintuitively, reducing a tire's surface area actually improves traction when driving through snow and ice. As the surface area is reduced, the contact patch, which is the part of the tire that is in direct contact with the road, gets smaller. The cars weight, thus, presses down more on the contact patch, because it's smaller. The additional force of the car's weight will help the tire dig into snow and ice and maintain traction in slippery slush.

If you have over-sized custom wheels, make sure to change them out for smaller winter tires before the temperatures drop below 40°F. You can determine what size tires will fit on your car by looking in your owner's manual. Invest in a set of the smallest, most narrow winter tires you can, as they'll give you better traction than larger all-season car tires during the winter driving season.

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