Studded winter tires or not: which should you buy?

Studded winter tires or not: which should you buy?

Time to prepare for winter! Do I buy winter tires with or without studs? See what experts have to say about studded tires vs. studless and all-season versions.

Those living in the outer reaches ask themselves this question almost every year: should we buy winter tires with or without studs?

Before you decide, check with government transportation agencies in your area because many have outlawed studded tires for their road-destroying tendencies. While great on snow and ice, these enemies of asphalt dig into dry pavement and create ruts that collect water and increase the odds of dangerous hydroplaning year-round. As they chew up the road, studded tires also create dust that pollutes the air.

What are studded tires?

For the uninitiated, studs are pins about the size of a pencil lead, encased in a tungsten carbide body that sits just below the tire tread surface. The pin protrudes past the end of the casing and tire tread, providing the “bite” into an icy surface.

Why are they still popular?

Some people are convinced beyond reasoning that studded tires are the best way to enhance wintertime traction. Certain areas that get a lot of snow and ice are fighting back by building roads with a rubberized asphalt mix that better stand up to the punishment of studded tires.

Do studded tires really work?

On icy roads where the temperature is at or near freezing, studded tires work splendidly. However, to the surprise of many, an Alaskan study found that in almost every circumstance, studless winter tires perform as well or better than studded versions! Experts suggest that tire technology has reached the point where road-eating studs are unnecessary.

Pros and cons of winter studless tires

That same study showed that studless winter tires performed equally well on snow and even better than studded tires while cornering. While studless tires maintain their effectiveness longer, they wear faster and can be costly.

2012 Consumer Reports study

A few years ago, a Consumer Reports study found that studded tires do work well on ice, but so do studless models. The test team wouldn’t even test the studded tires on their test track, fearing damage. They also noted that studded tires are noisy.

How do studless tires work?

Studless winter tires are made of a pliable, absorbent rubber that soaks up the water on the surface of the ice that makes traveling so slippery. That’s why the tread of these tires is better able to grip the road without the noisy, destructive studs.

A word of warning

If you’re still considering studded tires, consult your province’s transportation agency and/or local law enforcement officials for any tire restrictions. These laws can differ from area to area. Furthermore, you’ll want to get into your local tire store as soon as possible, or you might not be able to find the model or size you want.

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