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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Winter driving considerations

As surely as leaves will fall and massive clock rollbacks will occur, we will face wintry weather quite soon.  There have been prognostications of an impending El Nino that will purportedly raise our average temperatures this season, but I suspect we’ll encounter slick roads nevertheless.

 In fact, if the winter temps mainly hover around the freezing mark, our chances of driving on that slick, packed, wet snow will be assured.  With so many drivers operating front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles, preparedness with winter tires is taking a back seat.  Attention SUV operators:  Please remember that your vehicles have no special turning or stopping advantage, but only a “going” advantage over two-wheel drive.  The first snow we see here will prove this point, when many four-wheel drive vehicles will leave the roadway unintentionally.

The first rule of winter driving (echoed by state troopers) is to slow down.  Every year, there is at least one early-season intersection stop where I’m surprised by the slickness.  So, driving according to conditions is paramount, but equipping your vehicle with winter tires is highly important too.

Thirty years ago, that meant mounting up your studded tires, and scratching your way around, chewing up dry pavement for days, waiting for snow or ice.  Today, it may mean using all-season tires, M & S rated tires, or studless alternative winter tires.  What you choose depends on the amount and location of your winter driving, and your vehicle.

If, for example, your vehicle is all-wheel drive, your all-season tires are brand new, and your driving is minimal, you may be fine.  Initial tread depth is around 12/32nds of an inch — when it gets below half of that, all-season tires aren’t much good in snow.  If you will drive over mountain passes, or if your auto is two-wheel drive, an M & S rated tire, or a winter tire is a must for safety.  Studded tires are still available, but local tires retailers tell me that stud popularity is on the decline.

There may be several reasons for the drop-off in stud use.  First — as widely reported — they wear our roads excessively.  I am in favor of their ban, or at least an imposed surcharge to use them.  Reader opinion disfavors them, at about ten to one against studded tires.

Besides premature road wear, the overwhelming reason that many drivers have weaned off studs is that the alternatives keep getting better.  There is not room here to show all of the studies that have been done, but the WSDOT (Washington Department of Transportation), tire manufacturers (Goodyear, Bridgestone, Michelin, Gilslaved), and tire retailers (Tire Rack, Discount Tire) have all completed extensive testing.  The conclusion is always that quality winter tires outperform their studded counterparts in all situations except glare ice.  The advantage of studs on ice is minimal in most cases, and in fact, nonexistent when compared to the best studless winter tires.  The disadvantage of studded tires comes to light on dry and wet roads, where their adhesion pales to that of even the cheapest tires.  If, as reported by the WSDOT, we only have glare ice one-two percent of the time here, studded tires users experience inferior safety 98-99 percent of the time.

Your tire retailer is well versed in these facts, and can help you determine the best winter tire to fit your vehicle and your driving pattern.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at