When you think winter tires, you probably think about small-town snow-packed lanes. If you’re used to long winters or do a lot of traveling, however, you’ve probably wondered how winter tires do with highway driving.
Winter tires are good for highway driving and driving through cities in general, but they come with some risks. The tread depth and pattern, biting edges, and type of tread rubber used in winter tires help them keep traction, even at highway speeds.
Read on to learn about winter tires and what makes them great for highway driving. I’ll also discuss any precautions you must take when driving on ice and snow.
Risks of Using Snow Tires on the Highway
Snow tires are built for highway driving but come with a few risks. Some of these include:
- Your car tires can lose traction at high speeds.
- The tires can’t maintain traction because of a lack of snow cover.
- You can lose control of the vehicle if you don’t install snow tires correctly.
Losing Traction at High Speeds
In general, snow tires maintain excellent traction both when driving at highway speeds and when driving in town. However, there are dangers when driving too quickly. The main concern is whether there is enough snow cover, as high speeds plus minimal snow coverage equals danger.
There’s less risk when you travel on well-packed snow at higher speeds because you won’t be able to travel as quickly. While you may be able to get up to 55-60 MPH (89-97 kph), you’re not going to be going 70-80 mph (113-129 kph) when there’s heavy snow.
Snow tires can lose traction when traveling at high speeds, especially when roads are wet and slick with thin, black ice. Snow tires do well on snow, not ice. You further increase this danger by driving at higher speeds.
Lack of Snow Coverage
When there isn’t enough snow coverage, winter tires don’t work well because there isn’t enough grip, making them lose traction. You must be extra careful when driving on freshly-plowed highways, as the car can spin when the tires don’t get enough traction.
You want to be careful on snow-free terrains because tires can lock up. Your car could end up skidding rather than gripping, which is a risk further amplified if the roads are also icy.
Improperly Installed Tires
Many people only put snow tires only on the back wheels of their vehicles. However, this is a bad idea because when you don’t install snow tires on all four wheels, you risk the car spiraling out of control. This is because the front tires aren’t maintaining the same level of traction.
Improperly installed tires are an issue when traveling on any terrain. Still, it’s intensified further when traveling at high highway speeds.
When using winter tires, it’s always best to put them on all of your vehicle’s wheels. You can mitigate this risk as the driver by having a seasoned mechanic service your tires.
Are Winter Tires Safe for Highway Driving?
Despite the risks, using winter tires on the highway is generally safe. They are primarily safe because of how the tires are made.
Below, we will cover the build of winter tires and discuss how they differ from all-season tires. For a further explanation of the various types of tires, check out this article.
Composition of Rubber Material
Winter tires are made from a composite material that all-season tires don’t use.
The tread of winter tires has a higher rubber content that makes them flexible even when cold, so they don’t lose traction on snow and ice. This means they will maintain the same level of traction when you drive on icier terrains.
Conversely, the rubber content in all-season tires is lower, so they become stiff from the cold in wintry weather conditions. The inflexibility of all-season tires in lower temperatures causes them to lose traction. You are putting yourself at risk when driving with all-season tires in the winter, even without additional snow or ice.
The tread blocks on winter tires have more biting edges than all-season tires, meaning that the tread pattern has more slits and close-knitted sharp edges help the tire grip snow better.
This is a huge benefit when driving in snow and ice and at higher speeds. Biting edges also assist with dispelling extra water when driving in wet environments, thus reducing the likelihood that you will lose traction.
Winter tires have a deeper and more complex tread pattern than regular tires, which helps them grip softer terrains better. The design of winter tire tread pattern serves several functions, such as:
- Prevent snow from accumulating in between the grooves of the tread.
- Displace water out of the pattern so ice doesn’t form.
- Ensuring you get regular traction on slippery and slushy terrains.
Basically, winter tires assist in gripping the roadway during the colder months, giving your vehicle more security when traveling at highway speeds. The only concern here is that sometimes the tires can grip so well that you don’t notice you’re accelerating too quickly.
There are several different variants of tread patterns to choose from:
- Asymmetrical directional: These tires are suitable for handling and holding traction on any surface. However, you will need a professional to mount these tires, as installation requires special care.
- Asymmetrical non-dimensional: These tires have two different textures on either side of the tire. The outer side of the tire is coarser, providing better grip on most terrains.
- Symmetrical directional: The grooves of the tire form a herringbone pattern that displaces water and snow away from the tire. For the tire to function well, ensure that the herringbone pattern is facing the correct direction when you install these tires.
- Symmetrical non-directional: A versatile tread pattern for winter and all-season tires, but more reliable in warm weather conditions. However, this tread pattern is unsuitable for drivers who enjoy high-speed driving as there is a risk of skidding.
Winter tires are generally good for highway driving. Even at high highway speeds, they provide excellent traction when driving in snow and ice. In addition, even when there isn’t snow and ice on the road, they will still drive well, but you need to take extra care.
The additional tread depth and patterns assist with providing extra grip. Still, there are risks involved with using snow tires on the highway. Monitor your vehicle and take precautions as necessary.
- Bridgestone Tire: Comparing Winter & Snow Tires vs All-Season Tires
- Mr. Money Mustache: Snow Tires and Long Distance Driving
- Riding ATV: Risk of Using Snow Tires
- Cars.com: What’s the Difference Between Summer, Winter, and All-Season Tires?
- Autoua.net: How to Choose Winter Tires Tread: Types, Features, Elements of winter Tread