14 Items to Put in Your Winter Road Trip Safety Kit
If you’re going over the hills, through the woods or over a mountain pass during wintry months, do yourself a favor. Put a winter road trip kit in your vehicle, just in case.
Icy roads and traffic jams in cold weather aren’t predictable. Preparing in advance may save you some misery...and keep you safer in bad driving conditions.
Here Are Items to Put in a Winter Road Trip Safety Kit to Keep in Your Vehicle During the Cold Months.
- Plastic storage tub for keeping it all together and dry. And easy stowing when warmer weather returns.
- Headlamp. It could be not only snowing but dark when you realize you’re going to have to put on the snow chains.
- Speaking of tire chains, don’t forget them. If you have several sets of chains for several vehicles, putting the right chains in a dedicated winter safety kit for each car will keep you from being stranded with the wrong chains when you need them. (Here’s a video on how to install chains.)
- Reflective gear. A fluorescent safety vest with reflective strips can be bought at most big box home improvement stores. Orange warning triangles are available at most auto parts stores.
- Windshield ice scraper, in case of freezing rain, sleet or heavy snow.
- Waterproof jacket with a hood and rainpants. You’ll be glad to have that hood to keep snow from going down your back if you need to put on chains.
- Something to sit or kneel on when installing chains. Snowy or icy pavement is not a comfortable surface. A small tarp or even a piece of cardboard will really help.
- Gloves. Mittens won’t do you much good if you’re installing snow chains. Get gloves that are water resistant.
- Beanie or baseball cap. A knit hat that covers your ears will keep your head warm. Or a cap with a bill will keep snow from hitting your face.
- A towel to use after snow chain installation and removal, to put on the seat to keep it dry from your wet outer layers.
- Water. If there’s an accident on the pass you could be idled for hours. It’s a good idea to carry some water.
- Snacks. Keep a few energy or protein bars with a long shelf life in your kit.
- Kid items. Long road delays+hungry kids = nightmare. An extra diaper, a deck of cards and bag of snacks won’t take up much room and could make things a lot more tolerable.
- Pet items. A foldable fabric water bowl, spare leash and treats will be rewarded with lots of wags.
And one last thing: keep waterproof shoes handy inside your vehicle. Driving to your destination with wet feet in winter is no fun. Bring along the galoshes, just in case.
Want more tips on winter road safety? See 19 Winter Driving Resources You Can’t Do Without.
Did you know you can get a free pre-trip safety check for your vehicle at Les Schwab? Find out more here.
4 Reasons Not to Drive Winter Tires Through Summer
If you’re thinking of driving on your winter tires year-round, here are some reasons to rethink that.
1. Winter Tires Can Wear Faster in Warmer Temperatures
Winter tires are made with a special rubber compound that helps deliver maximum grip in snowy and icy conditions by staying pliable in colder temperatures. Heat is really hard on winter tires, which are meant to be used when temperatures are ~45°F or below. Winter tires that are run on hot pavement tend to wear out much faster.
Winter tires are designed for traction, not longevity, whereas all-season tires are designed for lower rolling resistance and longer tread life. These tires are made with a rubber compound that is designed for a wide range of temperatures and road conditions.
Driving winter tires in the summer can wear them out faster. That’s because the rubber compound in winter tires is designed for colder conditions, not warmer temperatures.
2. It Will Cost You, Not Save You Money
If you’ve made the investment in the added safety of winter tires, changing them out with a set of all-season or summer tires at the right time will help extend the service life of the winter tires — saving you money.
Compared to all-season tires, winter tires often have a higher rolling resistance, which can cost you at the gas pump.
3. Traction and Handling Issues
The softer rubber compound in winter tires won’t deliver as crisp of handling as an all-season tire. Cornering, acceleration, and braking may be compromised on hot, summer roads and higher temperatures.
When it comes to traction, lack of tread depth can be a bigger safety risk in winter. If you do use winter tires in the summer, you can expect those tires to have less tread for the following winter. That means your tires won’t channel snow, slush or water as well.
4. Swapping Tires Can Be Easy and Free
Swapping out winter tires for all-season or performance tires twice a year is easy. When you have Les Schwab tires on wheels, we’ll do it for free. We may even be able to store your tires at select locations.
The Bottom Line on Driving Winter Tires All Year
There are many tires designed for specific seasons and driving conditions. Choosing the right option can save you money and deliver peace of mind with added safety. Stop by your local Les Schwab and our pros will help you decide on the right tires for your driving needs, including winter and all-season tires.
Do I Need Snow Tires if I Have AWD?
You can probably safely drive your AWD (all-wheel-drive) with all-season tires in light or moderate snow. But it’s a common misperception that AWDs will drive like tanks in slick conditions.
It’s recommended that you have either winter tires or snow chains on your AWD if you’re driving in a blizzard or icy conditions. Traveling with summer or worn all-season tires on any vehicle in winter is a safety risk. Even a 4WD (four-wheel-drive) will slip and slide on snowy roads if its tires don’t have enough tread.
What AWD Does Really Well in Snow
AWD is great at getting your car moving from a dead stop and accelerating smoothly in a straight line when the pavement is slippery. It’s able to do this because it sends more power to whichever wheels are getting the most traction and less power to the spinning wheels.
But if you don’t have enough traction in the first place, the AWD system can’t compensate. If none of the four tires has enough grip, you’re in trouble.
This is why an AWD equipped with all-season tires might not deliver safe braking and sharp cornering in significant snow or on ice. In fact, some independent testing shows that a front-wheel-drive (FWD) mounted with winter tires will have shorter stopping distance and better cornering than an AWD with all-season tires.
How Winter Tires Provide Better Traction
To be clear, what some people call snow tires are, in fact, winter tires built for better road grip in ALL winter conditions — rain, ice, snow and slush.
Winter tires are made with specialized rubber that stays softer during cold temperatures. They’re designed with tread features like bigger grooves, biting edges, sipes, optional studs and variations in the block shapes for improved gripping even in subzero temperatures.
All-season and summer tires are made with a different rubber compound so they will maintain their shape even on hot pavement. They don’t have as many jagged surfaces and have fewer or shallower channels for ejecting water or snow.
Are Winter Tires Worth it for AWD Vehicles?
AWD is helpful when you’re starting to move or accelerating on slick roads, but not so much when you’re cornering or stopping. It’s not a substitute for having winter tires.
If you’re only visiting snowy areas once or twice a year, you may be fine driving an AWD with all-season tires in good condition. Just be sure to carry tire chains.
If it’s frigid where you live or you’re traveling in more than light snow every month, then buying a set of winter tires for your AWD will deliver the road grip you need for most winter weather conditions. Of course, you may also need a set of good chains for the worst weather.
SHOP WINTER TIRES
Do These 10 Things to Stay Safe on Winter Roads [Infographic]
After a few months of warm weather, we sometimes forget how to adjust to winter conditions. Follow these 10 tips when you head out on snowy or icy roads.
- Slow down. Leave early so you won’t be rushing.
- Skid smart. Learn how to handle your car so you don’t find yourself skidding. Here are some tips for driving on icy roads.
- Skid 101. Winter driving classes can help. Find one in your area.
- Be prepared. Road delays and breakdowns happen. Put together a winter road trip safety kit and keep it in your car until spring.
- Have patience. Maybe you don’t need to run those errands right now. Wait for road conditions to get better.
- Shoulder safety. If you have to pull over, get off the road as far as possible, turn off your headlights and turn on your hazards.
- Don’t cruise. Cruise control can cause your tires to spin too fast on slick roads, which will decrease your control.
- Passing precaution. Allow extra distance for yourself when you’re passing or just hang out where you are.
- Be seen. Use your low-beam headlights even during the day. Overcast skies don’t make for good daytime visibility.
- Keep your distance. Make sure you give yourself space from the car ahead of you. You need at least 3 times more space on a snowy road and at least 10 times more space on an icy road to stop as on a dry road.
- Bonus tip! Keep the gas tank at least half full. If you run into car trouble and need to sit by the side of the road, you’ll want to keep your engine running to stay warm.
Do you have to go out right after that snowstorm? Here’s our advice for safer driving in snow.
Shop for Winter Tires
Does Adding Weight in the Back Improve My Car’s Traction in Snow?
Should you add weight in your trunk or the bed of your pickup to improve winter traction? For best traction you want a greater percentage of the vehicle’s weight centered over the drive wheels, the wheels where the engine sends the power to propel the car. Basically:
- Do add weight in the back of a rear-wheel-drive vehicle
- Don’t add weight to the back of a front-wheel-drive vehicle
- Don’t add weight in the back of an all-wheel-drive vehicle
- Consider adding weight to the back of a 4WD in some circumstances
Here are the details.
Weight in the Back Helps for RWDs
When there’s snow on the road and you’re finding that you don’t have enough traction to get up hills, you fishtail going around curves or your tires spin when you put your vehicle into gear with only light pressure on the gas, it’s a sign that you could use more weight.
A pickup truck is built to carry cargo, but today lots of truck drivers don’t routinely haul anything in their beds. An empty cargo bed means some of the weight the truck was designed to carry on the rear axle for balanced handling is missing and you’re getting less than ideal traction from the rear wheels. It’s a good thing to add extra mass.
Other RWD Vehicles
A rear-wheel drive car or SUV has a nearly even weight balance between front and back, with each tire carrying about an equal share of the vehicle’s load. Placing some weight in the trunk over the rear axle may help a bit with snow traction, but not if you have a car fully loaded with gear and people in back. In that instance, you’ve already got a greater percentage of weight over the drive wheels and you don’t need to add anything else.
How Much Weight?
Figuring out the right weight to carry could take a bit of trial and error to see what works best for your vehicle and driving. Below are general rules of thumb.
Of course, never add more payload than the safe weight limit listed in your owner’s manual under “standard” and “maximum” vehicle payloads.
Type of Vehicle Suggested Added Weight ½-ton pickup 240-300 lbs. ¾- to 1-ton pickup 300-400 lbs. Sedan/SUV/CUV 100 lbs.
Will the Added Weight Make It Harder to Stop?
It may seem intuitive that a heavier car will mean longer stopping distance, due to added momentum. Not necessarily.
The added mass (no more than a few hundred pounds) isn’t enough to make a significant difference in braking. The weight flattens out the tires, increasing the size of the contact patch, the area where the rubber meets the road. The tires become less round and have more gripping surface, which helps a vehicle slow down faster.
Best Materials to Use
Tube-shaped sandbags are the most popular. They come in 60- to 70-pound bags at about $5 a pop at home improvement and hardware stores.
Besides sand, common materials for weight are drainage gravel, potting soil, cat litter and rock salt. You can sprinkle any of these on the ground for traction if you ever get stuck in snow. Dump soil in the garden come spring for new plantings.
Some pickup drivers leave their fifth wheel hitches in the bed during winter, which can add roughly 250 pounds.
There are also reusable, water-bladder traction aids for all types of vehicles that range in price from $70-200.
Even just keeping a full gas tank can help. A filled 16-gallon tank can add over 100 pounds.
- Plastic mesh, burlap and plastic bags will start to disintegrate over the course of a winter. You risk rust if the material in the bag collects moisture then leaks and comes in contact with metal. Buy double-wrapped bags to prevent this. You’ll also potentially extend the life of the weight to several seasons.
- DON’T just let a truck bed fill up with snow to provide weight: When you’re driving it will fly out behind you, causing visibility problems for following vehicles.
- DON’T use cement blocks or railroad ties, which could become dangerous projectiles in a wreck.
- If the roads are usually dry with only occasional slick winter conditions, you can just add weights when there’s weather, and keep the bags stored when not, for best gas mileage.
Where Should I Put It?
Sandbags should be centered over the rear axle, or as close to it as possible. This means in the trunk or cargo area as close to the rear wheels as you can in RWD cars and SUVs and right next to the wheel wells in a pickup. It’s not a good idea to wedge the weight by the pickup tailgate, since this could lighten the front end too much, causing handling instability.
Added Weight Won’t Help Traction for FWD or AWD Vehicles
In a front-wheel drive, about 65 percent of the weight of the engine is over the front axle. This is a good thing for snow traction. The weight flattens the shape of the front tires a bit, even if they have the same tire pressure as the rear. This increases the friction between the road and the tires on the wheels that are responsible for moving the car. More friction means more road grip.
Adding weight to the trunk could actually cause problems with FWD cars, especially if you’ve got the whole family and luggage loaded. A lot more weight in the rear can create a teeter-totter effect, with the back weight making the front comparatively too light for proper grip.
More weight won’t improve traction for all-wheel-drive vehicles either. If slipping or skidding is detected, 90 percent or more of an AWD engine’s power will be sent to whichever wheels have tires that are getting better grip. If there’s more weight in the rear, it could lighten the front too much, causing less traction there. The engine could compensate by sending more power to those wheels, which could cause them to spin.
Plus, AWD adds significant weight to some models of cars, which also helps with traction.
Do I Need Weight in the Back for My 4WD? Maybe.
Automatic transmission four-wheel drive vehicles do well on winter traction without extra weight, so long as the tire tread is in good condition. If you have a manual transmission, if you’re driving a lot in icy conditions or on hills, or if you’re spinning out even when only lightly hitting the gas, some weight in the back may still help.
Having the Right Tires Matters More
Tires in good condition are a much more important factor than weight for starting, cornering, accelerating and stopping in snow. Tires without enough tread will spin or skid on snow whether you have additional weight in the rear or not. Even if you have an AWD or automatic 4WD vehicle you won’t have safe traction if you’ve got worn tires.
But if you have good tires and are driving a RWD car or SUV, a pickup truck or a manual 4WD vehicle, adding sandbags to the back can give you some additional traction in winter conditions.
See our winter driving resource list for more tips on making it safely through the season.
Get More Winter Tips
How to De-Winterize Your RV
Time for camping and summer road trips? While your owner’s manual likely has a list of items specific to your vehicle that should be checked, here’s a checklist of 22 things you should be certain to take care of before your first ramble in your motorhome. The advice will apply to travel trailers, too.
Inspect the Outside
- Check beneath the vehicle for signs of leaking fluids. If you see any stains or puddles, you should take it in for service.
- Look carefully at the tires. When a vehicle is parked for long stretches, tire condition can degrade. Tires can be damaged by sun exposure, weather and pollution. Sitting in one place for too long can also cause a flattened spot to develop on the portion of the tires that has been supporting all the vehicle’s weight. If there’s any cracking or bulging, a tire may need to be replaced. Also, top off the air pressure and test to make sure the lug nuts are secure.
- Even if the tires appear in good condition, repack wheel bearings with grease. It’s important for safety, since the vehicle’s weight rides on the wheel bearings. Do it yourself or come to us.
- Make sure headlights, tail lights, high beams and blinkers are working.
- Clear the exhaust pipe if you blocked it to keep out mice.
- Look over the full exterior, including the roof. You’re looking for peeling paint, cracks and gaps at seams, or rust, all of which will need repair. Don’t forget to check the A/C air filter in case it needs to be cleaned or replaced.
- Roll out and clean your awning, and check them for holes. Don’t wait to repair them; they’ll expand and become a bigger problem if you delay.
Under the Hood
- Tend to the batteries. (Les Schwab Tires does free battery charges and checks.) If your motor home was stored someplace warm, look for corrosion around the battery connections. Clean it off carefully. If your battery fluid is low, get it topped off. If you live someplace that freezes a lot in winter, you probably removed the batteries before storage. Reconnect them, making sure clamps are snug and there's no corrosion.
- Check for rodent damage, cracks and loose hose and wiring connections.
- Check the oil. Moisture can get into the fuel system in cold weather, so consider changing the oil and filter even if you’re not due.
Prepare the Plumbing System
- If you used RV antifreeze to protect the water system from freezing, drain it from everything, including the water heater and holding tanks. (Dispose of it properly to protect fish and waterways.)
- Flush the plumbing thoroughly with clean water: Fill up the fresh water holding tank, turn the water pump on and run all faucets. Make sure water cycles through everything, including the washer, icemaker, outdoor shower and water heater (if it wasn’t bypassed when you added the antifreeze). When you see clear water running through the system, turn off the pump and shut off the faucets.
- Now sanitize the plumbing. Chlorine-free water system cleansers are available, or you can use one-quarter cup household bleach per 15 gallons of water. Close all drains and put drain plugs in place, pour the cleaner into the fresh water tank and fill with water. Turn on the water pump and run water through all hot and cold faucets until you detect the cleanser, then turn off the faucets and pump. Let it sit for 12 hours before draining and refilling with clean water. Repeat until any remaining cleanser is flushed. Make sure to cycle through all tanks.
- Reinstall any water filters that were removed for winter storage.
- Go to a waste disposal site to empty the dirty water you’ve flushed through the system from your gray and black water holding tanks.
Check the Living Quarters
- Once the water system is clean and the water heater is full, check the electrical systems. As your house batteries recharge, you can make sure the fridge is cooling, flip lights on, plug in the toaster, microwave, and coffeemaker, run fans and check power outlets. If something’s not working, try resetting your breaker switches.
- Run the slides out, listening for any cracking or popping sounds. If so, your seals or the slide mechanism may need lubrication or hydraulic fluid may need to be topped off. Also, make sure slides look centered. If not, they may need to be adjusted.
- Open the main propane gas valve, then check to make sure gas appliances are working, including all stove burners. (Also, get a leak test and gas operating pressure test done annually.) Check the water heater, upping the thermostat until the furnace turns on. Try running the refrigerator on gas to make sure it will keep working when you’re underway.
- Inspect the cabin for any signs of mold, rodents, and insects. You may have to wash bedding, cushions or window treatments if there’s been a strong odor trapped inside. If there’s been a pest invasion, find areas they may have gotten in and cover them.
- Verify your safety systems and kits are in working order: smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, flashlights, fire extinguisher, emergency road kit and first aid kit. Replace batteries as needed.
Check Fuel & Brakes
- Start the engine. If you filled up and added stabilizer before storage, you’re probably good to go. Fuel stabilizer can keep fuel fresh for around two years. But if you didn’t, or the vehicle sat for more than a year, it may not want to start. Try adding starter additive to the stale fuel.
- While parked, tap your brakes, making sure you feel the right amount of pressure and the pedal doesn’t sink to the floorboard. If anything seems amiss, have brake pads and shocks examined.
Now you’re ready to hit the road and make some summer memories.
Be a Hero with a Summer Road Trip Safety Kit
Picture yourself as the only one with jumper cables at the boat launch when someone has a dead battery. Or looking like a genius when you bring out a deck of cards to keep restless kids busy while you change a flat tire.
Being road-trip ready means more than just carrying a charged cell phone with your roadside assistance number handy.
Keeping a simple summer road trip safety kit in your vehicle during the warm months will make your travel more carefree — and you just might save the day. Here’s what to have.
21 Items to Have in Your Summer Road Trip Safety Kit
- A clear, plastic storage bin to keep everything together and spot items more easily
- First-aid kit
- Fire extinguisher, rated for Class B and Class C fires
- Spare tire, properly inflated, along with the jack, lug wrench and some work gloves
- A ground mat or towel to use on hot pavement if you have to change a tire
- Tire pressure gauge
- Extra windshield wiper fluid in case you go through a “bug storm”
- Rags for keeping your windshield clean, or in case you need to get under the hood and get at hot or oily areas
- Three road flares, orange safety triangles or battery-operated warning lights. If you have to change a flat tire, place them 50 feet apart to warn oncoming traffic. Available at auto parts stores.
- A fluorescent safety vest with reflective strips to improve your visibility if you’re stranded on the side of a busy highway. Sold at most big-box home improvement stores.
- A baseball cap or visor to provide some sun protection if you get stuck in a place with no shade
- A reflective emergency blanket to use for shade. You can buy one at most sporting goods or variety stores.
- Sunscreen, especially if you have small kids along
- Speaking of children, stow a travel board game or some playing cards, an extra diaper if needed, and long shelf-life snacks, like nuts, dried fruit, granola bars and protein bars. Such small things will help keep them occupied and more comfortable in case you’re waiting for roadside assistance.
- Wet wipes
- Pet items. A collapsible water bowl, spare leash and treats may come in handy.
- In addition to a water bottle for every person in your car, carry a gallon of drinking water. Bring even more if you have the dog along.
- Jumper cables
- Multitool or a mini toolkit with Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, adjustable wrench and pliers. These could be useful if you’re hauling a trailer or have gear racks.
- Headlamp with fresh batteries, because flat tires can happen after dark, and you’ll need your hands free
- Duct tape, for temporary repair of a hose leak
When you’re unprepared, an auto breakdown during hot months can be just as hairy as getting stranded in winter. Your summer road trip safety kit will make getting through it a whole lot easier.
A winter road trip safety kit is also a good idea. See what belongs in yours.
Get More Safety Tips
Check the Road Conditions Before Your Trip
Make the most of your travels with road cams, mileage calculators, scenic byway routes, and weather forecasts from your local Department of Transportation.
Road Trip Checklist
Free Pre-Trip Safety Inspection
Taking a little time to make sure everything’s in good working order before you hit the road can mean the difference between the trip of a lifetime and being stranded.
Stop by for a free pre-trip safety check on the following, no appointment necessary. Les Schwab will help you get where you’re going.
- Tire pressure check
- Tire tread depth check
- Visual alignment check
- Brake check
- Shock/strut check
- Battery check
How to Store Seasonal Tires and Wheels
If you’re using seasonal tires for summer and winter driving, tire storage can raise some questions about how to keep them out of your way, in good condition, and ready for your next seasonal changeover. Here are some tips to help your next seasonal changeover go smoothly.
When to Make the Change
When you live in the west, you’re bound to experience some extreme winter driving conditions. Owning a separate set of studded or studless winter tires mounted on a set of wheels is a great way to save yourself a lot of time and money. Plus, it’ll make your journeys into the snow and mountains a lot safer.
But, don’t be tempted to use your winter tires all year long. We share 4 Reasons Not to Drive Your Winter Tires Through Summer. The bottom line is that the softer rubber compound used in winter tires is great for traction in the snow and ice, but not for withstanding summer temperatures. You can put them on when average temperatures fall below 45 degrees. And, you can swap them out when average temperatures reach 45 degrees.
With or Without Wheels
A winter storm is on the way and it’s time to change from your regular tires to a set of four winter tires. When those tires are mounted on wheels (also known as rims), the changeover will go a lot faster. Plus, it’s often a lot easier on both sets of your tires. Adding your winter tires to their own set of wheels can often pay for itself in just a few seasons. Here’s why:
- Taking tires on and off a set of wheels could potentially damage your tires over time.
- Rocks, deicer, salt, and other debris found on winter roads can damage the finish of your quality, summer-driving wheels. Having a separate set of winter wheels keeps your other set looking like new.
- There is a fee to remove and replace tires on wheels. When tires are already mounted on their own wheels, it’s treated like a tire rotation, which is a free service when you have tires from Les Schwab.
Cleaner is Better
Grime, tar, rocks, and other debris can really build up on your tires and wheels. Every time you have your tires changed out for the season, take them home and clean them off before storing. Scrub them with soap and water, then allow them to dry completely. Storing wet wheels can encourage rust and cause pits in the metal. Even a little moisture can cause problems.
- Clean your tires and wheels before storing them.
- Dry completely to avoid pitting and rust.
- Storing Tires Upright or Sideways
When you visit us at the local Les Schwab tire shop near you, you’ll notice that we store most of our tires upright. This method takes up less room and can often be better for the tires over a long period. However, aside from buying or building your own tire racks or stands for your garage, most people just stack them sideways. Either works and, over a handful of months, neither will likely cause any damage to your tires.
- Don’t stack tires more than four high to avoid injury if they fall.
- If your tires are mounted to wheels, be sure your tires are properly inflated before stacking.
Keep Tires Covered
Once your tires are clean and ready to be stored, put them back into the yellow Les Schwab bags after changing them out. If you don’t have Les Schwab bags, large garbage bags will also work. Depending on where you store them, do what you can to keep dust, leaves, and other materials off the tires. Other tips include:
- Keep tires out of the sun because ultraviolet light can degrade tire rubber.
- Keep tires out of the elements and under a cover (roofline, awning, shed, garage) to minimize wear and to maintain the life of your tires.
- Try to regulate the temperature where your tires are stored as much as possible.
The Right Tires for Any Weather
Your local Les Schwab is ready to help with your seasonal changeovers. Be sure to schedule your appointment to avoid the winter and springtime rush. Or just stop by. We’ll get you in and out, and help keep you safe whatever the driving conditions.
Need Help Storing Your Seasonal Tires and Wheels?
Les Schwab may be able to help. We offer seasonal tire storage at select stores.
Should You Replace All Four Tires on Your AWD Vehicle?
Front tires on an all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle often wear more quickly than those on the rear axle. Why? Because your front tires handle most of the braking and steering. Other factors that can add to wear include: misalignment, aggressive driving, underinflated tires and failure to regularly rotate front tires to the back. (Get tips on avoiding some of these problems here.)
Although, it can be tempting to replace only the two most-worn tires, here’s why it may be better to replace all four tires on your AWD vehicle at once.
Mismatching Tires May Cause Damage to Your AWD Vehicle
Replacing just one or two tires on an AWD vehicle could cause unnecessary wear and tear on your drivetrain, or confuse the traction control system to think that you are frequently losing traction.
A new tire is larger in diameter than one of the same brand, type and size that’s part way through its tread life. This means there’s a measurable difference in tire circumference that may affect your vehicle’s performance.
To understand why this matters, imagine two people out for a walk. Both are wearing fitness trackers that monitor the distance they travel and the number of steps they take. However, one of them is taller and has longer legs. By the end of the workout, they might cover the same distance, but the taller walker will have taken less steps to get there.
The same is true for mismatched tires. A taller tire with more tread depth travels more distance in a single revolution than a shorter tire with less tread depth. In order to keep up, the tire with less tread depth will spin faster and have more revolutions than the tire with more tread depth.
Here’s an illustration showing how even if a tire is labelled the same size, the tire with less tread depth (the shorter/used tire) will revolve more times than the newer (taller) tire with more tread depth.
So why is mixing new and used tires a potential problem for your AWD vehicle? First, even a slight difference in diameter between front and rear tires on your AWD can mean trouble for the drivetrain. These are the components of the car that transfer the power from the engine to the wheels that move the vehicle forward.
If any tire or tires are spinning faster than any of the others, your car’s electronics may think a tire is slipping, and could transfer power incorrectly for your current driving conditions. Most AWD systems in today’s cars include sensors at each wheel that monitor traction and wheel speed many times per second. This is what allows the AWD system to adapt to slick conditions, by sending power to whatever wheel(s) have the most traction.
When smaller tires are spinning faster, some systems may put your vehicle into four-wheel lock, the mode used for driving in slippery conditions. Driving in that mode on pavement or at speed may cause damage to your vehicle’s drivetrain and result in spendy repairs.
Follow Your Owner’s Manual and Expert Advice
If any of your tires are due to be replaced, it’s absolutely essential to check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see if it recommends replacing all four of your AWD tires at once. Look in the tires and transmission sections. Not following these recommendations may result in costly damage to some of the most important driving components of your car, like the transmission. Any reputable tire dealer will follow car manufacturer recommendations.
At Les Schwab Tire Centers, we use a tread depth gauge to accurately measure the tread depth as a complimentary service. We can then help you decide if a full set of new tires would be best.
Les Schwab Tip: Use the penny test at home to test your tires.
Recap: Why You May Need to Replace All Four Tires on Your AWD Vehicle
- Mismatched tires are often a primary factor in drivetrain damage.
- To minimize variances, ensure they all match (same brand, size and type).
- The tread depth difference between front, rear, left and right tires should be minimal. Check your owner’s manual for specifics.
Not sure if your auto is AWD (or four-, rear- or front-wheel drive?) Check your owner’s manual and look here for the differences.
How to: Choose Snow Tires
Do I need to buy winter tires or can I just get snow chains?
What the heck is siping?
When do I have to have studded tires and when will studless do?
If you’re wondering how to pick the right tires for winter, or whether you need them at all, here are answers to the eight most common questions about winter tires.
(A lot of people still call tires used in the cold months “snow tires,” but it’s more accurate to call them “winter tires.” For purposes of this article, we use both terms to mean tires designed for winter driving.)
1. “Do I need snow tires?”
Winter tires are important for safe driving if you live somewhere that gets snow, ice, sleet or freezing rain and temperatures of 40 degrees or colder. They’re also the right option if you routinely make trips through snow zones or the mountains during the cold months.
Learn about the difference between all-season tires and snow/winter tires here.
2. “If my tires are marked ‘M+S’ on the sidewall am I good to drive on snow?”
Some all-season tires have an M+S rating. This stands for mud and snow. These tires have a more aggressive tread design to deliver better traction in a variety of conditions using larger tread blocks and wider gaps between them. The purpose of these tires is to achieve optimal tire life along with good performance in most weather conditions.
But it doesn’t mean they’re adequate for winter driving. In slick conditions, they don’t deliver the traction, control and short stopping distance that you get from a snow tire.
If you want safer driving on packed snow or ice, look for tires made with the right compound and branded with the Mountain Snowflake. This means they’ve actually been tested and certified to perform in winter conditions.
3. “I have all-season tires, so I don’t need snow tires. Right?”
Wrong. Don’t believe it? See this driving comparison between all-season and snow tires.
If you’re driving on snowy or icy roads, only winter tires will give you good stopping ability and secure handling. This is because they’re built very differently. How?
Different compound. Summer and all-season tires are made with a stiffer rubber compound. This helps the tire retain its shape when it’s rolling on hot pavement. Winter tires are made with hydrophilic (that’s “water-loving”) rubber which stays softer and more pliable in winter weather. This more flexible rubber is one reason you get more traction on snow and ice.Another reason is tread design. Winter tires have a higher “void-to-lug” ratio, meaning there are larger grooves between the blocks of tread (the lugs). The tread blocks also have irregular, sharp edges.
When a tire with wide grooves and biting edges travels over packed snow, it cuts through and scoops some of the snow into the voids on the tire surface, allowing the tread to stay in closer contact with the road. Then the velocity of the tire ejects this snow from the grooves. This is how winter tires provide more aggressive traction than all-season tires.
4. “Should I get my snow tires siped?”
Most snow tires are already siped, with small patterned slits on the lugs that create extra edges for better road grip. Additional safety siping can be done for a fee on new or used tires. If you’re regularly traveling on slick roads, the added traction from custom siping is a good way to improve starting, stopping and rolling traction.
5. “Is it okay to buy used winter tires?”
Before you jump on that set of “lightly used” winter tires on Craigslist, do three quick checks. First, verify they’re the right size. You can look in your vehicle owner’s manual or right on your existing tires’ sidewall close to the rim for the series of numbers. (Here’s a primer on what they all mean.) If you’re not sure the tires you’re considering are the correct size, call a tire dealer and make sure.
Second, measure the tread depth by using a tire tread depth gauge. You can pick one up at any auto parts store for under five bucks. Or have a tire store tech do it; it should be free. Take measurements in multiple places in the grooves on each tire.
A new tire typically has 11/32nds of an inch in tread depth. A rule of thumb is that if there are 6/32nds of an inch or less in tread remaining on a winter tire, it’s about to lose a good deal of snow performance. So think carefully about whether you’re going to get what you’re paying for.
Third, be sure there’s not a problem with uneven wear. Did your tread gauge measurements show any tread depth difference between the four tires? It’s really common for tires to wear differently over time. If the disparity between any two tires is more than 3/32nds of an inch, pass on those used tires. Driving with mismatched tires or putting the wrong size on your vehicle will NOT save you money in the long run. You’re risking big repair bills for your transmission.
It’s also a bad idea to put winter tires on only the front or back. This creates a big difference in traction between your axles. And this will mean less steering control, not more.
6. “Can I just buy chains instead of snow tires?”
Tire chains can be important — and are sometimes required — for traction when you’re traveling in the mountains or on icy roads. But they’re not made for driving at highway speed or on bare pavement. You risk damaging your chains if you try this.
Don’t think of chains as a substitute for winter tires but as an option you need to have ready when you’re driving on snow.
Depending on the conditions and your state’s rules, traction controls in snowy areas will range from requiring only the minimum — like M+S tires on the drive axle — up to chains on all tires, including all-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles. Here are California’s chain controls, for example.
7. “Do I need studded snow tires or studless?”
The tire dealer will consider your driving habits, where you’re traveling and typical winter conditions in your area when recommending what you need.
Studless snow tires work well on slush and packed snow. They get traction through wide, deep grooves and lots of irregular surfaces with sharp edges. This allows the rubber to cut through snow and grip the road.
Studded tires provide the best traction you can get, even when you're encountering ice or packed snow. Studs are lightweight, small metal spikes that are staggered across the tread. They help break through packed snow and ice-covered roads to give you better traction. Note: Extra tread depth is needed to accommodate studs, so studded tire size options are limited. Also, the times of year when studded tires are allowed on the road vary by state. Here’s a guide to studded tire regulations.
8. “Should I buy winter tires with rims?”
It’s a question of time and money. Here’s a way to decide:
- Assume you’ll have your snow tires for five years.
- Total up the cost your tire dealer will charge for swapping out tires twice a year (ten times) if they’re not on rims. (Les Schwab will swap out tires purchased at our stores at no charge if they’re mounted on separate wheels.)
- Compare that figure to the price of the rims to see if there are savings.
- Factor in a bit more waiting time, since it takes the shop longer to unmount and remount the tires on the rims each time.
- Weigh whether the tradeoff in any money saved is worth the extra waiting room time.
Also consider the extra wear and tear on your tires that comes with unmounting and remounting tires on only one set of wheels. Especially with low-profile tires, it’s not uncommon for an inexperienced tire tech to damage the inside edge of a tire near the beads, the places where the tire gets pried off and pushed back on.
If you’re leaning toward separate wheels for your winter tires, here are some tips on selecting the best wheel finishes for winter conditions.
Check out tests from the Tire Industry Association in this video to see what the difference winter tires can make.
The Bottom Line on Picking Winter Tires
Some all-season tires are marketed as working equally well in summer and winter. That may be true in dry, mild climates where the seasons don’t vary much. But you’ll only get confident traction, braking and control on snow and ice with a winter tire. If you live in a place with winter weather, you’ll need tires marked with the Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake for safest handling. Because not all tires with a mountain snowflake have a winter compound, ask your tire dealer what you really need.
Want more tips on winter road safety? See 19 Winter Driving Resources You Can’t Do Without.SHOP WINTER TIRES
Summer Tires vs All-Season Tires: Which Are Best for You?
Are summer tires better in rain?
Yep, it may surprise you to know that summer tires outperform all-season tires on wet pavement.
Read on to learn about the upsides and downsides of summer tires, including handling, temperature range limits and how they manage heat.
What Are Summer Tires?
Summer tires are also known as performance tires. They’re called that for a reason.
Performance tires are designed to provide excellent dry and wet traction along with precise handling. They’re meant to be used during warm months, or all year in regions that don’t get a true winter.
Why Summer Tires Perform Better in Heat and Rain
Summer tires are optimized for excellent road grip whether it’s baking hot, slightly damp or raining heavily on the road. They’re made from a tread compound (the mix of rubber and fillers that make up the tread) containing sticky additives for road grip in wet conditions. But this tread blend also provides enough stiffness so tires hold up and retain their shape when the heat is on. This keeps rolling resistance to a minimum on hot pavement.
Tread patterns typically feature shallower, straighter grooves than what you’ll see on all-seasons, and solid, continuous ribs, so more rubber is always in contact with the road. The result: more stability during cornering, braking and acceleration.
Since performance tires often have asymmetrical or unidirectional tread patterns, tire rotation options may be limited. You may only be able to rotate front tires to opposite sides versus criss-crossing to even out tread wear, for example.
While it may come as news to many that summer tires outperform all-season tires when it comes to both wet and dry traction, here’s something that won’t surprise: Performance tires don’t offer any winter traction. They get rigid at cold temps and aren’t a safe choice in any snow or ice conditions.
All-season Tires Trade Off Some Traction for Longer Wear
All-season tires are engineered to give vehicles enough winter traction to get through light snow conditions, making it possible for a driver to run one set of tires year-round in places that don’t get a lot of snowfall or ice.
They’re made with a compound that stays flexible even at temperatures a bit above freezing, to maintain road grip. Their tread patterns have deeper grooves and feature more voids and variations which help with traction for occasional travel in snow. The designs are usually symmetrical, so there are more rotation options to even out tread wear and extend tire mileage.
They are like a hybrid between summer and winter tires, made to handle a broad variety of weather and road conditions moderately well, while getting good tread life. They don’t substitute for genuine winter tires, which are necessary for stable driving on serious snow, sleet and ice.
If you’re choosing between performance and all-season tires, here’s a quick comparison.
Should You Buy Summer Tires?
If you live where it never snows and temperatures are typically 44°F or warmer during your normal drive times, summer tires are a good choice. Performance tires are especially well-suited to urban areas with warm climates that get some rain, because they are better at preventing hydroplaning at highway speeds than all-season tires.
If you live in an area where the weather is not so predictable, where you may encounter freezing rain or light snow conditions in fall or spring, it’s better to go with all-season tires.
And if winter in your area means temperatures that dip below freezing along with precipitation, or you regularly travel to high elevations, get a set of winter tires and swap them out in November and March.
Driving in rain regularly? Find out how to avoid hydroplaning.