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 You Even Need a Spare Tire?
The fact that spare tires are no longer standard equipment on many newer-model cars can come as a nasty surprise when you get a flat tire. While most new light trucks and larger SUVs still come with a spare, here’s important news:
About 35 percent of vehicles now come from the factory without a spare tire.
Getting a flat tire is a major hassle and it can be costly. Here’s what to know about spares, including why more autos are coming without them, how to decide if you really need one and the upsides and downsides of inflator kits.
Which New Car & SUV Models Don’t Include a Spare?
On May 23, 2015, my 7-year-old granddaughter, my friend and I were stranded for four hours on I-84 west of Baker City, Oregon, with a blown-out tire and no spare. My brand new car did not come with a spare! I called my insurance emergency assistance four times. I waited for my insurance company to call and get a tow truck for about three hours. A local towing company wanted to charge me $530.00 to tow my car about 20 miles to Les Schwab in Baker City. I mentioned to the insurance agent that I wanted my car towed to Les Schwab so I could get a new tire. The insurance agent called Les Schwab and I spoke with Jake at the counter. Les Schwab came out with a new tire, changed it and we were back driving in about 30 minutes. I went back to the store and bought a spare. Thank you Les Schwab, you saved our day. Too bad the other businesses I dealt with on Saturday did not have your ethics for putting customers first. Thanks again for being there for us. You will be the first I call next time I need a tire changed, and I will recommend to my insurance company they need to put you on their call list.
– Penny M., Baker City, OR
The time to find out if your new or used car is going to come equipped with a spare is before you sign on the dotted line. Don’t rely on the sales staff to volunteer the news. It can be difficult to tell which models come with a spare and which don’t, since some trim levels will, but not all. Be sure by asking the sales rep directly. (And if you’ve recently bought a newer model car, be sure to check whether it has a spare, so you’re prepared with an alternative in case of a flat.)
Why Aren’t Some New Cars Coming With Spare Tires?
A bunch of factors are in play.
- Efforts to improve fuel efficiency. Removing the spare can reduce a vehicle’s weight by about 30 to 50 pounds, once you include the jack and wrench. It can also improve aerodynamics by reducing air drag from spare tire compartments that poke below the undercarriages of vehicles. These two factors can improve miles per gallon performance and help carmakers meet strict EPA standards for their full fleets, an attractive option for both car companies and energy-conscious drivers.
- Need for more space in smaller vehicles. A spare can take up significant room in compacts, sports cars and small sedans. There can be a trade-off between comfort and the space in small cars.
- Lack of storage space, especially in hybrids, diesels and electric vehicles. Batteries and emissions equipment for such vehicles sometimes now take up space where the spare used to go.
- Reduced manufacturing costs. Yep, a carmaker can save several hundred dollars by foregoing the spare in new cars.
What Are Alternatives to a Spare Tire? Are They Any Good?
Some new cars are coming from the factory equipped with tires or inflator kits that claim to make the spare tire unnecessary. There are upsides and downsides to all.
Run-flat tires are designed to allow driving for a limited distance after losing air from a typical puncture. They are built with either a reinforced sidewall or an internal support ring to carry the vehicle’s weight if the tire tread gets pierced. (The sidewall is the curbside face of the tire.)
Run-flats are made to travel from 10 to 50 miles under 50 mph when deflated, so you can get somewhere for service. Run-flats may also offer better control than standard tires when there’s a tire failure involving complete loss of air.
Downsides: Driving on a run-flat for even the shortest of distances will ruin the tire. It will have to be replaced. Plus, if you’re somewhere remote and get a flat, you may not be within range of the next tire repair shop.
Self-sealing tires have a lining coated with special sealant inside the tire. When an object on the road pierces the tread, the sealant material "surrounds" the hole. Then when a nail or other debris is removed, the sealant fills the full area.
Downsides: The self-sealing tire won't work if a puncture is more than about a quarter of an inch in diameter. They also don’t work for sidewall holes, so if an object goes through the tread to the sidewall you’re going to have a dead flat and won’t be going anywhere.
Inflator kits are a growing — but less-than-ideal — substitute to the spare tire. New autos with standard tires sometimes come with an aerosol seal kit. Such products offer a very temporary fix for minor tread punctures so you can get to a nearby tire store or service station for repairs.
Some are as simple as $10 canned products that plug small puncture holes by spraying sealant into the flat via the air-inflation valve and inflating the tire just a bit. Other tire-sealant kits include a small air cartridge and a replaceable container of sealant at a cost between $20 to $80.
Downsides: Tire sealant kits only work on small holes in the tread, and they don’t work at all for slits or holes in the sidewall.
Sealants also leave grime inside the tire that can affect your TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system), the safety equipment that alerts you if you’ve lost air in a tire. Any time you use a sealant you’ll need to have the TPMS sensors in your tires cleaned. And sealants can easily damage these sensors. You’re looking at a cost of $45 to $100 per tire if they need to be replaced.
When Is It OK to Go Without a Spare Tire? And Not?
If you’re buying a new car, here are five tips for deciding whether to get a model with no spare, based on where you live, what type of driving you’re doing, cost, safety and convenience.
- The freeway shoulder can be a dangerous place to change a tire. If you live in an urban area with 24-hour towing, and you’re doing mostly daytime driving, you may be good with no spare. Just be sure you have AAA towing service ($69 a year for the basic package), roadside assistance coverage included in your auto insurance policy, or one of the new, on-demand services. Without it, a standard tow (around 5 miles) will cost you an average $109, according to Angie’s List.
- Decide up front if you’re willing to go spare-less for the life of your vehicle. If you find yourself regretting your decision later, you’ll pay more for an aftermarket tire, jack and lug wrench (typically $150 to $300) than you do when the kit comes as original equipment on a new car. Plus, there may not be a space to safely carry them in your vehicle if you bought a spare-less auto model.
- If you take a lot of road trips, routinely drive in places with long distances between service stations, or travel a lot on rougher roads, you need a spare tire. Getting a flat in rural areas means you could be a hundred miles or more to the nearest repair shop. If it’s after business hours, you could be looking at being marooned for hours, paying for a hotel for a night (or more if it’s a weekend), leaving a vehicle loaded with gear or belongings on the side of the road, and paying a hefty towing fee over a long stretch of highway.
I lease my 2013 Hyundai. I came out after work to a flat tire. I opened my trunk and imagine my surprise when there was no spare tire. I called Les Schwab and they said they had a guy in the neighborhood and he would be right there. He came and put air in my tire and followed me to the nearest store. It was after closing, but they kept the bays open for me. They removed the screw from my tire and sent me on my way with no charge. Who does that? I am a fan and tell everyone I know!
– Peggy P., Sacramento, CA
- Get a spare tire if you travel with small kids, especially if you're taking occasional road trips. Getting stranded with a flat and no spare can mean several hours of waiting for a tow, even in an urban area. This is sure to be stressful for parents and possibly unsafe for tots, especially if it’s a really hot or frigid day.
- If you have medical needs that need daily attention, better have a spare.
Flat tires can be a major, costly hassle — or simply a slight inconvenience. Especially in the West, where distances between tire service can be long and lonely, a spare tire is the most cost-effective insurance that you won’t get stuck by the side of the road.
Does Hitting a Pothole Damage My Tires?
Hitting a pothole is never fun. But those holes in the road can do more than spill your latte. Potholes can puncture your tire or bend or crack your wheel. It can damage your tire’s sidewall or belts. Even a minor impact may knock your vehicle out of alignment. A pothole strike can damage your shocks or struts, or harm your suspension.
Give Your Vehicle a Quick Inspection
After hitting a pothole, check for any of the following signs of pothole damage.
- A bulge on the tire sidewall. This is an indicator that the tire was pinched between the edge of the pothole and the wheel causing the internal plies to be weakened or severed.
- Your steering wheel is no longer centered or the vehicle wants to pull to one side or the other. The impact may have been hard enough to affect the alignment or damage a steering or suspension component.
- You feel abnormal vibrations in the steering, seat or floor.
- You may hear a new noise when underway. Something may have been bent or displaced and could be rubbing on the tire/wheel assembly.
- A dashboard warning light appears.
How Badly Can Potholes Damage My Vehicle?
Hitting a pothole can cause bent wheel rims, internal tire damage, alignment problems, and shock and strut issues depending on the severity of the impact. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll puncture your tires or damage your vehicle, but if you have any concerns, get it inspected.
Below are some photos that show how potholes can damage wheels or rims.
When you take your vehicle to a tire technician or mechanic following a pothole impact, ask for an inspection that covers:
- Wheels/steering knocked out of alignment
- Damage to the tire’s steel belts
- Intact tire balancing weights
- Bent or cracked wheel rim
- Damage to shocks and struts
- Other broken suspension components
Tips to Minimize Pothole Damage
With summer and winter weather throughout the West impacting our roads, potholes are going to happen. Here’s what you can do to minimize the damage and possibly avoid these hazards.
- Always drive on tires that are properly inflated and in good condition. This will give you the best chance of absorbing the impact safely.
- Drive defensively. Slow down when you’re on an unfamiliar or rough road, and avoid distracted driving.
- Be alert to what’s ahead, and make sure you keep enough distance between you and the vehicle in front of you so you can avoid issues.
- Recognize that though you might miss the first pothole, there may be another waiting.
- When you can’t avoid a pothole, take your foot off the gas and hold your steering wheel tightly. Don’t brake. This will allow you to maintain the most control during the impact.
Les Schwab Has Experience with Pothole Damage
Our pros have seen plenty of pothole damage and can offer recommendations, including tire repair and replacement, alignment work, and more. Stop by your local Les Schwab for a free inspection. If you need new tires, wheels or alignment, we’ll help get you and your family quickly and safely back on the road.