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.
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TPMS Light Coming On in Cold Weather? Here’s Why
If your TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) warning light goes on during a cold snap, it may not mean your tire has a leak.
Tire pressure can decrease about 1 PSI (pound per square inch) for every 10 degrees the temperature drops. It's not that more air is escaping your tires, but rather the air inside the tire condenses, taking up less space when it's cold. It's similar to how a cake, just out of the oven, flattens out a bit as it cools.
Tires also lose about 1 PSI per month just from seepage of air around the edge of the rim and through the tread itself.
These two factors combined can cause the air pressure in a tire to go 25 percent below the recommended fill pressure. This is what triggers the sensing transmitters inside your tires to illuminate your TPMS dash light. Whenever your TPMS light comes on, have your air checked and bring your tires up to the proper pressure.
Winter Tire Pressure
Temperature changes outside affect your tire pressure. If it gets up to 45 degrees by day and drops to 15 degrees at night, your tire pressure will vary 3 PSI, not counting normal air loss. This is why it’s not unusual to have the low-pressure indicator light go on first thing in the morning, since it’s usually coldest overnight.
The light may shut off on its own after you drive 20 minutes or so, as the air in your tires warms and expands and proper inflation level stabilizes.
Regardless, you should get your air checked right away. The TPMS light means your tires are at least 25 percent below the proper air pressure. This is a safety risk, especially if you’re carrying a load close to your vehicle’s max capacity. There’s a greater chance of tire failure, compromised handling and increased wear and tear on your tires. Your gas mileage could also suffer.
When you top off your tires, the TPMS light will go off as the tire regains the proper pressure.
Note: If the warning light is flashing, this is a problem with the vehicle’s TPMS system, not your tires, and you should take your car to the shop.
One More Reason Your TPMS Light May Go On
Your TPMS light may flash if your vehicle’s onboard computer can’t detect the sensor because you’re using a spare tire. They typically don’t have TPMS sensors.
How to Get Winter Tire Pressure Right
Once a month, have your pressure checked when the tires are cold (meaning the car is parked outside and hasn’t been driven in four hours) and inflate them to what’s indicated on your placard located on the inside of your car door.
For more information regarding TPMS with your vehicle, please review your owner’s manual.
How to Choose the Right Truck Tire
Choosing the right tires for your vehicle is an important decision. When you drive a light truck, SUV, or crossover, the tires you choose can have a direct impact on traction, comfort, road noise, tread life, and durability. Here’s a quick guide to help you decide what truck tires are the right fit for your on- and off-road needs.
H/T (Highway Terrain) Tires for Daily Commute and Highway Driving
Chances are your SUV, crossover, or light truck came standard with a set of H/T tires built for highway driving. If you don’t plan on going off-road, and want a tire that’s great for dry and wet road conditions, then an H/T tire is probably a good option.
- Smooth and quiet ride
- Wet weather performance
- Long tread life
Les Schwab Tip: H/T tires aren’t designed for prolonged use on gravel roads or in off-road conditions. If you plan to take your vehicle off the highway, it may be best to upgrade to an A/T tire for better traction and performance.
A/T (All-Terrain) Tires for On- and Off-Road Performance
Drivers who regularly find themselves taking dirt and gravel roads in between long stretches of highway driving, should look at A/T tires. This includes folks who like to take the road less traveled on their way to a great camping spot or other outdoor activity.
The deeper tread design is optimized for a comfortable ride on pavement, but built to grip in other conditions. Additionally, some A/T tires are built for all-weather, year-round driving including snow and rain.
- More aggressive looks (gives your vehicle a great appearance)
- All-weather traction (including wet and winter conditions)
- Long tread life
Les Schwab Tip: Because A/T tires are more rugged than H/T, there can be a slight increase in road noise. However, A/T tires offer the best of both worlds with comfortable daily driving, off-road performance, and visual appeal.
M/T (Mud Terrain) Tires for Off-road Enthusiasts
You know who you are. You drive a rig that is either lifted or already offers plenty of clearance for your favorite pastime: driving in extreme off-road conditions, including mud, dirt, gravel, and rock. Or maybe you just like the way a set of rugged, aggressive tires looks on your vehicle, even if they never leave the blacktop. Either way, M/T tires are for you.
- Aggressive looks
- Maximum durability
- Ultimate traction in mud, dirt, rocks, and gravel
Les Schwab Tip: M/T tires were first created for military and forestry applications, which means they’re designed for extremely rugged conditions. Because of the special tread design, they can be noisier than A/T and H/T options.
Get the Right Tires for your Truck at Les Schwab
Our experts can give you advice based on your driving needs. Stop by today and we’ll get you safely back on the road with our best tire value promise at no charge, including our lifetime tire and mileage care, and peace-of-mind tire protection.
Winter Driving Tips: The Dangers of Using Just Two Snow Tires
When driving in winter conditions, including ice and snow, staying in control and on the road is the top priority that starts with equal traction on all four tires. Installing snow tires on just the front or back of your vehicle won’t do the job, and could put you and your family in danger. Here’s why it’s important to install snow tires on all four wheels before facing winter’s fury.
Is it Okay to Put Snow Tires on the Front Only?
The short answer is no. Your vehicle might have front-wheel drive, but installing snow tires on the front and not all four wheels could end with you oversteering or fishtailing around corners or when applying the brakes in certain weather conditions — even at low speeds. Essentially, your back end will spin around, facing the front of your vehicle in the wrong direction. This can be especially bad if you’re out of control around a mountain corner and sliding into oncoming traffic.
Why does this happen? Even if there is no power to the back wheels, they still play a vital role in cornering and braking. All-season tires aren’t designed for cold weather and harden up when temperatures near freezing. Because they’re harder and have less traction, they easily slide on the snow and ice. Winter tires are designed for the cold and stay softer in low temperatures, helping provide grip.
Is it Okay to Put Snow Tires on the Back Only?
Again, the answer is no. Mostly. While it’s not recommended, the only time this could work is on rear-wheel-drive only vehicles. Even in these cases, we still recommend four matching snow tires for optimal performance. Anything else, including 4x4s, front-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive vehicles should have a full set of snow tires for best traction. Installing a set of snow tires on just the back wheels can easily cause your vehicle to understeer.
Why does this happen? When the front wheels have no traction it can become difficult to steer and stop. At that point, your front wheels are only helping guide your vehicle. Where you end up on the road is anyone’s guess. Additionally, installing snow tires on the rear only can cause anti-lock brakes and electronic traction control systems to malfunction.
Get Your Tire Chains and Snow Tires at Les Schwab
The weather can shift and worsen quickly in the West. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a full set of snow tires and carry traction devices for your vehicle. Stop by your local Les Schwab for expert advice on the right tires and chains for your car or truck. Check out our article How to: Choose Snow Tires for advice on finding the right snow tires for your needs.