Using Studded Snow Tires is the Best Choice for Winter in the Northeast

Living and driving in winter, you will find that traveling without proper tires can be a very dangerous proposition! Most experienced drivers here in the northeast know all about the difficult driving conditions which we experience during the winter months, and most of us know the safety value of using good quality snow tires.

Modern “All Season Radial Tires” do a great job of getting you through most of the winter weather that the cold winds from the north can deliver to the area around Lake Erie. That cold wind out of Canada combined with the moisture which comes from our large yet shallow Lake Erie can deliver some really treacherous and strange weather patterns, which make for some very nasty driving conditions.

Lake-effect snow
Lake-effect snow

We get a lot of what is called “Lake Effect Snow” which can dump huge amounts of snow on our roads over a very short period of time. We also get plenty of wet weather with accompanying black ice, sleet, and slush. Since the terrain can vary widely due to the many valleys and hills created by glaciers, you can experience a myriad of driving conditions during just one trip to the grocery store! So it is fairly typical to see most cars and trucks on the road using winter snow tires from about November through May.

Yet there is another tire option that many drivers are experimenting with, which ensures great traction in most weather conditions. That option would be to run metal-studded snow tires on your car or truck. From real world experience I have learned that when using these special snow tires, you should run the same tires on all 4 wheels, and not just the drive wheels! This way the traction is properly balanced, which is especially important when trying to turn or stop the car.

Also, you must consider the effect that studded snow tires will have on traction systems on newer cars or trucks with regard to the ABS system. This is an important issue because the traction differences between studded tires and non-studded tires can confuse the ABS and traction controls, which in turn can create unsafe handling reactions in the automatic electronic control systems.

Another important note is that some car manufacturers will not approve the operation of studded snow tires on just the drive axles of their car, so you should always check with the car dealer to make sure that using studded snow tires will not cause any warranty issues for you. This is really important if you happen to be leasing the car.

The Ford Escape is one of the more popular hybrids that I know handle much differently when studded snow tires are used. These cars have so many electronic controls for their traction and braking, that studs on the front only will cause some very strange vehicle handling reactions, especially when braking on mixed road surfaces. For example, when the road is icy, wet, and snowy, the traction on each tire can be drastically different, and the ABS and traction control systems can cause unstable responses due to conflicting wheel spin input from each tire.

A significant safety risk can be created when trying to cut cost by using studded snow tires on only the drive wheels! So if you are going to do this, go the extra mile and get all 4 tires in the studded variety. The Ohio Department of Transportation has a rule in place where it is only legal to use studded snow tires on our roads from Nov 1st to April 15th. You cannot use them at all in a number of other states, and if you are stopped with studded tires in one of those other states, they will give you a hefty fine for this transgression. For more information on this particular topic, please search the web for “AAA Driving Regulations” and you will find a most comprehensive list for the states which allow Studded snow tires, and when they can be used.

We found out about the rules regarding studded snow tires the hard way when we visited our Canadian neighbors in Ontario for a weekend of gambling and sightseeing in Niagara Falls. Everything went great during our stay, however as we were leaving we learned that Ontario did not allow studded snow tires, this was supposed to be noted when entering Canada through New York. We were not aware of the ban on our way into Canada, but a super sharp toll booth operator spotted our studded tires as we tried to leave their quaint little kingdom.

He was visibly upset that we actually got into Canada on those nasty studded snow tires! My simple point to him was that since we were leaving anyhow, it was pretty much too late to chastise us for this now. I felt they had missed their chance to stick us for this when we entered their country! I am telling you now, with a couple of hundred six packs, a French translator, and a loaded gun, we could own that vast campground which they call home! Had he actually fined us the $150 he mentioned, then this would have made our little gambling trip even more costly. I also mentioned to him that there was no signage or warning about it until you actually went inside their country, so maybe some warning signs on our side of the invisible fence would be helpful. So you know it is only that part of Ontario which has a ban on studded snow tires.

Changing your driving habits to accommodate studded snow tires will definitely require a bit of learning on your part since these tires will not react exactly like the tires you are used to. They will get better traction when accelerating, but will not necessarily yield better grip when stopping. So you may get a false sense of security and will be tempted to drive too fast, but you must be very aware of the handling differences between acceleration and stopping. One final caution regarding studded snow tires, they will offer much less traction in the rain than a regular all season radial or snow tire would. This is because the studs actually lift that part of the tire up off the road giving you a bit less rubber surface in contact with the road! So in the rain, you must slow down significantly, or you might find yourself in the ditch!

There is a fairly new technology coming to market which may enhance highway safety in winter weather. This is a new snow tire which has studs built into a secondary air chamber inside the tire beneath the tread. This secondary air chamber is pressurized via a remote control device, and it uses air from the main tires to deploy the metal studs. These are pushed out into place by air pressure from within the main tire. The studs are retracted by the driver when extra traction is not required. This is a pretty fantastic design since it gives you the option to drive normally, and when you encounter ice or snow, you simply press a remote control button and instantly deploy the studs for added traction! One of their claims is that with this technology, we can minimize damage to our road surfaces by using these devices only when they are needed.

Cooper Tire service bulletin regarding the use of studded snow tires on all four wheels.

AAA information on legally driving in Ohio with studded snow tires

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