Winter driving conditions demand specific tires

Bruce Aldrich

The added traction of a specialized winter tire is amazing. If you drive in snow and ice, you need winter tires. Winter tires will reduce your stopping distance, allow faster acceleration and provide better steering.

The typical tire on your car or truck is a general purpose tire labeled “all-season” or “mud and snow.” These tires perform well in many conditions, but they under perform in cold temperatures and on slippery surfaces. A winter tire is optimized for these conditions through special tread designs and advanced rubber compounds.

Bridgestone gave me the opportunity to drive and compare tires at its “Tire Rack Winter Driving Experience” in Denver. The “test track” was the ice hockey rink in the Pepsi Center, home to the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League. Two cars were provided, one shod with all-season tires and one sporting Bridgestone’s latest iteration of its Blizzak winter tire.

The performance advantage on ice was instantly recognizable when the throttle was mashed (traction control engaged) on the Blizzak WS80 equipped BMW 328i. The Blizzak car will easily win a drag race against an all-season equipped car.

Stopping distances were equally impressive. Blizzak braking distances were consistently 10 feet shorter at our test speed of 12 mph. I was told my 38-foot stops would compute to about 430 feet if I were making a stop on the ice from a speed of 45 mph. A stop from 45 mph on all-season tires would yield a slide (ABS engaged) of nearly 800 feet.

Winter driving conditions demand specific tires 1

Cornering the two cars on ice was like night and day. In low speed turns that sent the all-season car plowing straight ahead, the Blizzak car easily made the turns with the smooth confidence of a Zamboni.

Is there a difference between a general purpose tire and a winter specific tire? Yes. There is a huge difference in my opinion. Bridgestone has been selling its Blizzak line of winter tires in the U.S. since 1992. There have been more than a dozen evolutionary upgrades throughout the years to improve cold weather performance. The Blizzak WS80 is the company’s best winter tire yet.

Bridgestone thinks of its proprietary Blizzak tire compound as “black magic” when referring to the unique microscopic hardened particles imbedded in the relatively porous rolling surface. The idea is to keep the rubber soft and pliable at low temperatures while the imbedded “bite particles” claw at the slippery surface for traction.

Consider purchasing your winter-specific tires through the Tire Rack. It’s a family owned store that performs extensive independent tire testing and gathers customer survey data to rate tires.

Tire Rack can inform and offer consumers suggestions for the right tire purchase. The Tire Rack can ship tires to your home or to a convenient affiliated shop. The Tire Rack: 888-541-1777

When do your tires need to be replaced. Here are the recommendations depth of tread (in inch fractions):

2/32 — This is the legal minimum. The tire begins to lose grip on dry surfaces. Forget about wet surfaces.

4/32 — The tire begins to lose traction on wet surfaces. Hydroplaning is more likely.

6/32 — This is the minimum depth for good performance in the snow.

Article Last Updated: October 22, 2014.

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