The recent run of 50-degree weather may lull you into thinking that winter is over and that those remaining treads on your tires are good enough to get you through until spring.
However, February is typically the snowiest month of the winter in Kansas City. Only two years ago, a mild winter rapidly changed in mid February when two, 10-inch snowstorms belted the metropolitan area and nearly shut down the city twice.
Evan Masher, the store manager at Firestone Complete Auto Care at 7717 State Ave., in Kansas City, Kan., remembers those storms. And he was able to get around easily because of his tires.
Masher changes his tires in the winter to tires made specifically for winter weather.
“I drive an ’07 Hyundai Sonata, and I was basically plowing the roads with my car, passing four-wheel drive trucks,” Masher said. “They weren’t able to keep up because they are running on an all-season tire that will do well, but it is not specifically designed to give you the best traction during the winter.”
Winter tires, he said, enhance performance because they were made specifically for winter weather.
“One of the brands we carry is the Bridgestone Blizzak, which I run on my vehicle during the winter,” Masher said. “It gives you a better grip. They have a lot more biting edges, which is the amount of tread that is actually digging into the snow, ice or asphalt to give you a better grip.”
Masher acknowledges that most people stick with all-season tires. Also, you don’t have to change the tires from winter to summer.
Tires specifically designed for winter wear down quicker when temperatures climb over 60 degrees. Winter tires in the Kansas City area are recommended from November to March.
Cost, though, is probably the main reason many people stick with all-season tires. On average, a set of all-season tires runs $600, Masher said.
“Your snow tire in that same application is probably up to $200 more for the same set and it is only good for the winter,” Masher said. “When you look at it that way, you are basically spending $1,400 for two sets of tires versus the $600 for the all-season tire.
“So most … people go with an all-season tire because they do cover rain and snow, but it is not going to give you an improved performance. That is the benefit of a snow tire.”
Throughout the year, stores like Firestone or Tire Plus get steady business just because of the importance of having good tires.
“It helps with your steering and handling, braking and just overall control of your vehicle,” said Shawn Emerson, store manager at Tires Plus at 8116 NW Prairie View Road in Kansas City.
A snowstorm will generally increase tire business.
“I see the trend that a lot of people are more aware that they need tires when there are inclement weather conditions, simply because they notice a loss or variance of traction when controlling their vehicle,” Emerson said.
Masher concurred that there is an increase in business when there is a threat of an approaching snowstorm.
“It can cause up to a 200 percent increase in tire demand,” Masher said.
Most important to any tire are the tread grooves and how worn they are.
Tread grooves on a tire are measured in 32nds of an inch. Tires at the end of their useful life have between 2/32nds and 4/32nds of an inch of tread remaining. New tires typically have about 10/32 of an inch.
“They should make sure they have the proper tread depth to be able to handle snow because at 6/32nds tread left on a tire is when snow traction will start to change,” Masher said. “At 4/32nds is when wet tread traction will start to change. So driving in rainy condition, you will start to notice some slippage. Generally at 2/32nds is when you will start to notice a difference in your dry traction.”
Driving around with worn treads is risky, especially in the winter when snow makes roads slicker.
“If you don’t have the proper traction to handle snow, in particular, you are at risk of sliding, and if you have an older vehicle that doesn’t have the anti-lock braking system, you can lock up your brakes and end up sliding off the road,” Masher said.
“One of the most common things is people who don’t have proper tread on their tires will end up impacting a curb and cause substantial damage to the steering and suspension parts. It is essentially preventative maintenance to make sure you have a good tire on the vehicle to try to avoid as many of those situations as possible.”
Good tires are just as important in the summer time when people take trips, Emerson said.
“Definitely, for us, we are year-round in this industry,” Emerson said. “Automotive service is important regardless of what time of the year it is. Unfortunately, just as winter conditions can dictate vehicles having challenges, so can high heat conditions can also do things on vehicles.”