SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — As winter in Maine rapidly approaches, now is the perfect time to consider which tires may benefit your driving needs the best when snow hits the ground.
"All-season is a little bit of a misnomer," Tim Winkeler said, as he walked NEWS CENTER Maine through some of the tire options at VIP Tires & Service in South Portland.
Winkeler, CEO of VIP Tires & Service, said there are so many tire options that it's always best to talk with a tire expert and explain where you're driving and what's most important to you—whether it's traction or mileage.
So, why is an all-season tire not great in Maine's winter season? To understand that, NEWS CENTER Maine compared it to a performance tire, an all-weather tire—something Winkeler said is fairly new to the market—and a dedicated winter tire.
A performance tire may have come with your new car. It has the most rubber on the road and therefore gives you the best fuel economy. But that rubber on the road isn't necessarily helpful in snow.
Let's turn our attention to the all-season tire.
"It has two or three cuts on the side now instead of just the one [on the performance tire], so we’ve got a little more going on in the shoulder here," Winkeler explained. "You’ve got a little wider gap [between the rubber] so the traction on a tire like this is gonna be better, it’s going to exhaust rain better on the roads, and it’s going to have some better snow capabilities, light snow."
Winkeler said that the wider the spaces are in a tire, and the more exhaust channels on the outside of the tread, the more space to expel the snow or rain you're driving over, which keeps more rubber on the road. However, "this material is not designed for your extreme cold days," Winkeler said about the all-season tire.
"Rubber and all the compounds that they put into these tires behave differently in different temperatures. When you start getting along the range of a tire towards a winter tire or a snow tire, you have a compound that is specifically designed to stay softer in really cold weather," Winkeler said, explaining that every tire comes with a compromise.
As for an all-season tire, "You lose mileage. So, a tire like that, if you run it when it’s hot, is going to wear out very, very quickly because it’s a softer compound."
There is a difference between an all-season and an all-weather tire, so keep an eye on what you're buying.
All-weather tires feature "jagged edges and one row that’s different than the other ones. So, once again, space for exhausting some of that snow out on the roads," Winkeler said.
How would an all-weather tire do in more slushy weather? Winkeler said it's a good tire for light snow, but a small amount—maybe a few inches of snow—or even some slush, because it has good wet traction and water exhaust capabilities.
"One of the first things you notice [on a winter tire] is how large the voids are," Winkeler said. "You need really large voids because that snow needs somewhere to go."
As for that compromise, your fuel economy is dropping.
"This tire is designed with really one job: be great in the cold weather, be great in the snow," Winkeler said. "So, it’s not going to be as good when you start talking about warmer days, and it’s not going to be as good at giving you that excellent fuel economy that so many people are looking for today."
The winter tire NEWS CENTER Maine looked at was equipped for studs, which Winkeler said can be run without too.
"When you run them with metal studs, it’s awesome when you’re going to be out in the mountains or you’re on roads that don’t get plowed very often and you’re driving on ice, but for a lot of people, they might be on those kinds of roads a little bit and for a lot of their driving they're on a perfectly paved, plowed, dry road," Winkeler explained. "Those studs are actually going to lengthen your braking distance, so it takes longer to stop that car on a dry road when you’ve got studs in the tire."