Piston Slap: Studded Vs Studless Vs All Season?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Jeremy writes:

Hi Sajeev,

My mother-in-law just moved from Ft. Meyers, FL to Akron, OH with her Mini Clubman S to be closer to her granddaughter. As a proud British person, she loves the car but is concerned about Midwest/lake effect winters and was thinking of getting a CUV/SUV. Having been a loyal reader of this column and the rest of TTAC, I made the foolish suggestion of just getting a second set of wheels with snow tires on them instead.

I say foolish not because it’s necessarily the wrong advice (though I want your input on that), but because now it’s my job to armchair it from 300 miles away with someone who’s not exactly a car person.

She took the Mini to a local tire shop and they tried to steer her toward a set of winter-biased all seasons. It wasn’t clear from the conversation I had with her whether the shop understood that she was asking for an extra pair of wheels and tires, not just new tires on the car. I’ve never shopped for snow tires, so I’m a bit out of my depth. I guess my questions are:

  1. Is this a reasonable strategy, or not worth the hassle for her? She wouldn’t be swapping the tires twice a year herself. It would be either a nearby son-in-law, me on a trip up, or a local shop.
  2. Why studded vs. studless vs. all season?

Sajeev answers:

You did the right thing! (Even this Houstonian says that with certainty!) It’ll take a metric ton of unplowed snow to get a Mini shod with winter tires stuck in a driveway. Akron is a big city with plowed streets, so she won’t get stuck going anywhere in town.

Since you are 300 miles away, go online to DiscountTire.com or Tirerack.com and price out winter tires mounted on a spare set of wheels, shipped directly to her. It might be more than getting junkyard wheels and cobbling it all up on your own, but you don’t have that luxury. Have her print out the quote and make her take it to the local shops to meet or beat it. If they won’t, buy online and they can swap wheels for her.

My take on studded vs. studless vs. all season? The latter is a compromise; they work reasonably well in most conditions. Studless tire tech stole the spotlight in the last 15-ish years, relegating studded tires to the worst roads: those with heavy amounts of unplowed snow and icy conditions. Not icy patches, but icy roads.

To wit, this government analysis, and the quote below from Mr. (Dr.?) Scheibe:

“The issues surrounding studded tire performance and safety are complex. From the standpoint of traction alone, studded tires, when new, often provide some benefit over other tire types on ice-covered roads when the temperature is near freezing. However, the advent of the new studless tires has diminished the marginal benefit, and recent studies suggest that the infrequent, narrow range of conditions necessary for benefit from studded tires may not outweigh their detrimental effect on traction in dry or wet conditions on certain pavement types.”

[Image: Shutterstock user Alex Polo]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Apr 28, 2016

    For conservative drivers who would have to pay a shop to change their wheels, going with a winter-rated all-season such as the Nokian WR or Hankook Optimo 4S, or even a non-studded studdable winter tire - which will typically use a harder compound with comparable dry/wet performance to a decent all-season tire - makes a lot of sense. Unless you're cornering and accelerating hard enough to chew up the tread, or driving fast enough to put excessive heat into the tire (driving well above highway speed limits), the disadvantages of a firmer-compound winter tire compared to an all-season are minimal. I have no doubt that they would even out-perform most of the low-rolling-resistance tires on the market in summer conditions, especially in wet conditions. http://www.caranddriver.com/features/a-tire-for-all-seasons-feature

  • Burgersandbeer Burgersandbeer on Apr 29, 2016

    Another downside to studded tires that I haven't seen anyone mention is road noise.

    • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Apr 29, 2016

      Hey, I mentioned it! You just have to get through the wall of text to get there. Sometimes the sound is barely noticeable, when the studs have minimal protrusion. But some can be quite loud. For example, the factory-studded Pirelli Ice Zeros I put on my friend's car this past winter were surprisingly loud to me, and I've driven on dozens of different sets of studded tires. I can see why they're the second best ice tire behind the Hakka 8 with those aggressive studs, but I'm really hoping they bed in a bit more and quiet down. I'd take the trade-off of reduced ice performance with half the stud protrusion for reduced noise. My usual online dealer for European factory-studded tires was out of the Gislaved Nord Frost 100s, so I decided to give them a try despite their high noise rating in the last NAF test. http://www.skstuds.ca/2015/10/04/the-2015-norwegian-automobile-federation-winter-tire-test-is-out/ The last Nord Frost 100s I installed were fairly noisy too at first, despite having one of the better noise ratings. But they quieted a fair bit as they bedded in. I'm hoping these Pirellis do the same. My friend doesn't seem to mind though. She hated winter driving before her first set of studded tires. "Every drive was a white knuckle affair." Now she enjoys watching others slide around instead of her, and the noise is just a reminder that she'll never experience the threat of black ice or slippery conditions again. Still, she'd probably prefer if it were a quieter reminder like her previous tires, though those old BFG Winter Slaloms had nowhere near the ice traction of these.

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