By on February 2, 2021

Tdot Performance tires

A good swath of the country is currently in the thick of winter’s frozen grasp, icy tentacles clutching deep into the heart of every gearhead who’d rather be enjoying a healthy round of burnouts in a deserted parking lot.

OK, maybe that’s a tad dramatic. But our point stands.

Nearly everyone reading this post is dealing with some level of snow and slush on their way to work. And as any good driver will tell you, having the right tools for the job is important: a proper set of sockets to perform an oil change, a good set of headlights to see (and be seen) at night, and a stout set of winter tires to get you through the season.

The crew at TDot Performance, in addition to knowing the best way to tune your car for speed, have a team whose sole focus is tires and wheels. They’re of the opinion that what goes around in the winter oughta have good tread on it, and since we’re of the same mindset, we’ve partnered with them to create the following guide to winter tires.

Cold Comfort

You’ll notice we’re calling them winter tires, not snow tires. It’s an important distinction, and it’s thanks to properties baked right in to these rubber hoops that make them useful when the ambient temperature drops below a certain level — generally agreed to be around 7 degrees Celsius. When the mercury falls past that number, the gummy compounds in a winter tire are better able to stick to the road than all-season (and especially summer) tires.

In other words, that set of performance rubber which allowed you to exit VIR’s notorious Oak Tree turn at tremendous speed will simply turn to Teflon when temperatures drop into the thermometer’s nether regions.

There are two factors at play that make a winter tire uniquely suited for the task before it. One is molecular, the other is mechanical. What’s the difference, you say? Glad you asked.

Compound Interest

Molecular features are contained in the special formula of compounds that a tire manufacturer bakes into the composition of its winter tire. If one does much research into the issue, they’ll find themselves reading a lot about silica and natural rubbers. These ingredients, and others, help the tire remain flexible when the weather turns cold, permitting better traction in wintery conditions.

Not all compounds are created equal, though. It shouldn’t be a surprise that exact compositions of the various brews are closely-guarded secrets on the same plane as how they get the caramel inside a Caramilk bar. However, do know that mainstream winter tire makers — like BFGoodrich, Michelin, Goodyear, Nokian, et al — almost always have a leg up compared to knock-off brands. While the tread patterns on these off-brand tires may look similar to the Big Guns, the invisible compounds found inside are often vastly inferior. This means less traction when you need it most.

Don’t Tread on Me

This also segues nicely into our next topic: the mechanical features of a winter tire. These are found in the tread and, unlike the above compounds, are easy to see. A good winter hoop should have lots of sipes, which are those little (often zig-zaggy) lines embedded into each block of tread. When pressed into a surface, these sipes open up to provide extra traction surfaces. Saw-toothed shaped sipes will also bite more aggressively into snow.

Not convinced? Try this experiment. Grab a block of Styrofoam from that mountain of recycling you’ve got out in the garage. Place the flat edge of it face down and push it across the kitchen table. Slid pretty easily, right? Now cut several shallow lines across the Styrofoam’s flat surface and try to push it across the same expanse of table. We bet it took a bit more effort to move the stuff this time, don’t you think?

That’s what a series of well-designed sipes can do for drivers when their car is scrambling for traction. It’ll help with both acceleration and braking, while some really good sipes will also help with lateral grip. This aids in traction duties while turning.

What a Flake

While shopping for winter rubber, it’s important to look for a notation that’s become known as the “three-peak mountain snowflake” symbol (or 3PMSF). Looking exactly as described, this icon is molded into the sidewall of any tire that passes the rigorous litany of requirements needed in order to be considered a true “winter tire.”

It’s worth noting that rubber showing this symbol has passed an acceleration test on medium packed snow. Braking and turning on snow, however, along with ice traction, are not components of the test. Recently, your author has even noticed a few off-brand tires that are clearly not designed for winter use bearing the vaunted 3PMSF logo, suggesting a few knock-offs are gaming the system by finding ways to make a bare-minimum grade in the test. So shop carefully, and always do your research before buying.

Still, all-season and all-terrain tires – yes, even those with the 3PMSF symbol – cannot match the traction of dedicated winter rubber in all winter weather conditions. We feel such tires should not be considered as a suitable replacement for occasions when a dedicated winter tire is truly needed.

Brand Identity

Winter tires are one of the few consumer products in which one truly does get what one pays for, meaning rubber from the top name brands might be more expensive but are generally worth the extra outlay. Remember, just because those cheaper tires look like the Big Guns doesn’t mean they have the bark to match their bite. After all, we technically can’t see the rubber’s compound—at least not without breaking out a scientific microscope (and your author was banned from chemistry labs back in high school after an unfortunate incident with cadmium and benzene).

That’s why TDot Performance made sure to team up with major brands like BFGoodrich, Michelin and Goodyear in order to offer customers a wide array of sizes and styles of winter tires. With free shipping plus a 30-day no-hassle return policy, TDot can hook you up with what your car needs to stay shiny side up this season.

Get a Grip

If you’re still on the fence about making the investment in winter tires, consider this: a study by the Transport Research Institute in Sweden (where they know a thing or two about driving on winter surfaces) suggest these tires have an advantage of about 25% on dry roads compared to non-winter rubber when ambient temperatures drop close to freezing. On slippery or snowy surfaces, that delta only increases.

That 25% could mean the difference between stopping just short of the vehicle in front of you and having to place an unhappy call to your insurance agency. As for those burnouts in a deserted parking lot you’ve been pining for, I think we finally found a use for those el cheapo off-brand winter tires…

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24 Comments on “Piecing Together the Winter Tire Puzzle...”

  • avatar

    I bought a set of winter rated year-round tires (“three-peak mountain snowflake”) last year for my crossover. Smart move, between the tires and AWD the difference was night and day compared to standard all-season tires. I highly recommend them

    • 0 avatar

      I find this interesting. Did you find data that these tires tested as good as dedicated winter tires in cold / slippery conditions? If so I would love to hear from you in a few years on how these wear compared to traditional all seasons and also if any other downsides like increased road noise in warm weather or reduced fuel economy emerge. I see a drop of about 5 percent in the winter months but don’t know how much is due the dedicated snow tires and how much is just the effect of winter blend fuels. I don’t let my vehicles sit and warm up. I start them and just drive very gently until the engine is fully warmed.

      • 0 avatar

        I have a set of Michelin Crossclimate2 tires, which are marketed as year round, all-weather tires. I had them installed in late November. We got our first seasonal snowfall on Dec 2, and our first coating of ice in January.

        The levels of grip so far in cold rain and snow are remarkable. The ice was new to me, so I have no comparison, buy I never felt as if I didn’t have enough grip.

        Its hard to make a comparison to my last set of winter tires, which was 6 years ago (that was when I moved to Hawaii, so I had no need there), but these feel like pure winter tires, in terms of grip.

        On dry days, there is some more noise at highway speed vs the all-seasons they replaced, but it’s not a loud roar, more like white/wind noise.

        I will say that driving in heavy rain is when the noise level really escalates at higher speeds. At city speeds, no noticable change in noise.

        No drop in overall mpgs either. I haven’t have them long enough to put enough miles on them to notice wear, but I am due for an oil change and will have a good look.

        I plan on these being year round tires, but I haven’t driven them in really warm temperatures. If they are too soft, or loud, or wear too fast, it may be that this will be the reverse of what I have always done: I’ll get summer only tires and have a 3 season tire otherwise, as opposed to in the past, where I used edicated winter tires, and had an all season set for the the other 3. We’ll see.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve had Nokian WRG4 tires on my Subaru Legacy for a few years now. I live in upstate NY and until I got these I always ran dedicated winter and “summer” (normally all season) tires.

        I will be going back to dedicated winter and “summer” tires with my next tire purchase.

        The WRG4 at first were fairly quiet and had decent, but not as good as real winter tire, snow grip. But as they’ve worn down they’ve gotten horribly loud for me and the winter grip is falling off. In the rain they’re still great, however. I expect to get about 40k miles out of them before they won’t pass NY inspection 2/32″ limit.

  • avatar

    I decided to fit some “all-weather” tires on my car because the tires from the factory were absolute garbage. My guess is that they’re similar to what Lie2Me mentioned above. The brand is one I’m unfamiliar with, Vredestein, but has allegedly been used in Europe for a number of years. They have the snowflake insignia on the side and the reviews, both private and professional seem good. As per usual, I fit them after we had a pretty bad snowstorm, but I’ve not had much further experience to try them out, but I’d rather have them and not need them, than need them and not have them.

    For reference the tires my car came with were Bridgestone Turanzas. The driver reviews were pretty solid in the garbage category, with a strong geographic difference between those who hated them and those who thought they were acceptable.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      tankinbeans… Yes, Vredestein tires have been around in Europe for many decades. BTW, although you never asked, Vredestein rhymes with Frankenstein.

      Other excellent winter or all-weather tires with the 3PMSF logo that I can personally vouch for can be had from Nokian.

      • 0 avatar

        After hearing it here, actually, I put Vredestein quatracs on a Prius we inherited from a family member. They were impressive on ice. Can’t comment on longevity as I sold the car shortly afterwards.

        My BMW wagon has DSW06es on it with, mounted the previous October. So they have been on the car for 16 months and 24,000 miles already. I drove 45 minutes to go skiing today, though the roads were ok, mostly clear but some wind blown snow in places. They did ok at 50ish even 60 mph. Didn’t feel prudent to go faster. I’ve heard their winter prowess goes down quick once they enter the second half of their life, we’ll see. Car is x-drive of course.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m hoping they last a good long while. So far the main test I’ve been able to put them to is my neighborhood where the plow jockeys are less than useless. They wave their blades at the ground and shove some snow out of the way. There’s been a 2 inch thick sheet of ice for months and I’m in a bowl so no matter where I go I’m going uphill. I used to need a running start, but these, along with 4 driven wheels, allow me to get up and moving without risking careening into others.

  • avatar

    Another somewhat important distinction, is between so called Alpine winter tires, and Nordic winter tires. The latter remain grippier at even lower tempratures, but at the cost of less solid handling, and much poorer wear characteristics, at warmer temps.

    They are the bees knees for places with sustained buttcold temps, but are way less than ideal for driving up to the slopes for the weekend, from lower laying, warmer areas. As well as for places generally not too cold, which may get one or two bad cold spells in a winter.

  • avatar

    I have a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks on my awd Caddy SRX. It’s truly amazing how good that car is in bad weather. Wish I would have had this back in my Cleveland days when I really needed it. I have General Altimax Arctics on my pickup and they aren’t nearly as good.

    • 0 avatar

      on my 2005 Subaru Forester I’ve the General Altimax Artic’s and i’ve been pleasantly surprised – i’m not an aggressive winter time driver by any stretch but for value they were a great choice at the time of my purchase – about 90% of the performance of the #1 rated at 70% of the price = Winner! (AFAIR)
      (however checking on Tirerack today the delta is MUCH smaller – not sure why but literally about $10 difference them maeans buy the blizzaks FTW now – however i purhased them in the fall so maybe prices fall as the season rolls?)

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Unfortunately, the informercial didn’t mention Bridgestone as a source of winter tires. Back in the ’90s, when we had a place in the highest part of West Virginia that gets well over 100 inches of natural snow annually, I bought a set of 4 wheels with Bridgestone Blizzaks on them for my AWD Previa. The vehicle was absolutely unstoppable in the snow, and we passed many SUVs — no doubt equipped with “all-seasons”– that were stuck. Without fail, their occupants did a double-take as we went by.

    In 2008 we bought an AWD Pilot and — for reasons I don’t remember — equipped that vehicle with Michelin X-Ices. Similarly challenged, it was nowhere near as capable as the Previa had been, even when the tires were new.

    • 0 avatar

      I had some Michelin X-Ice tires when I had my Focus ST because it came on summer tires. I was less than impressed. I didn’t know what to expect because I come from a family whose mantra is “get some good all-season radials and you’ll be fine.” Whatever I expected, those tires did not deliver.

      Of course I have a co-worker who thinks that one just needs to slow down if one has garbage tires, never mind needing to take evasive action or anything else that bad tires could compromise. She’s actually told me that “tires are tires, there’s really no difference.”

      • 0 avatar

        I’ll put in a good word for X-Ices, with the caveat that when the snow gets deep/heavy I’m driving my truck instead.

        But on a partially snow/ice covered road, they are confidence inspiring.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a set of Blizzaks for my wife’s FWD VW Atlas. The “get moving” aspect of having Blizzaks on a FWD car isnt quite as good as having AWD with all seasons, but its close. The handling/stopping on snow/slush/ice is a very noticeable improvement over all seasons where AWD really adds nothing to the equation. For city slickers or folks who rarely see deep snow covered roads, FWD and winter tires is all you need. I live in the Detroit suburbs and we only get a handful of days ever year where AWD and or Winter tires makes any difference at all. I am happy to have a FWD car that doesn’t have to lug around the extra weight and fuel economy penalty the the other 360 days a year.

  • avatar

    I have a set of Pirelli IceZero FR on my V60 Polestar. Got me through 3 winters with numerous snow/ice storms with no issue.

  • avatar

    Can’t beat winter tires if you’re an avid skier. I got some Conti Vikings this year to replace my great Haakapelitas. They seem just as good, and noticeably quieter.

  • avatar

    I bought the Blizzaks for our CRV for the wife to use here in east central wisconsin.

    I have been quite pleased with the results. The improved grip is very much noticeable. You really have to be trying to get the thing to slide any with those tires on.

    One downside that I’ve noticed is that they seem to ware down fairly fast. This is our 4th winter with them (who knows how many miles that is… maybe 18k?), and I’m wondering if I should try to get another winter out of them, or just replace next fall. I can see that the tread is much thinner than when they were new. It’s also difficult to gauge how much they have lost in performance because it’s my wife that drives the thing, and she couldn’t be bothered to notice such things. I haven’t driven the car this season, and we haven’t had much snow until very recently… Not sure if I can even remember what they were like 2-3 years ago, seeing as how little I ever used the car.

    Not sure what to do.

  • avatar

    In southeast Wisconsin, there is usually about 10 days a year where the driving is poor to bad. I put General Altimax RT43s on a Civic, Odyssey, Camry, Acura TL and was seriously impressed by the tire. A little less crisp but perfectly controllable in the rain and dry. No more noise than the OEM tires. When going through up to 8 inches of snow, definitely more traction. With proper planning and careful throttle control, never found a hill that I couldn’t make it through. In commuting, my Civic lost about 20 miles per tank of gas. For a tire in the budget category, I give it 5 stars.

  • avatar

    I’m in the “avid skier” camp, we are rumbling around Vermont every weekend for kids races, etc. And I’ve never had an issue anywhere with a Sienna with Blizzaks. When I lived in CO for a year, I had a Jetta with Vredesteins, same thing, driving in all kinds of storms, never an issue.

    It’s become a truism that every vehicle you see in a ditch during a storm will be some big high-end SUV.

    I haven’t loved the X-Ices I’ve had, but they’re not bad, but these days I stick to Blizzaks or Nokians.

  • avatar

    I live far enough north that we have snow on the ground for up to six-months. I also drive a RWD car, so the best winter tires I can afford are a must. I use Michelin XIce3, and Nokians on the wife’s Maxima. Also some days I just wait for all the 4x4s to create tracks for me to drive in. Funny thing, I’ve never put by car in the ditch even in some blizzards, yet I see numerous 4x4s and AWDs deep in ditch, even upside down, go figure.

    • 0 avatar

      False confidence, bad tires and cockiness seems to explain that. It’s common here as well. I can’t tell if these drivers aren’t paying attention to the signals their cars are sending or just don’t care. I went out during an ice storm around Christmas in 2019 with a CX-5 AWD and there was plenty of communication from the car that slowing down was prudent. I was comfortably passing lots of these people who careened off, though I was going 20 under the limit.

  • avatar

    I live in an area where we get a mix of winter weather – snow, freezing rain, rain – and I am pleasantly surprised at the percentage of people who use winter tires (the black steelies are a giveaway in many cases). But, I’m less than pleasantly surprised at the number of people who insist that winter tires are a cash grab and aren’t worth it. With my luck, this will be the guy behind me when I am able to make an emergency stop and he can’t.

    For the record, I have a ’19 VW GLI with Nokian Hakka… whatevers and I put a set of Nokian SUV tires on my bride’s ’19 Ranger. Both look horrid but purposeful on their steelies. I get a lot more baffled looks about a 4WD Ranger on winter tires than on the GLI. Apparently for a lot of people, AWD/4WD is the only solution needed. I guess turning and stopping aren’t a big deal for them.

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