95% of the e-mail questions I receive are for my
I only personally
recommend tires I am familiar and have experience driving on. I can
provided information on other choices, but I can't recommend them.
I have broken down the list by tire brand.
In the past,
they have been here on the main webpage where editing them
was a non-trivial task. With the introduction of the Snow Tire FAQ
Forums, I have moved them to their own forum topic.
Real World Snow Tire Tests
For the past few
years, the Snow Tire FAQ has conducted Real World Snow Tire Tests.
The Tests are done on real world cars, driven in real world weather
We're doing it again in 2006. The plans are
still in the early stage, but it looks like we will have at least 4
manufacturers and 5 sets of tires. Among the tires, there should
be a couple of surprises, including some very new products.
As in the past, our test fleet will consist of
RWD cars, specifically Volvo 900 series cars. We will also be
doing another Shoot-Out.
The lastest on the preparations for the 2006
Real World Snow Tire Tests can be found in
this forum topic.
After taking a year off, we did it again. We
tested six tires from five manufacturers. All of them were are
good, but none of the are the same. Read the review to find out
more. The review can be found both in Adobe
Acrobat (PDF) format, and as a Web
The tires are (in alphabetical order):
Green Diamond Inari (185/65 R 15)
Kuhmo KW11 (195/60 R 15)
Nokian Hakkapeliita-2 (195/60 R 15)
Nokian WR (195/60 R 15)
Toyo Observe (185/65 R 15)
Having been the
first in the local rally crowd to try Bridgestone Blizzaks when
they were first introduced to the US, I have been anxious to see
how well they have evolved. I can't wait to try them out.
Since their US
introduction, Green Diamond tires have been the one brand that I
have most been asked about. The technology looks great, and I can't
wait to see what they will do. I've been warned that they need up
to a 500 mile break-in period to expose the “green diamonds,”
so I need to get them on soon.
After putting a set of summer Kuhmo's on my
daily driver, I have gained a new appreciation for this company. If
their snow tire is like their other tires, it should do very well.
Once again, Nokian
has decided to enter the fray and is providing two sets of tires. I
first learned about Nokian snow tires back when they were still
sold under the Nokia label. They have always done well.
For several years,
I have seen adds for the Toyo Observe tires and wondered how well
they will do. An acquaintance of mine loves the set on her car and
now we will finally get a chance to test them.
As far as testing
snow tires, 2002 was not the best of years. On the personal front,
the purchase of a new home kept me busy through most of the fall.
On the weather front, Rochester, NY, had one of the warmest winters
in years, and snow was at a premium. Ironically, Buffalo, which is
75 miles west of Rochester had several record snow falls.
The weather also
reeked havoc on our plans to run time trials with the snow tires on
a local rally course. The track never got cold enough, long enough
to freeze and so was rendered unusable.
always, an in-depth report is available online both in Adobe
Acrobat Format and web
2001 was the first
year The Snow Tire FAQ did a Real World Tire Test. We took three
tires designed to be non-studded snow tires and ran them on nearly
identical cars. All three tires performed well enough to bear the
“Recommended by The Snow Tire FAQ” brand.
NRW (185/65 R 15) – A great all weather tire.
Traction on the dry is as good as many summer tires, and snow
traction is better then some snow tires. The tire is very
predictable and safe. Not the best of the three in snow nor ice,
but easily the best on the dry. Summary: Quite a good choice where
the number of days with and without snow are equal.
(185/65 R 15) – "If you gave me a set of these, I would
thank you." These are very nice snow tires. On the "hill
climb" (100 ft of twisty, 30% grade driveway), they beat the
Nokian NRWs. They lacked the dry road feel of the NRW, but were
quite acceptable for a pure snow tire. Summary: A very nice tire.
(185/65 R 15) – Hands down the best acceleration and
braking on ice and hard packed snow. It is obvious the designers
worked hard to maximize acceleration and braking. Unfortunately,
the lateral stability is not nearly as good and can surprise you
at times. There is a lot of potential here. Summary: If you don't
throw your car through corners like a rally driver, you will love
this tire, especially on ice and hard packed snow.
review of the three tires
is now available. This review was also published in the “Flying
Bricks” column of Rolling, the magazine of the Volvo
Club of America.
We are currently
planning to continue the yearly Real World Snow Tire Tests and to
add new features to the test.
A Note to
If you don't see
your snow tires listed here it is probably because I have not had a
chance to try them. In the past, my experience has been with tires
I have bought myself. 75% of the recommendations are based on what
I have purchased with my own money. That's about one set of tires
every other year, and usually only tires I am familiar with.
If you would like
to be sure to get your snow tires evaluated, please considering
providing a set for evaluation. That's what Dunlop, Nokian, and
Vredestein did for 2001
Winter Tire Tests. For more
information, please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will be
evaluating more tires in the Winter 2001-2002 season! For more
information, please refer to this Press
Tire FAQ Branding
Since 90% of the
people who access The Snow Tire FAQ are trying to determine what
tires they should get, The Snow Tire FAQ has two levels of
branding, Approved and Recommended, along with logos for each. When
you see one of our branding marks in an add for a snow tire on a
website, you know it is a good choice.
On The Snow Tire
FAQ website, you will also find a list of all Approved and
Recommended tires. If you should ever find a one of the logos shown
on an add for a tire that is not on the list, please contact me
so that I may deal with the issue.
Issuing of branding
marks is based on either tire feedback (Approved) or Snow Tire Test
Results (Recommended). It is not something that can be bought.
Logo signifies that a snow
tire has been approved by The Snow Tire FAQ. A tire is approved
based on the ratings submitted and, in some cases, experience. The
rating implies that the tire achieves a basic level of performance
in the snow.
Logo is reserved for tires
that I recommend. The recommendations are based on the results of
the annual tire tests and personal experience.
And now the Questions...
What does FAQ
Why a FAQ on Snow
Because there are a
lot of people with a lot of questions:-) Seriously, because it is
something I feel strongly about, and I want to provide non-biased
information. I have seen other snow tire information, but it is
usually put together by a retailer or manufacturer. Working for
neither, I feel I can be more unbiased about what I say. I don't
have any agenda to sell people snow tires. I just want them to know
why they should consider them.
The winters of 1999
and 2000 provided me with even more incentive to make the issue of
snow tires known. Both winters brought back the snowy conditions
New York saw in decades
past. With it came a dozen or so accidents that read similarly...
Sport Utility Vehicle loses control in snow weather, flips, and
causes serious injury to occupants. A couple of these actually
happened on expressway fly-overs causing the vehicle to land 20 –
30 feet below the road. Looking at the photographs of the vehicles,
two things became evident. 1) the drivers weren't being careful,
and 2) none of the vehicles had snow tires. Simply having 4WD and
ABS is not enough, as evidenced by this incident.
Do I need
As a rallyist, I
look at it this way: A set of very good snow tires runs me $400. My
deductible on my insurance is $500. If I save the $400 and then get
into an accident because I was trying to run with summer tires on a
snow covered road, I am out at least $500. So, economically, I am
better off getting $400 of snow tires than paying $500 on my
deductible and having to put up with higher insurance rates.
A couple of years
ago I discovered that the cost of a new lower control arm for my
car was about the same as that for a set of very good snow tires.
So much for saving money and running the All-Season tires that came
on the car.
Do I have to spend
$400 on snow tires?
NO, you can
probably get away with $30 / tire. Even the low cost Snow tires
(not All-Seasons) will be better than a summer tire. (BTW: A big
question is what size tires you need. 215/50 R 16s are going to be
expensive no matter what tire you buy. 165 R 13s are always
If you are willing
to leave the car home when it snows, or only drive a couple of
miles, you can probably get away without snow tires. If you plan to
drive any distance, and you live someplace is snows, you really
need to consider getting snow tires. Chains are NOT a
substitute for snow tires.
"But I have
an AWD car. I can get going in any weather!"
but can you stop? One snowy night, I was coming back along a main
road and I saw an interesting sight: A brand new Jeep CJ stuck in
the rear end of a bus. Yes, he got going faster, but it didn't help
him when he went to stop.
"But I have
ABS and traction Control"
ABS will help you
keep from locking up the brakes, but you will not stop faster than
if you had snow tires. It will also not help you turn.
Traction control is
like AWD, it gets you going, but does not help with stopping or
turning. Automobile Magazine had a very good article on why to use
snow tires a few years ago. A year before that, they totaled an MR2
because they were driving it on a snowy road without snow tires.
(At the time, they said the car handled poorly in the snow!)
A good example of
what can happen to an AWD car with ABS and summer tires can be
found on the
work fine in southern California's four seasons, none of which
includes snow. All-Season tires tend to be more of a marketing hype
then a real rating. There may be some All-Season Tires that are
good in snow, but most are junk.
A friend of mine
had All-Season Goodyear GT+4 tires on his 90 Talon TSI (AWD). At a
control I was working in a rally, he came through on time, but then
discovered that his All-Seasons tires and AWD did not help him stop
before the ditch. We spent 2.5 hours trying to get him out before
our sweep vehicle extracted him. The next year he got a good set of
Winter Snow tires and has not had problems since.
On this same rally,
I also worked the first control of the event. It was at the end of
a “seasonal use” road. When I pulled up at the top end
of the road, the snow-mobilers who were just loading up their rides
asked me where I was going. I told them I was going to the other
end of the road. “There ain't been no cars down this road in
two months. Ya' ain't gonna make it.” My RWD Volvo Turbo with
four Nokian Hakkapeliitta-10's made it without getting stuck. I did
discover that snow-mobiles do not take the same lines through
corners as cars and that their tracks are hard not to follow.
At the end of the
road, a farmer saw us and was nice enough to get out his plow
equipped tractor and make a place for us to stick our car out of
the way of the rest of the rally. A year later, he was busted for
supplementing his normal crops with a field of long leafed plants
used for “medicinal” purposes... No wonder he was so
What is the
difference between "All-Season" and "All-Weather"?
tires are not designed for severe snow conditions. They are
designed to have acceptable snow capability while providing the
best performance in summer conditions. Although most All-Season
tires have an M+S (Mud and Snow) rating, they do not meet the
Winter Service Traction Standard.
introduced an All-Weather tire,
the NRW. It meets the new Severe Winter Traction Standard, yet can
still be run year round. It was originally designed for year-round
use in Finland, the home of Nokian Tires. The NRW was one of the
is the new Severe Winter Traction Standard?
Back in 1998, many
people expressed the concern that the M+S (Mud and Snow) marking on
tires was becoming a bit of a joke. As long as the tire provided
some degree of M+S traction, it got the rating. The exact amount of
traction was a bit of a gray area based on geometric ratios. Some
M+S snow tires worked well in snow, and some barely worked
(particularly All-Season tires). To clarify the issue, the Rubber
Manufactures Association and the Rubber Association of Canada set
forth a new standard - the Severe Winter Traction Standard.
The standard was
introduced in February 1999, and is now in full effect. Many states
have already adopted it as the new standard, especially when it
comes to crossing snow covered mountain passes.
identify tires that meet this standard, a graphic symbol was
developed showing a picture of a snow flake superimposed over a
mountain range. Although most tires that meet this standard now
have it directly imprinted in the sidewall, not all of them are
marked. For instance, all Nokian winter and "All-Weather"
tires meet the standard, but the tires you order now may not yet
have the marking on them. According to a spokesperson for Nokian,
they are still in the process of updating their molds with the new
an Canadian government agency, has this list
of tires that meet the new
standard. They try to keep it up to date, but there may be errors
and / or omissions.
Okay, so I need
snow tires. Should I get studded or unstudded?
The answer to that
is complicated, but your state or province may have already forced
the choice by passing a law against studded snow tires.
Studded snow tires
are a trade off. If you are on hard packed (frozen) mud, or ice,
they will grab better than anything except screws
and (possibly) chains. On the dry,
they will actually have less traction than the same snow tire
without studs. This is because on the dry pavement, you will
actually be running partly on the studs and you will not have as
much rubber in contact with the road.
Other draw backs to
studs include that they are much noisier, and some people claim
they chew up roads.
So, What choices
do I have?
manufacturers make a true Mud & Snow (M+S) tire. Many now make
tires that meet the Severe
Winter Traction Standard.
Even among those with the same ratings (M&S, Severe Winter
Traction), the differences between the tires often come down to
trade offs made in design and purpose.
Deep, heavy snow is
much like mud. It requires a tire with large tread blocks and good
size openings. The tire must be able to dig in yet not get clogged
at low speeds. If the tire can not expel the snow, it will start
making itself into a snow ball. This type of tire is the "classic"
M+S design. Classically, the blocks are large and have large voids
(empty spaces) between them. The tires sold for most trucks
(designed to see mud, regardless if they ever do) are
representative of this tread.
Lighter snow –
often found when the weather turns really cold, and there are no
salt trucks – allows a different tread design. The snow tires
designed for high speed driving in the snow are often designed for
lighter snow. The tread blocks are closer, smaller, often cut with
sipes (little grooves). Because the tread design relies on
centrifugal force to throw snow out of the tread, these tires often
do not work well at low speeds.
is a special case. The best tires for ice have 1/2" sheet
metal screws protruding from them. To make the tires, holes are
drilled through the tread and then screws are literally screwed
into the holes from the inside of the tire. Next, a layer of
protective material is put in. Since the holes will let air out, an
inner tube is used when the tires are mounted. The tires work on
ice because the screws chew into the ice to provide traction.
Needless to say, these tires are not welcomed on most public roads.
A more road-worthy
solution for ice is studded snow tires. Metal studs are inserted in
factory drilled holes in the tires. Since the holes are put in by
the factory and are not all the way through the tire, the tires do
not need an inner tube. The pattern and number of studs will make a
difference on the performance of the tire. In general, the more
studs, the better the ice performance of the tire and the worse the
dry pavement performance. (With studded tires, you are actually
always running partly on the studs.)
There are also
newer designs that work well on ice but do not use studs. The
snow tires do not work as
well as studs, but they do a very good job.
"Can I stud
the snow tires I am already using?"
The answer is NO.
Once you have run on the tires, the holes for the studs become
clogged. Even if you could force a stud back in the hole, it is not
likely to stay. You can always remove studs from a snow tire, but
you can not put them in once it has been used.
“How do I remove studs from a tire?”
The procedure is
really simple. Pull out the studs. Most people who embark on this
use a pair of pliers and a great deal of patience. I have also
heard that squirting soapy waters in and around the holes helps. If
you use the soapy water, be sure to wash it off before you try to
drive on the tires. Never use oil. It can harm the rubber and does
not come off nearly as well as soap.
About Studless (Friction) Ice Tires?”
Up until recently,
there was a big gap between studded snow tires and non-studded snow
tires when it came to performance on ice. Bridgestone, Nokian and
Dunlop are just a few of the manufactures that have closed that
gap. Although these tires work very well on bare ice, they do not
perform as well on snow covered ice, but if your state has outlawed
studs or you object to the noise of studs, they are worth
Now I know about
tires, what is out there?
Tires are almost a
religion to some people. I tend to have my personal favorites based
on my experience in running aggressive night rallies in winter in
the "outback" of New York State. Cost is much less of a
concern for me than is being able to run through 2 inches of snow
without losing much in terms of handling and performance.
For the last few
has made a very interesting tire –
the Blizzak. The tire is a true snow tire, but it is not designed
to be studded. The tire uses both a unique tread design and
compound to achieve its performance in snow and ice. For several
years after its introduction, the Blizzak was the choice of winter
rallyists who did not run studded tires.
The tread is unique
in a couple of ways. First, the tread has many sipes to help
remove the water and to form edges to help cut into the ice.
Second, the tread is made out of two different rubber compounds.
The tread compounds are not side-by-side as was done on the Pirelli
P-77, but rather stacked on top of
each other. The outer, soft compound is specifically designed for
traction on ice. Underneath that is an All-Season tread compound.
The tread depth has been increased so that you can get long service
out of both compounds. The people I have talked to tend to
anticipate 2 years as a real snow tire and a year as an All-Season
tire. The Blizzak has 2 sets of wear bars, so you can see where you
are on both tread compounds.
favorite for winter tires are Nokian Hakkapeliitta. Nokian
is a Finnish company and the
Hakkapeliita is the name of their line of snow tires. The word
refers to legendary snow warriors.
There are several
Hakka's designed to be studded. Nokian studded snow tires typically
have 2 times the number of stud holes then other snow tires. This
excess of studs really helps their ice traction.
The legendary NR-09
was the tire that first introduced me to Nokian. [Back then it was
still called Nokia.] It is presently only offered in a few narrow
Next came the
NR-10. The NR-10 has better traction then the 'legendary' NR-09 and
features a uni-directional tread design. The compound on the NR-10
is softer then the NR-09, so tread wear is higher. The sidewalls
are also less stiff, giving the tire better grip on irregular snow,
but less precision when turning.
is the successor the the NR-10. It is another great snow tire. The
Hakka-1 has a firmer sidewall then the NR-10, and therefore has
better response to driver input. Like the NR-10, it also features a
non-studded tires, the NRW is the only one I have experience with.
It is a great tire. It was reviewed
is a non-studded tire designed for ice traction, but I have yet to
Another tire that
in 2001 was the Dunlop
Graspic DS-1. It has the
best ice traction, but is a bit disappointing when you try to
Vredestein is a
private, Dutch company. In 2001, the SnowTrac
It is a very capable snow tire that is worth a look.
What Size Tire
Should I Run?
This is always a
compromise. The best tire to cut through deep snow is a narrow one.
The worst is a wide one. Unfortunately, the best tire for lateral
traction is a wide tire. So, what is your choice?
Another piece of
the puzzle is dictated by the rim sizes you have or can get. If you
only have a 16x8" set of rims, then you will end up running a
wide snow tire.
over the years, I have 5 sets of rims of varying sizes that I use.
This gives me a choice of tire sizes for different conditions. The
stock tire size on my Volvos have been very similar in overall
diameter. They were 165 15, 195/60 R 15, and 195/65 R 15. My
“normal” snow tire size is a 185/65 R 15 on 15x6”
rims. For running winter rallies in Canada, I have a set of
165/80R15s mounted on narrow, 15x4.5” rims. The third set I
have is 185/70 R 14 mounted on 14x5.5” rims.
On my Mitsubishi
Galant VR-4 I use 185/65 R
15s tires (yes, carefully planned to be the same as my Volvo).
These are mounted on 15x5.5” steel rims I had modified to fit
the car. [Mitsubishi did not offer 15” steel rims for the '91
and '92 Galant VR-4's, and the oversized stock brakes do not allow
for 14” rims.] The original tire size was 190/60 R 15.
How many snow
tires should I buy?
many as you have wheels on your car. For most people, this is four.
If you put only two snow tire on your car, one end of the car will
have better traction than the other. This applies both on dry and
snow covered roads. In the snow, the snow tires will have better
traction. In the dry, the regular tires will have better traction.
The difference in
traction means that when you brake, turn, or accelerate, the two
ends of the car will want to behave differently. If the back end
has worse traction, you will spin. If the front end has worse
traction, you will keep going straight, even while trying to brake.
Neither is really a nice thing to have happen in a panic situation.
But, I used to put
two snow tires on the back of my....
It really is your choice. You will find that if you invest in high
performance snow and pavement tires, the miss-match is a lot worse
then you ever got with the $20 special bias-plies. Many tire
manufacturers and retailers are now unwilling to sell just two snow
tires because they do not want to be liable for the consequences.
If you do decide to only go with two
snow tires, put them on the back of the car, regardless if it is
FWD, RWD, 4WD or AWD. It is a lot easier to deal with the car
understeering (wanting to go straight) than it is with the car
wanting to oversteer (spin).
Another thing to
watch out for is mixing different brands of snow tires. I know of
one person who ran two different brands of snow tires on his car,
and depending on which end of the car he put which brand made the
car either very easy to drive or completely undrivable.
If you do nothing
else, always match tires on the same axle. They should be the same
brand, type, pressure, and have the same wear. (I am talking no
gross differences in wear, and ignoring tire pressure changes for
racing, etc.) A tire with little tread will not do as well
in the snow as one with most of its tread.
those of you who missed it before, I will state it
again: The cost of four snow tires is probably less then the
deductible on your insurance!
Who makes snow
There are many
brands of snow tires available. Here is a short list
Where can I get
It would be almost
impossible to list every tire outlet in every place people access
this web page from. [I have gotten hits from places as from from
the Unites States as Jamacia, Europe, Africa, Austrailia, and
Asia.] Luckily, I don't have to. Most manufactures provide dealer
information on their web sites. Please look check out the links in
of snow tire makers.
What about hard to
I have received a
few questions about hard to find sizes.
165 R 15
Here are some
suggestions. (I have not driven all of these, but this is what my
research has yielded.)
Utility Vehicle Sizes
This list is a bit
shorter. Many of the companies I have talked to have them in the
works, but they will not be available until next year.
20 Inch Tires
I'm still working on this, and will be posting
something when I find out more.