At about 7 C and below, the rubber in all-season and summer tires begin to harden, drastically reducing their ability to safely grip the road. Winter-specific tires are formulated to continue to provide flexibility, even in sub-zero environments dipping as low as -30 C.
Winter tires feature deeper and more prevalent siping, or thin slits cut horizontally across the tread, designed to create more movement and essentially “bite” onto ice as well as any snow that may be clinging to the road. A more aggressive tread pattern also reduces the chance of snow build-up.
In panic situations, drivers sometimes have the tendency to stomp on the brake pedal. This can especially be a problem with stiff, season-inappropriate tires likely to respond by skidding over a cold, slippery surface. Proper winter tires stay soft and have a better chance of helping the vehicle regain composure. In fact, reports show the stopping distance for the latter can be up to 30 per cent better.
As tires roll over frozen pavement the ice beneath melts, which creates a layer of water a car can potentially slide uncontrollably over. Winter tires reduce this unpleasant phenomenon, known as hydroplaning, through the use of specialty grooves that push the water off to the side.
During the times the white stuff does fall, winter tires are typically offered in skinnier sizing compared to OEM. The narrower width increases the pounds per square inch of pressure exerted, resulting in the tires having an easier time cutting through snow rather than floating overtop of it.