Fallon’s own Daanesh Chanduwadia, our resident car expert working with our Cadillac client, recently shared some information about winter driving and autos—specifically tires. Read on as he explains the differences in winter tires and what they mean for our cars and our safety.

“All-Season” tires aren’t meant for these low Minnesota temperatures, and aren’t necessarily developed for more than a dusting of snow. (The term “all-season” was made up by a savvy marketer at Goodyear a few decades ago, and because of its success has been perpetuated by marketers ever since.) Below about 40 degrees, the rubber on “all-season” tires gets hard and slippery, and reaches what engineers call a “glass point,” increasing your chances of sliding into something.

There’s a new test standard awkwardly named “severe service.”
 This term doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or seem relevant, but it really should be the standard people in the snow belt demand when they purchase tires.

An all-season tire just has to look a certain way; it’s not tested by the government. A tire with a “mountain and snowflake” on the sidewall has to pass government traction standards in winter conditions and its rubber remains flexible at lower temperatures.

It’s a broad category, but don’t think these “performance winter” tires are the noisy “snow tires” that make your car sound and drive like a truck. And don’t think you can’t drive on them 365 days a year. (Choose the right one, and neither is true so long as you don’t spend your summers at the racetrack or drifting around corners. My favorites are quieter and more grippy in the dry than all-season tires.)

If you want even more winter safety, you can get a tire that’s better on ice, but then you give up traction on dry days, and these tires wear out faster in the summer. These are best for those willing to swap summer shoes for winter boots twice a year. As for cost, you’re basically prepaying for your next set and spreading the wear out over time.

For those of you who are thinking, “But, I’ve got AWD,” bear in mind that all-wheel drive only helps you get going. It’s the tires that let you stop and turn. In fact, testing shows AWD cars benefit more from winter tires than 2WD cars.

(My own mother used to be petrified of driving in the snow. Now she enjoys it in her RWD BMW on “Daanesh-approved” tires, and gives her friends with SUVs rides on snowy days when their SUVs get stuck. I myself am getting a cheap RWD car with severe service tires to get me through the winter.)

What else?

(1) If you’re replacing just two tires, ALWAYS put them on the REAR, no matter what you drive (yes, even on a front-wheel drive vehicle).

(2) Don’t wait until your mechanic or the state says it’s time—a tire’s pretty useless in the snow once it has less than 55-60% tread depth, not the 18-20% mechanics and state laws go by. (To test the tread, use a quarter—not a penny.)

(3) And, while not tire/safety-related, letting your car warm up before driving is actually more damaging to the engine than waiting for about 30 seconds and then driving gently until the needle reaches “normal.” Many of your owners’ manuals will confirm this.

(4) Running the A/C in the winter makes you warmer faster. (The engine warms quicker, and dry air heats faster than cool air.) Added bonuses: The A/C keeps your windows from fogging and you’re A/C system from drying out/leaking.

(5) If there’s anything synthetic oils do better, it’s flow at low temperatures. So, consider using synthetic oils unless you’re leasing or don’t plan on keeping the car very long.
Check out an earlier interview he conducted with Slate.com.