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Even if you have a set of all-season tires on your car, you might want to consider switching to a winter tire once summer is over. Although they're often called snow tires, calling them winter tires is more accurate because they're designed for all the conditions that are part of driving in winter weather.

What qualifies as winter weather? Well, snow is the obvious answer, but low temperatures are also a big part of the picture. The going wisdom is that if you live in an area where the temperatures fall below 45 degrees for a good chunk of the year, then you should be using winter tires regardless of snowfall.

"It's a good idea to install winter tires when the ambient temperature is consistently at or below 45 degrees when you're typically driving. In general, this is the temperature threshold when summer or all-season tire compounds become less effective and start to stiffen. Once temperatures are consistently above 45 degrees in the spring, it's appropriate to switch back to either summer or all-season tires," said Ian McKenney, senior product manager at Bridgestone Americas.

Winter tires have treads that help maintain traction on snow and ice, channeling slush and water away from the contact patch. They're also specially formulated with rubber compounds that maintain their flexibility as temperatures drop. You don't need snow to reap the benefits of driving with a winter tire.

When exactly to put on the winter tires may change from year-to-year and where you live. "The calendar date will vary from region to region -- in our area, we use Thanksgiving to Tax Day as a general rule of thumb. A good guideline to use is this -- if you can consistently see your breath, you should be on your winter tires" said TJ Campbell, tire information and testing manager at Tire Rack.

Our picks for winter tires include options for every kind of vehicle from SUVs to trucks to sports cars. The tires on our list are rated highly by both experts and consumers who purchased them for use on their personal vehicles. These tires not only help maintain traction and control in winter weather, but also provide good overall handling and a smooth, quiet ride. All feature the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol on the sidewall to indicate a severe snow service rating. Make sure to read on after our picks for handy tips on how to pick and care for winter tires.

Tire Rack

Our top pick winter tire pick from Bridgestone is highly rated by both consumers and experts for its superior performance in winter conditions. The Bridgestone Blizzak WS90 has a tread pattern that provides stiffness for better steering while also extending tread life. A unique compound allows a thin layer of water to collect between the rubber and ice, which helps improve traction in slick conditions. The use of silica in the compound further improves traction on ice and snow.

The Bridgestone Blizzak WS90 receives top marks for its performance in all winter weather from ice to deep snow. It also performs well on wet and dry roads with good ratings for both its ride quality and noise levels. There is no treadwear warranty included for this Bridgestone tire.

Tire Rack

Our runner-up for best winter tires overall from Michelin is designed for cars, minivans and crossovers. The Michelin X-Ice Snow is ready to handle everything from cold, dry winter roads to deep snow. It has a special tread compound that creates roughness for better grip on snow and ice. The tire compound also incorporates silica, which helps maintain flexibility. Wide grooves keep water away from the contact patch to reduce the chance of hydroplaning while also increasing traction in the snow.

Customers rate the Michelin X-Ice Snow 2 highly for its performance in deep snow, light snow and ice as well as on cold, wet roads. They praise both this tire's ride quality and low noise levels and rate it highly for treadwear. A six-year or 40,000-mile treadwear warranty is included on this snow tire.

Tire Rack

This Continental winter tire has a lower price point but doesn't sacrifice quality or performance. Designed for cars, crossovers and minivans, the VikingContact 7 provides traction on snow, slush, and ice while still delivering good handling when the roads are dry. The rubber compound of this tire uses canola oil to maintain its flexibility along with silica to ensure good braking when the roads are wet. The tread pattern pulls water away from the contact patch with biting edges to enhance grip in heavy snow.

The Continental VikingContact 7 snow tire is rated highly by customers for its performance on both snow and ice as well as how it handles on wet and dry roads. It also provides a comfortable ride with a minimum of road noise intruding into the cabin. It gets excellent ratings for treadwear, but doesn't have a treadwear warranty from Continental.

Tire Rack

The Bridgestone Blizzak makes a second appearance on our list, this time as a winter tire designed for pickups, crossovers and SUVs. The Blizzak DM-V2 focuses on providing good traction and confident braking combined with wet weather performance to avoid hydroplaning. It's made with microscopic particles that provide added grip with a compound that maintains flexibility in cold weather. Wide grooves in the tire help push slush and water away from the contact patch while the edges of the tire provide good grip in heavy snow.

Ratings for this Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2 snow tire are strong on all fronts with high ratings for light and deep snow as well as ice. It also does well on wet or dry roads with a comfortable ride and low noise levels. There's no treadwear warranty for this tire from Bridgestone.

Tire Rack

The Firestone Winterforce 2 UV is a snow tire designed for crossovers and SUVs to provide the traction you need during winter weather. This tire is also studdable for those who drive in the most extreme conditions in areas where studdable tires are allowed. It has a compound designed to stay flexible in cold temperatures. There are also deep circumferential grooves to keep water and slush away from the contact patch with biting edges for traction in heavy snow. Twin steel belts deliver strength with a polyester casing to maintain the ride quality.

Consumer ratings for this Firestone Winterforce 2 UV snow tire are high in both light and heavy snow as well as on ice. It's also well-rated on wet and dry roads and has a comfortable ride. There is no treadwear warranty for this tire from Firestone.

Tire Rack

This General Tire Grabber Arctic LT winter tire is designed for drivers of heavy-duty trucks, SUVs and full-size vans and accommodates optional metal studs. It has a chip-resistant rubber compound formulated for winter weather conditions to maintain flexibility even when temperatures drop below freezing. The tread design provides stability for heavier loads with strong shoulder blocks. It also improves wet weather braking while delivering bite on snowy roads.

This is a good tire in a wide range of weather conditions. The General Tire Grabber Arctic LT is highly rated for light and heavy snow and gets good marks for traction in icy conditions. Wet and dry performance also received high marks from consumers with a comfortable ride and good treadwear. There is no treadwear warranty for this tire from General Tire.

Tire Rack

Making its second appearance on our best winter tires list is the Firestone Winterforce 2 UV. This time it's our runner-up for best winter tires for pickup trucks. This tire is designed for light duty trucks, SUVs, minivans and crossovers. It has a cold-weather compound that maintains flexibility as temperatures drop. Circumferential grooves help channel water away from the contact patch to reduce hydroplaning on wet roads. The tread pattern provides good grip on snow and ice with two internal steel belts that add strength and improve the ride.

The Winterforce 2 UV does well on snowy roads whether lightly covered or coated in heavier snow with good traction on icy roads. Wet and dry performance were also rated highly with good hydroplaning resistance. There's no treadwear warranty for this Firestone snow tire.

Tire Rack

If you drive a performance vehicle that you don't plan to take off the road during the winter months, then you should strongly consider getting a winter tire. This is especially true if you have a summer performance tire most of the year, which won't give you the traction you need when temperatures drop. This Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 snow tire is designed for sports cars with low rolling resistance and to deliver good traction in winter weather.

The Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 features a silica and sunflower tread compound with a tread that wraps around the shoulder to ensure traction during hard acceleration. There are twin internal steel belts to provide strength and improve ride comfort. Customers give it high ratings on everything from dry roads to deep snow with good marks for comfort and treadwear. A six-year or 30,000-mile treadwear warranty is included on this snow tire from Michelin.

Tire Rack

While some performance vehicles are tucked away until spring, performance SUVs often get plenty of use during the winter months. This Pirelli Scorpion Winter snow tire is designed specifically for those high-performance SUVs and crossovers. It has a rubber compound with a polymer blend ideal for low temperatures with silica for enhanced grip and handling. It also has a rounded tread profile for better stability on dry roads and circumferential grooves to prevent hydroplaning and maintain traction on wet and slushy roads.

Customers give this Pirelli tire top marks for its performance in light and heavy snow as well as for its performance on icy roads. It also does well on wet roads and even dry roads and received praise for its ride quality and its low noise levels, too. There is no treadwear warranty for this tire from Pirelli.

Tire Rack

This Pirelli run-flat winter tire lets you continue driving after a loss of air pressure for roughly 50 miles at speeds of no more than 50 miles per hour. Especially if road conditions are snowy or icy, a damaged tire should be repaired or replaced as soon as possible. This winter tire has twin internal steel belts for stability and helps the tire withstand fluctuating air and road temperatures. It features a reinforced sidewall to aid in its run-flat capability and a tread compound that maintains its flexibility in cold winter weather.

Customers gave the Pirelli Winter Sottozero 3 Run Flat top marks for driving light snow as well as traction when roads are wet or dry. It delivers a comfortable ride without undue noise and exhibits good treadwear. There is no treadwear warranty for this Pirelli snow tire.

Tire Rack

This studdable snow tire from General Tire is designed for cars, crossovers and SUVS. It has a compound focused on winter performance with a rigid center rib to provide good steering response. The contour of the tread on the General Tire Altimax Arctic 12 distributes pressure evenly across the tire for better wear to improve overall tire life. The tread is patterned to draw water and slush away from the contact patch while providing good traction on snow and ice. Two wide steel belts provide additional strength and stability to this winter tire.

Customers give the General Tire Altimax Arctic 12 high marks for its performance in deep snow and light snow as well as icy conditions. It does well on wet and dry roads, too, and gets good marks for comfort with especially high marks for its treadwear. There is no treadwear warranty included for this snow tire. 

Comparison of the best winter tires for 2022


Tire Sizes Starting price
Best winter tires overall Bridgestone Blizzak WS90 14-19 inches $110
Best winter tires overall runner-up Michelin X-Ice Snow 14-20 inches $118
Best cheap winter tires Continental VikingContact 7 15-20 inches $97
Best winter tires for SUVs Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2 15-20, 22 inches $142
Best winter tires for SUVs runner-up Firestone Winterforce 2 UV 15-18 inches $120
Best winter tires for pickup trucks General Tire Grabber Arctic LT 16-18, 20 inches $217
Best winter tires for pickup trucks runner-up Firestone Winterforce 2 UV 15-18 inches $120
Best winter tires for sports cars Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 18-21 inches $254
Best winter tires for performance SUVs Pirelli Scorpion Winter 17-22 inches $151
Best run-flat winter tires Pirelli Sottozero 3 Run Flat 17-21 inches $202
Best studded winter tires General Tire Altimax Arctic 12 14-18 inches $120
Tire Rack

What is a winter tire?

Tires ensure your vehicle maintains traction with the road. They're essential for your safety. The variety of vehicles and weather conditions drivers encounter has created a wide range of tires from which to choose, including winter tires. You may also see winter tires referred to as snow tires, but they're not just for heavy snow.

Thinking of them as winter tires gives you a much better idea of when you should put them on your vehicle since winter isn't always snowy. It's also cold, which is a big consideration in a winter tire. The rubber compounds in these tires are designed to stay flexible even as temperatures drop.

Imagine a chocolate bar. At room temperature it's solid, but if temperatures rise it melts. Put a candy bar in the freezer and it gets too hard to eat. Rubber does the same thing. A winter tire maintains its flexibility in cold weather rather than becoming brittle.

It also has tread patterns specifically designed for snow. "A winter tire is a tire specifically designed to perform in snow, ice, and cold weather conditions. This is achieved through specialized tread rubber compounds that remain flexible in cold temperatures and unique tread patterns that feature designs to trap snow for excellent traction, increased number of slots and sipes for biting edges on snow and ice, and additional tread depth to channel away slush and water," said McKenney.

Volvo

These tires can manage dry and wet roads, but they also provide traction on snow and ice so you stay in control. An all-season tire provides some of this capability, but without the specialization of a winter tire. In extreme conditions in particular, a winter tire is the best tire for winter weather.

"All-season tires are designed to be used in what is really a very wide range of conditions. They need to be capable in the heat of summer, freezing temperatures, snow, rain and everything in-between. Because they're essentially trying to be all things to all drivers, they end up being compromised in every metric," said Campbell. "Winter tires, on the other hand, are highly specialized. They focus on providing the best possible traction in a very specific set of conditions -- winter weather. From cold, clear days to extreme, sub-zero temperatures; light snow; deep snow; slush; ice; and that wonderful wintry mix meteorologists love to talk about. This is where winter tires excel, and as anyone who has experienced a good winter tire can tell you, there really is no comparison".

Some winter tires are studdable. This means that metal studs can be inserted into the rubber to provide additional traction. Most people will be just fine with an unstudded tire. "In modern times, there isn't really a need for studdable winter tires for a normal consumer. Studdable winter tires were a traditional way to increase the ice traction of a typical winter tire by adding metal studs that scratch the ice surface while accelerating or braking. However, in many places studded tires have been outlawed due to the road damage created by these studs," said McKenney.

If you choose to get one with studs, be sure you're in compliance with local laws. The use of studded winter tires is regulated, with limitations on where and when they can be used, so be sure to check studded tire regulations where you live.

Jon Wong/CNET Cars

Types of tires

Tires are divided into several categories. It seems like a lot to figure out, but it's all designed to help you get the best tire for how you drive your car.

  • Touring: This is a good all-around tire suited to most cars. It provides a smooth ride with a nice balance of comfort and traction.
  • Grand touring: These tires put a higher priority on reduced noise, vibration and harshness to deliver an even smoother, quieter ride. They also come at a higher price.
  • Highway: A highway tire delivers a well-mannered ride that focuses on passenger comfort during highway driving, much like a grand touring tire. It also makes high-speed traction and cornering a priority. These often include H/T in their description.
  • Summer: A summer tire is designed to provide peak performance during hot dry weather. It has compounds formulated for higher temperatures, so it won't get too soft in the heat and suffer premature treadwear.
  • Winter: Best when temperatures are below 40 degrees or in significant snow, winter tire compounds won't get stiff or brittle in the cold. Look for the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol to ensure you have a tire rated for severe winter weather.
  • Off-road: Off-road tires are at their best on rugged terrain. They have deep tread patterns that often extend up onto the sidewall for added protection against sticks and sharp rocks that can puncture those sidewalls. The downside is they aren't as quiet or comfortable for passengers. You may see an "A/T" (for "all-terrain") included in the names of these tires.
  • Run-flat tires: A run-flat tire is designed to remain inflated for a short time even when it's punctured. That doesn't mean that it can run forever, but it should be able to go long enough to find a place to repair or replace the tire. These tires include RFT in the name to indicate that they are run flats.
Emme Hall/CNET Cars

Reading a Tire Sidewall

The sidewall provides specific information about a tire. There's a method to the madness so once you know the formula, you can read the sidewall on any tire and know exactly what kind of tire is on your vehicle. Let's break down the basics.

Example: P 225/50 R 17 98 H

  • Tire class: P stands for a P-Metric or passenger tire. Light truck tires have an LT.
  • Width: This number (225) is the width of the tread in millimeters from side to side.
  • Aspect ratio: This number indicates the height of the sidewall as a percentage of the width, which is 50% in our example.
  • Construction type: The R stands for radial, which is pretty much all you'll see these days.
  • Rim diameter: This is the diameter of the wheel that this tire will fit. Our tire fits a 17-inch wheel.
  • Load index: Covering a rating range from 70 to 126, this number lets you know how much weight a tire can safely manage and is something you should pay close attention to if you plan to tow or carry a payload in your truck.
  • Speed rating: Depending on the letter, your tires may be rated anywhere from 75 mph to 186 mph. An H tire falls in the middle with a rating of 130 mph. Regardless of your tire speed rating, always obey posted speed limits.
Jon Wong/CNET Cars

Caring for tires

If you only do one thing to maintain your tires, check the inflation. It's the single biggest factor in premature tire wear. An under or over inflated tire will wear sooner than expected and it won't perform up to its original specifications. This is especially important in winter weather when traction gets iffy on snow and ice.

This isn't something you can check once and ignore. A tire loses about 1 psi per month even if temperatures don't change. Add another psi for every 10 degrees in temperature change. Tires properly inflated in August may be woefully underinflated by the end of September. Take the time to check the pressure and make sure it's within specifications.

"Inflation pressure allows a tire to do everything it's supposed to do," said Campbell. "If your tire is underinflated by 20%, then its life could be reduced by as much as 50%," he said. Checking tire pressure regularly should be a regular part of your vehicle maintenance routine.

"Since winter tires use softer compounds and typically have deeper tread depths and heavily siped patterns that lead to more squirm, they can be more susceptible to irregular wear than other tire types. Because of that, I would try to rotate them more frequently than summer or all-season tires," said Campbell.

Emme Hall/CNET Cars

Don't wait for the tire pressure light on your dashboard. Be proactive and make sure it never gets that low in the first place. If you're not sure of the correct tire pressure for your tires, then look at the door jamb and you should see a sticker that has the information.

McKenney stressed the importance of not leaving your winter tires on all year long. "Switch tires over to all-season or summer tires when the temperatures get warm. Winter tires are designed with softer, more flexible tread compounds to perform in cold weather conditions. When the temperatures heat up, that same flexible tread compound will wear down quickly," he said.

Tire rotation is also key. Campbell recommends rotating your tires every 5,000 to 7,500 miles, but you can rotate them sooner, especially with new tires. "Tires are most susceptible to wear when they're new," he said, so rotating early is not a bad idea.

Rotation patterns may be front to back, side to side, or a combination of the two. Check your owner's manual and follow the manufacturer's recommendations.

You should also have your alignment periodically checked. Rough winter roads, especially those potholes hidden by the snow, can ruin your alignment. You may feel a vibration in the steering wheel, but sometimes poor alignment shows no signs to the driver. Check it regularly to avoid uneven tire wear that may require early tire replacement.

Volvo

Storing winter tires

When summer comes and it's time to swap your winter tires for summer or all-season tires, you can't just toss your winter tires in a corner of the garage. They need to be properly stored so they're ready for use when winter returns.

"Before storing winter tires, make sure they're clean by removing all dirt debris and grime," said McKenney. "Keep tires out of sunlight to avoid UV degradation and radiant heat. This may mean using a tire cover or storing them in airtight plastic bags."

In addition to being clean and stored away from the sun, temperature should be considered when you're thinking about where to store your winter tires. "Look for a clean storage space that is cool and dry and not subject to large temperature swings," McKenney added. "Consider storing tires away from electric motors including furnaces and sump pumps that create ozone which can harm tires."

If you're storing your tires on the wheels, then there are a few extra steps to take. Campbell advised, "If they're being stored on the wheels (mounted), then wash the wheels and tires, and apply a coat of wax to the wheels only. Deflate the tires to 50% of their normal pressure and then store using the same recommendations as above. Don't forget to reinflate before installing them next season."

Michelin

When should you replace a tire?

Sometimes a tire is too damaged to drive and needs to be replaced. This kind of damage, including bulges, bald spots, tears, or cracks is cause for immediate replacement. A tire with these issues could fail unexpectedly and cause an accident.

A punctured tire, even a run-flat, requires immediate attention. A repair may be possible, but this varies from case to case. Have an expert evaluate the tire to see if a repair is advised or if a replacement is necessary.

Uneven tread wear is also cause for replacement, whether it's a bald spot or a smooth band that runs along one section of the tire. If some of the tread is fine, that's not good enough. A tire with uneven tread wear should be replaced.

A low tread is also a sign that replacement is needed. Some tires have wear bars that help show when the tread is low. If not, you can easily check the tread yourself. Take a penny and put it into the tread with Lincoln's head facing down. If you see the top of Lincoln's head over the edge of the tread, then it's below 2/32 of an inch and needs replacement.

While this is a recommended minimum and the legal limit in some states, you don't have to wait that long. Swap the penny for a quarter and look for the top of Washington's head. This shows a tread of 4/32 of an inch and means you should be replacing your tires soon.

Even tires with a good tread have an expiration date just like food because rubber degrades with time. A tire should be replaced ten years from the date of manufacture or six years after it was placed in service no matter its wear levels.

If you're unsure about inspecting your tires, then take them to a professional. They can tell you if your tires are safe or if they need replacement.

Emme Hall/CNET Cars

What makes for a good winter tire?

"For any tire to perform the tasks asked of it, it has to have the right combination of three attributes -- a proper tread compound, a proper tread pattern and proper tread depth. The best winter tires use very specialized compounds that remain pliable in even the coldest of weather," said Campbell. "Often they include microscopic grit in the rubber compound to increase traction on low-friction surfaces, and many are porous, which wicks water away from the surface of icy roads."

He also stressed the importance of the tread patterns. "Winter tire tread patterns typically utilize an extreme number of sipes to create additional biting edges for enhanced traction in slippery conditions. They also include features that help trap snow in the tread pattern for enhanced snow-to-snow traction and they often have strategically designed groove patterns to help evacuate water and slush from the footprint," he said.

Even the depth of the tread matters. According to Campbell, "Winter tires often have deeper molded tread depths than non-winter tires. This creates additional void space that allows the tread pattern to process a greater quantity of snow, slush and water. They take 'big bites' instead of 'little nibbles.'"

It's also important to note that there is no one perfect tire for everyone. "Find the right tire for how, where and what you drive," said Campbell. A cheap no-name tire is not a good idea. A well-known brand is the best option because big brands do rigorous testing so you can be confident that the tire you buy will perform as expected. They also use the latest technologies from rubber compounds to tread patterns and constantly conduct research to improve tire performance.

You may pay more for a brand name, but it's the best way to be sure of the quality of the tires on your car. The wide range of tires offered by the big brands have an equally wide range of prices. Look lower in the lineup for a more affordable option if the top tires are too expensive.

Jon Wong/CNET Cars

Do you need to replace all your tires at once?

It's never good to replace only one tire. Having one brand-new tread while all the others are slightly worn can negatively impact handling. It can also reduce traction and increase wear issues on all your tires, even the one you just replaced. In a few cases when your tires are new and only one is damaged you can replace just one tire. Have a professional evaluate your specific situation to see if this is advised or if it simply won't work.

Try to replace all four tires at once so you have uniform treadwear. If your budget won't allow for four new tires, then replace either the two front or two rear tires at once. These will have similar wear, which helps reduce problems because of varying tread depths. If you can, get the exact same tires you already own for the best match.

All-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicles come with the recommendation to replace all four tires at once. If this applies to your vehicle, then you should follow those guidelines.

Written by Nicole Wakelin for CNET Cars

More tire recommendations

Winter tires FAQs

Do snow tires actually make a difference?

Yes. If you drive in winter weather, snow tires absolutely make a difference. Especially if you live where there is significant snowfall, they provide better traction in snow, ice and slush. They also have better flexibility and avoid becoming brittle as temperatures drop.

Is it worth it getting snow tires?

This one depends on where you live. Snow tires are recommended when temperatures regularly drop below 40 degrees. If winter where you live means sunny weather and temps that don't get that cold, then winter tires aren't necessary. You might consider an all-season tire instead.

If you do live where temps fall below 40 degrees for much of the year, regardless of the snowfall, then consider a set of winter tires. They'll offer better performance, which means you'll have better control of your vehicle when the road conditions are bad.

Can I use winter tires all year round?

Technically, yes, you can use winter tires all year, but it's not recommended. They'll still work in warm weather, but they'll be compromised. The rubber in a winter tire is designed for low temperatures. This means the rubber will be get too soft at summer temperatures. Not only will this detract from the tire's performance, but it will also cause your tire to wear more quickly. Switch to a summer or all-season when winter is over.

Which winter tire brand is best?

No one brand is best. There are good winter tires from multiple manufacturers including Bridgestone, Michelin and Pirelli, which are featured heavily in our recommendations. The key is to find a winter tire that is designed for the type of vehicle you drive and for your style of driving at a price you can afford.

Which winter tires last the longest?

There are a wide range of treadwear warranties for winter tires, but some have no warranty at all. If you want a long tread life, check to see what consumers who already purchased the winter tire you're considering say about its wear.

Also consider how you drive. Aggressive driving and short stops are hard on tires. And don't forget the importance of maintenance. Check inflation and alignment regularly to prevent premature wear.