Are studded snow tires worth the expense?
Does spending the extra money really make a difference in performance when you step up from an all-season tire to a studded snow tire?
The simple answer is: YES!
It is important to remember a few factors before you purchase to make sure you get the best results:
- Studded tires are louder
- They wear faster in normal dry conditions
- They are usually more expensive.
What does the research say about winter driving and tire choice?
There have been numerous studies on the design of the studs and tread pattern, to determine what combinations are most effective.
However, it’s been noted that: “Studded tires are safer in winter conditions. Indeed, some still promote the impression that those driving with the test winning tires are so convinced of the superiority of their tires that they compromise safety by driving faster” (Antila, 2012).
Even with snow tires, never drive faster than the speed limit or conditions merit.
How do I recognize a studded tire?
The easiest way to recognize a snow tire, studded snow tire, or all season is simply by having a look at the tire itself.
“The tread depth is shallowest on summer tires and deepest on snow tires/studded snow tires with sipping and “vigorous tread patterns with deep grooves in tread” (Review, 2018).
What does “M+S” mean on the side wall?
The sidewall also has markings (required by law) to identify the type of tire you are looking at.
The “M&S” symbol is very common – it appears in a number of tire variations. This symbol is referred to as “mud and snow”, but don’t be fooled – it’s actually an all season tire.
A true snow tire is marked with a distinctive mountain with a snowflake inside it, and it occasionally appears alongside the M+S as well.
The geometry of tread design is what M+S tires were based on, and it “requires no actual performance standard to achieve,” scarily enough! (Winter/Snow Tire, 2018)
Studded tires and stopping time
According to handouts from the Colorado Department of Transportation you drastically reduce your stopping time on snow at 60 mph from 800 plus feet with summer tires, to 668 feet with all season tires to the shortest distance of 310 feet with snow tires. (CDOT, 2015)
That means that snow tires reduce how far it takes you to stop by 64% when compared to all season tires. We cover this topic more extensively in our guide to “Best All Season Tires for Snow and Ice“.
In the real world, this can easily mean the difference between a collision and near avoidance. At the very least, this difference in stoppage distance can reduce the impact significantly, making it something to pay close attention to.
Even though your braking distance is significantly reduced with snow tires, this does not mean that drivers should put their tires to the test or have too much faith in the inherent safety of any tire.
What are studs for winter tires made of?
There are two basic parts to the stud that have evolved over the years in size to meet performance requirements based on application:
- “The outside part of the stud is known as the stud jacket or sleeve; a flange at the base of the stud jacket holds it in place [in the tire].
- The stud core, pin, or insert is situated within the jacket and protrudes from the tire to make contact with the pavement” (Scheibe, 2002).
Do tire studs create more dust and debris?
Some people believe tire studs create more dust on roadways, however, this has been an elusive test to prove and no current study indicates an actual increase of wear.
The compounds used in studded snow tires are hypothesized to reduce dust on roadways by picking it up, although this has not been proven conclusively.
Studded snow tires work best in temperatures at or below freezing, and their use is usually highest in regions like the Northwest US and Canada where snow/ice can be on the roads for extended periods of time.
How do I select the right winter tire for me?
Selecting the right kind of winter tire for you depends on noise, performance in acceleration/braking, and price.
There is no doubt in snow/ice conditions that studded snow tires will provide the best acceleration and reduce the braking time needed for a vehicle.
Consumer Reports puts out a great guide each year about the different types of tires out there — and there’s an added bonus: Because they are an independent, third party, you can usually rely on their findings as an unbiased source of information!
Snow tires without studs “tend to pack the snow into compact ice, while studded tires tend to wear down this surface fairly quickly” (Scheibe, 2002), while studded tires rough up the driving surface providing a net benefit to other drivers on roadways. This is contrary to what many people believe!
Here’s an interesting case study from Japan in 1993:
In that time, a “ban of studded tires in Japan resulted in ‘extremely slippery’ roads, a higher number of accidents, smoother pavement, and a 20-fold increase in the amount of anti-freezing agents applied” (Asano et al. 2001).
This result was highly unexpected, but nevertheless revealed some very interesting truths about using studded snow tires!
Are studded snow tires noisy?
Studs do create more noise, plain and simple.
If your vehicle is already noisy to begin with, studless snow tires may be the right choice for you.
Fortunately, there is a wide variety in price ranges for both snow tires and studded snow tires to fit your budget. With a good/better/best option in both categories, a studded tire and wheel package is usually more expensive (because it is more complicated).
You can save a bit of money by using the same wheel with both your winter tires and your all-seasons or summer options.
Normal tires, and before and after studding:
In the image above, you can see studded tires after studding, before studding, and a traditional snow studless snow tire.
In certain rare cases, studded snow tires may not be enough on ice.
The good news is, you can use an alternative traction device like AutoSock with these tires and get up the ‘hill’ if needed.
Antila, J. (2012). Rough Crowd. TEKNIIKAN MAAILMA, 12-22.
Asano, Motoki, M. Hirasawa, and S. Oikawa, “Recent Situation of Winter Road Management and Traffic Accidents in Hokkaido,” Transportation Research Record 1741, Washington D.C., 2001.
Car and Light Truck Studs. (2019, December 31). Retrieved from Bruno Wessel: https://brunowessel.com/tire-studs/car-light-truck-studs/
CDOT. (2015). Colorado Department of Transportation. Retrieved from https://autosock.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Colorado-Chain-Laws.pdf
Petersen, G. (2017, March 16). Consumer Reports. Retrieved from Consumer Reports: https://www.consumerreports.org/winter-snow-tires/choosing-best-winter-snow-truck-tires/
Review, T. (2018). Weather, The Right ‘Shoes” for the Weather. Tire Review, 106. Retrieved from Tirereview.
Scheibe, R. R. (2002, October). AN OVERVIEW OF STUDDED AND STUDLESS TIRE TRACTION AND SAFETY. Retrieved from Washington State Department of Transportation: https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/research/reports/fullreports/551.1.pdf
Studded Tires. (2018, December 31). Retrieved from Nokian: https://www.nokiantires.com/tires/passenger-car/studded-tires/
Tire Review. (2018, October 9). The Right ‘Shoes” for the Weather. Tire Review, p. 106.
Tire Studs. (2018, December 31). Retrieved from Ugigrip: https://www.ugigrip.com/
WINTER / SNOW TIRE TECH: WHAT IS THE THREE-PEAK MOUNTAIN SNOWFLAKE SYMBOL?(2018, December 31). Retrieved from Tire Rack: https://www.tirerack.com/tires/tiretech/techpage.jsp?techid=125
Winter/Snow Tire. (2018, December 31). Retrieved from Tire Rack: https://www.tirerack.com/tires/tiretech/techpage.jsp?techid=125