by Clint Burgess
As the recent biting cold has signified, winter is fast approaching. It's time to batten down the hatches and settle in for the next four months of nasty weather. Break out the ice scraper and start considering the question that many drivers are racking their brains with: What snow tires to buy?
On the road to the proper outfitting of your vehicle with the rubber that is going to provide the best traction for your buck, there are many options. In our neck of the woods, more often than not it pays to go the studded route, but that isn't to say there aren't other options. According to Washington state law, studded snow tires may be used from Nov. 1 through March 31. Corey Thomas of Les Schwab on Francis knows exactly when the studs are legal. "Normally November 1st is our busiest day. We get people in here who plan ahead and get their mounting out of the way," says Thomas. Studded tires traditionally offer the best in winter traction and Thomas says that's pretty much what the majority of people go with. Les Schwab can roll you out the door with a set of HS404 model studded snow tires for $340. After studs are legal, the first sign of snow fall marks the madness of getting winter snow tires. "We get absolutely slammed," Thomas says of the first snow. "We come in at 6 am and we don't leave until we're done, which is usually about 11 or 12 at night."
The past few winters in the Spokane area have been pretty mild in comparison to harsh winters of the past. This has made it possible for the "all-season" tire actually to be relevant during winter driving conditions. Vehicles with front or all-wheel drive can combine the added control of the vehicle's drive alignment with the traction of a heavy-duty all-season and end up with a pretty stable ride. It's a gamble when traveling outside the area or up to the mountain, but around town it is doable. Another plus is that true to their name, all-season tires are for just that, all seasons. For the frugal tire shopper, this is a way to make your dollar last year round. If it comes down to it, these tires can be coupled with a good set of chains to tame the wild tundra that is the snow-covered roadway.
Finally, a recent development in the world of winter tires is siping. This new practice involves putting lots of small cuts in the tread face of the tire to create more traction in winter driving conditions. It can add an additional 20 percent traction on compact snow and ice -- and it also allows the tire to run cooler in the summer months, extending the life of the tire overall. "It's really starting to catch on," Thomas explains. "Even if someone uses studded snow tires, a lot of people are getting their all-seasons siped for the additional performance." While most people are still going with studded snow tires, siping offers an economical alternative.
As the snow gets closer, we all run the risk of being left out in the cold at the tire shop, but it doesn't have to be the annual headache that it sometimes turns out to be. Just a few precautions may be the difference between having a good day and bad one. "Don't be in such a rush," says Thomas. "Plan on it being a few hours and if it's snowing, it'll be even longer. So plan for it."
Publication date: 11/11/04