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Tips for Safe Driving in Winter Conditions


BEND, Ore.--This week's cold weather streak in the Northwest reminds drivers to prepare for the challenges of driving in snow and ice. For 55+ years, Les Schwab Tire Centers has helped consumers learn the rules of the road for safe winter driving.

Greg L'Hommedieu, Area Manager for Les Schwab Tire Centers in Northwest Washington, offers readers answers to the important questions he receives each winter. This information helps customers to drive safely when low temperatures produce ice, freezing rain and snow. According to Greg, “Failing to prepare for winter driving is like preparing for failure.”

How do I choose the right tires?

There are pros and cons to all tire selections and drivers need to decide based on weather, the condition of your tires and your vehicle. In the Northwest, driver requirements usually fall into one of three types: all-season, winter or studded.

All-season tires work well in most instances and are a favorite among budget-conscious customers. Their rubber compound fits most driving environments and they don’t have to be changed when winter ends.

Winter tires are designed to perform in cold, snow or icy weather. These tires have siping, which are small cuts made across the tire tread, providing better grip onto the road surface. The tread on winter tires also pushes snow away, adding more control than you would have with regular tires on snow pack.

Studded tires have staggered studs designed to wear with the tire. They provide additional traction on snow and ice. In Montana and Idaho studded tires are allowed beginning in October and in Washington beginning November 1.

Should snow tires stay on my car year round?

No. A snow tire is designed for winter conditions only. These tires are made from a soft rubber compound to grip the road better in colder temperatures and driving conditions. Driving in the heat of summer quickly wears out snow tires, and they will perform poorly.

Do I need a matched set of snow tires on my car?

Yes, this is recommended. Having more than one type of tread design can cause handling issues because mismatched tires react differently in wet or icy driving conditions.

Even though I own snow tires, should I own a set of tire chains?

Yes, tire chains are like a good spare tire. You may never need them, but if you do, you’ll be glad to have them. Check your car owner’s manual to see if chains can be installed on your car before purchase. Also practice putting on chains before you actually have to use them. If you need help, Les Schwab Tire Centers provides demonstrations at more than 420 retail stores throughout the Northwest.

Do you have any other advice for safe driving in winter?

Yes. Winter driving requires different road safety tactics. Take it slow — slower braking, slower steering and slower acceleration. Allow additional room between your vehicle and others. And, most importantly, allow plenty of extra time to reach your destination safely.