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January 15, 2010

Winter Tire Safety Tips: Proper Traction, Pressure, and Technique Can Keep You Safe

Testing_ice_box Crash rates spike during the October through February time frame, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  In 2007, 738,000 crashes occurred in rain, sleet or snow.  Most resulted in costly property damage, and on average, one in three involved an injury or fatality. With the right gear, winter driving doesn't have to be a "white knuckle" experience, say tire experts at, America's largest independent tire tester and a leading resource for consumer tire information.

Consider these tips offered by Tire Rack to help you be a safer driver in the winter:

 1) Small Change Can Be a Big Help!

If you don't live in a climate that requires specific winter tires during the cold/snowy season, the next best way to guarantee top traction is to ensure your tires have sufficient tread depth. Insufficient tread-depth can double your stopping distance, a fact that Tire Rack team proved through testing.  Since water can't be compressed, you need enough tread depth to allow it to escape through the tire's tread grooves.  If the water can't escape fast enough, your vehicle's tires will be forced to hydroplane (actually float) on top of the water, loosing contact with the road and thus traction.

PennyfrontAccording to Tire Rack most states have laws indicating that tires are legally worn out when they have worn down to 2/32" of remaining tread depth. To know whether your tires are within the "legal" limit, place a penny into your tire's tread grooves. Check the penny head in several treads across the tire: If part of Lincoln's head is always covered by the tread, you have more than 2/32" of tread depth remaining.

Quarter However, the tire specialists at Tire Rack suggest that if rain and wet roads are a concern, you should consider replacing your tires when they reach approximately 4/32" of remaining tread depth. With 2/32" of remaining tread depth, resistance to hydroplaning in the rain at highway speeds will be significantly reduced, and traction in snow will be virtually eliminated. Tire Rack suggests you use a quarter to measure tread depth - not a penny. If part of Washington's head is always covered by the tread, you have more than 4/32" of tread depth remaining. 

Pennyback If snow-covered roads are a part of your winter routine, consider replacing your tires when they reach approximately 6/32" of remaining tread depth to maintain good mobility.  You need more tread depth in snow because your tires must compress the snow in their grooves and release it as they roll.  If there isn't enough tread depth, the "bites" of snow your tires can take on each revolution will be so small that your traction will be reduced. To measure this amount, place a penny into several tread grooves across the tire. If the top of the Lincoln Memorial is always covered by the tread, you have more than 6/32" of tread depth remaining.

Remember: Traction loss starts at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, even without rain or snow on the ground.  Lower temperatures reduce a tire's flexibility and grip.  At 32 degrees, the Summer tires found on many performance vehicles are so stiff they offer no traction at all.

Ap_WinterTireInSnow_6 2) It's All About the Pressure

Tires don't carry the weight of your vehicle, the air inside them does.  For every 10-degree drop in temperature, tires lose 1psi of air pressure.  A tire filled to 32 psi at 70 degrees will have only 28 psi at 30 degrees.  Underinflated tires offer less traction, can reduce fuel mileage, can wear out prematurely, and most importantly suffer unnoticeable and irreparable damage that compromises their performance.  Check tire pressures monthly with a quality air pressure gauge.  Fill them to the vehicle manufacturer specifications listed in your manual or inside your vehicle's doorjamb.  For a list of quality air pressure gauges or to address any of your tire buying needs visit

3) Stay Off Their Tail

Adding distance behind the vehicle ahead gives you more time to react and distance to stop:  In rain and snow follow two seconds behind at 30 mph; four seconds at 60 mph.

4) Be a Smooth Operator

Accelerate, brake, and steer as if you had a full cup of hot coffee on the dashboard.  Just as abrupt actions would spill the coffee, so too could they cause a loss of control.  It's also one of the best ways to improve fuel mileage.

Consumers can consult a free tire decision guide and find a wealth of additional information about buying the correct tires for any driving condition and climate at

Brandy_schaffels_s By Brandy Schaffels Editor

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