The Best Winter Car Tires

Get a grip: Winter tires will keep you and your car calm, cool, and collected on the coldest roads.

Yellow Acura NSX Sliding in SnowManuel Carrillo III/Capital One

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When winter is upon us, those in cold climates need to outfit their vehicles for the inevitable ice- and snow-covered roads. At the very least, you should make sure your tires still have thick tread, but if you’re serious about your safety, we strongly recommend you mount a dedicated set of winter car tires. Trust us, once you have them, you’ll never want to face another winter without ’em!

What Are Winter Tires?

Winter tires, often referred to as snow tires, are specifically designed with an aggressive tread pattern that incorporates “sipes,” or small grooves in the rubber. Sipes open ever so slightly, expanding the tread to improve traction and grip on cold, snowy, and icy roads. Additionally, when the temperature dips below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, a winter tire’s rubber compound stays soft and pliable—necessary for grip and traction. A conventional all-season tire, on the other hand, contracts in the cold and hardens, compromising its gripping ability.

Why Do I Need Winter Tires?

Tiremakers design all-seasons to perform stopping, accelerating, and turning maneuvers in warm weather, as well as in snow and ice. This means the rubber compound is, from the outset, a compromise. All-seasons are serviceable in the white stuff, but they aren’t the best tool for the job. You want winter tires not only for their ability to help get your car moving through the snow, but also (and more importantly) for their superiority in braking. Anyone who has experienced those moments of panic on an icy road when an attempted stop turns into a slide will appreciate what’s at stake. Winter tires prevent that most of the time, as their sipes essentially bite the icy surface and hold fast, which means you can drive, turn, and stop with confidence.

Best Winter Tire Overall: Bridgestone Blizzak WS90

Online retailer Tire Rack ranks the WS90 highly, and so do we. It wins multiple categories on our list by providing strong grip and braking performance on dry, wet, and icy surfaces, which is precisely what you want in a winter tire. Drivers can expect to hear a little more noise from the WS90 than an all-season tire, but that’s a small tradeoff for such a significant safety improvement.

Best Winter Tire for Cold, Dry Conditions: Michelin X-Ice Snow

If snow is a rare occurrence where you live, Michelin’s X-Ice Snow tackles the elements as needed—offering competitive traction in the wet and snow, as well as on ice—and makes less noise than the Blizzak WS90. Tire Rack applauds this tire for its excellent on-road composure and refined ride, too.

Best Winter Tire for Mixed Rain-and-Snow Conditions: Bridgestone Blizzak WS90

If you live in an area like the Pacific Northwest with regular winter forecasts of rain and a chance of snow, then a set of Bridgestone Blizzak WS90s will serve you well. In Tire Rack’s assessment of wet road conditions, they outperformed the competition, bringing the test vehicle to a stop from 50 mph in 128.6 feet, an impressive 7.5 feet shorter than the next-best competitor.

Best Winter Tire for Ice: Bridgestone Blizzak WS90

The WS90 inspires confidence on frozen roads. While the Blizzak-shod vehicle wasn’t the quickest to accelerate from a standstill on ice, it stopped in the shortest distance on that slippery surface, which makes it our winner in this category.

Best Winter Tire for Year-Round Use: Michelin CrossClimate2

Unless you live in a climate where the warmest days of the year are 45 degrees, we advise against winter car tires for year-round use. However, we understand you may be unable to manage two sets of treads. In that case, there’s the Michelin CrossClimate2, which is an all-season tire with a strong focus on winter traction. On ice, a vehicle on CrossClimate2s stopped 6.8 feet shorter than a car wearing more conventional all-season tires.

Which Ones Should I Buy?

We’ve picked some of our favorite winter tires below, but you can also expand your search at an online retailer like Tire Rack, which performs real-world tests on nearly every tire it sells.

A few things to consider during your search:

  • In the ice and snow, a true winter tire with the proper amount of tread will beat a cold-weather-oriented, all-season every time.
  • While wide tires work wonders in warm weather to increase a car's traction, in winter, a narrow tire is best. That's because a wide tire meets more resistance in snow than a narrow one, hampering traction.
  • Buy a full set. Your tires have only a small contact patch (literally where the rubber meets the road) to provide traction and grip. You’ll want to maximize both at all four corners with a dedicated winter tire to ensure your car does whatever you ask of it.
  • If your vehicle normally rides on run-flat tires, choose a run-flat winter tire to avoid finding yourself stuck on the side of the road.
  • Whenever possible, wait until the thermometer regularly reads 45 degrees or lower before mounting your winters, as warmer temperatures will prematurely wear the soft rubber. Taking a spin on the occasional 55-degree day in January won't do much damage, but once the mercury begins to consistently climb, swap back to your factory set as soon as possible.

Do I Need Winter Car Tires If I Have All- or Four-Wheel Drive?

Yes. All- and four-wheel drive can make quick work of mowing through snowbanks, but neither helps your vehicle stop. As noted above, a set of winter tires will not only enhance your vehicle’s ability to accelerate and handle in frosty conditions, but it will vastly improve its stopping ability in low-traction scenarios. Fit a set of winters on your all- or four-wheel-drive vehicle, and you may never feel intimidated by Old Man Winter ever again.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
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Jon Yanca
To say cars have been a lifelong passion for Jon Yanca would be an understatement. Obsession is probably more fitting. He brings over 15 years of automotive-industry experience spanning from top enthusiast publications, to advertising and marketing, to independent auto repair. When Jon is not writing about cars, you'll find him racing on dirt, pavement, and even ice, or with a wrench in hand maintaining his fleet of vehicles.