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Winter Tires: Treading on Thin Ice

When to Replace Your Tires With Made-for-Winter Tires

Waiting for Groundhog Day before deciding on winter tires for the family vehicle? Timing is everything in cold weather driving, and now's the time to "think winter tires," Dunlop marketers say, not after furry prognosticators make their predictions.

Dunlop, whose Winter Sport M3 performance winter tire won Tire Rack's special winter tire survey, recommends that motorists buy winter tires before the first snowfall.Andy Traicoff, director of Dunlop marketing in North America, said dealers began receiving winter tire shipments in August when most were enjoying beach weather. Production started in the spring.

"It's important to buy early, particularly in hard-to-find sizes. Many are haunted by the record snowfalls from last winter, so hopefully they're shopping now. With the advanced silica compounds used on Dunlop treads, it's important to get winter tires installed before temperatures drop," Traicoff said.

In Europe, tiremakers suggest switching from summer to winter tire
treads when the mercury falls below 44 degrees F (7 degrees C). Traicoff said that's a good rule of thumb: wait for freezing temperatures to buy winter tires and it's too late.

Winter tire tread compounds are engineered to work better in low
temperatures than all-season tires. Traicoff said he's seen winter tire sales swell in the last few years, mainly due to import cars that come with summer- specified tires.

"It's also the segment that seems to be growing faster, the rear-wheel- drive luxury and performance cars. The revitalization of rear-wheel-drive on new cars, such as the Chrysler 300; and Dodge Magnum and Charger; BMW; Infiniti; Volvo; and Ford Mustang, Crown Victoria and Thunderbird -- to name just a few -- makes winter tires a must.

"The cars also ride on 18- to 20-inch tires, leaving tire buyers with few choices in the winter," he said. The tire industry experienced winter tire shortages last season.

More than 35 million winter tires are sold per year in the European market, accounting for 25 percent of the total passenger car market. "The popularity of these cars in America also makes the need for winter tires critical, particularly when vehicles arrive here on summer tires," he said.

The Dunlop brand also features the top winter tire traction, according to online tire retailer Tire Rack. Its Winter Sport M3 features winter tire technology developed for European and North American winters.

Tire Rack said, "Fantastic light snow traction and deep snow traction ratings put this tire at the top." An average of 9.3 out of 10 said they would definitely buy the tire again. In addition, the winter tire scored well on wet and snow traction, cornering stability, steering response, ride and noise comfort and treadwear.

"The best advice," Traicoff said, "is to be prepared. Don't put yourself in harm's way when the first snow hits." For even better preparation, Dunlop also offers the following winter tire tips:

  • Install four winter tires. Do not mix tires with different tread patterns, internal constructions, speed ratings and sizes.

  • Select tires rated for severe snow conditions. Tires that meet this standard now carry both an M+S marking and a mountain/snowflake pictograph on their sidewalls.

  • As a tire wears, snow traction is reduced. Tires that are worn close to the treadwear indicators have reduced traction and should not be used on snow-covered roads or in severe snow conditions.

  • Proper inflation pressure extends tread life, improves winter traction, and reduces fuel consumption. Tire pressure decreases as temperatures drop, so be sure to check the pressures at least once a month, preferably after the car has been out all night.

  • Carry blankets, water, flashlights, energy food bars, hats and gloves in the trunk for emergencies. A box of kitty litter may be used for added traction if a tire slips on ice. And always remember to keep cell phone batteries charged or carry a car charger.

Dunlop is a global tire brand with an excellent reputation among performance car enthusiasts. Well known for its prestigious original- equipment fitments and sports car racing heritage, Dunlop is also a key supplier in winter tires. For more information on winter tire offerings, go to