Traditionally, autumn is when most drivers owners replace their car tires. While it may be August with temperatures in the upper eighties, now is a good time to carefully examine your car’s tires and make plans to replace them. Measure the tread depth with a gauge available at your local auto parts store. If the tread depth is 5/32” or less, replace them. If you see any nicks, cuts, cracks, or punctures, replace them. The condition of a auto tire becomes critical in terms of traction when roads become slippery with slush, snow, and ice.

Traction is the tire maintaining contact with the road surface without slipping. At the point where the tire makes contact with the road, the weight of the vehicle causes the tire to flex and actually grip the road surface. This is what keeps the car from skidding when braking and cornering. However, if the tread is worn, this gripping action is lost. This will cause the vehicle to lose traction and skid out of control even in dry conditions.

Another function of a car tires tread is to remove water and slush from the contact area of the road surface. The grooves in the tread channel water away from the contact area and allow the tire to maintain traction. If the tread is too worn to remove the water, a layer builds between the tire and the road. The tire then loses traction causing a dangerous condition known as hydroplaning. In a hydroplane situation the driver totally loses control of the vehicle.

In conditions where snow is on the road surface, modern, all-season tire tread is designed to maintain traction. Small grooves known as sipes are molded into the tread block. These provide many edges which bite into and grip the snow. While it is advisable to drive slowly and carefully, a good all-season radial tread from your local tire dealer should sustain traction where several inches of snow are present. However, tread worn to less than 5/32” will not provide the traction needed to travel in snowy conditions.

In severe, icy conditions, consider using a new tire especially built for winter driving. Traditionally known as a snow tire, these tires utilize a softer rubber compound to mold the tread. The tread blocks have many sipes in a saw-tooth design. These features provide better traction on an icy surface than standard all-season tread. However, these tires should only be used in bad weather months. In normal conditions the soft tread will wear quickly.

Winter months present many challenges to the commuter. Good tires may be the only thing between you and being stuck in a ditch or a serious crash. So stop in to your local tire shop today and have your car’s tires checked and drive with confidence.