Winter tires: Q&A with a Michelin tire expert

The first patent for winter tires was filed in Maine, in 1921. Since then, they haven’t stopped evolving. Winter tires are especially designed for below freezing temperatures and the challenging weather conditions winter brings.

We asked Ron Margadonna, Senior Technical Marketing Manager, Michelin North America, a few questions to help customers with their winter tire purchase this season!


How should we go about choosing winter tires in store? How would you recommend we examine and evaluate them?  

Consumers should first identify what quality brand that they can trust and rely on.  Michelin takes pride in offering the ultimate winter safety and driving confidence in every winter product it designs.

Secondly, do research on independent testing by reviewing articles from trusted news outlets and various consumer reports to see how they evaluate performance.

Next, be sure to find a local retailer that you trust for services that include tire rotation, end of season storage, etc.

Lastly, don’t let the cost of a winter tires set be an impediment—-think of it as a “delayed” purchase of your regular tires, during which you use the winter tires. In reality, it’s not an added cost, but a delayed cost for you. You’ll enjoy the benefits of maximum safety not only in winter, but also in summer with two season-appropriate sets of tires.

Tread patterns… directional, asymmetrical and symmetrical: what are they and what differentiates them?
winter tires
Winter tread patterns can vary and no single pattern is optimal. Directional patterns require the tire to rotate in a specified direction when moving.  In general, they can provide a higher level of wet grip. They cannot be rotated across the axle, only from front to rear on the same side of the vehicle.

Asymmetric patterns have a “mounting” preference and will be labelled on the sidewall as “mount this side in” or “this side out”. There is a difference in the tread design from one side to the other. They can optimize cornering forces during turns using the weight transfer of the vehicle.

Symmetric tread patterns have no mounting or rotation specifications and optimize balance of all forces during braking, accelerating and cornering.

Can we mix and match winter tires?

There are really only two consumer situations. The first is when four tires are purchased at once. Michelin recommends all four to be alike and from the same stock number.

The other situation is when a consumer needs only two tires. In this case, Michelin strongly recommends installing the two worn tires on the front axle and the two new tires on the rear axle. The only exception is if the consumer strongly prefers to have the two new tires installed on the front, which is permissible.

When is it time to replace winter tires?

Since they are only used during winter months, the tires retain an effective tread life for three or four winter seasons. With that said, tires should be regularly checked for tread depth: 2/32” is the legal minimum tread depth. If you are near the minimum depth at the beginning of winter, you may want to consider replacing tires to avoid changeover during the winter season.

What would you say have been the greatest technological advancements in winter tires in the last few years?

I would say it’s the evolution of describing winter tires as snow tires and labelling them “winter tires” as we know them today. Twenty years ago, tires for winter were designed with big lugs and large voids, focusing on snow traction. The new evolution is to consider all elements of winter in addition to snow: ice, slush, cold wet and cold dry. Tire design has changed to reflect all of these surfaces and maximize the number of biting edges in terms of sipes and tread elements that are much smaller, adding to tractive grip. We call this mechanical grip features.

Then there’s the tread compound (referred to as molecular grip) that ensures flexibility when driving in severe cold weather conditions. This is why all-season tires are neither designed nor recommended for severe winter weather.

What’s coming in the future? How will winter tires improve?

There will be continued advances in materials (molecular).


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