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Best Winter Tires for Safer Driving in Snow and Ice

Sep 11, 2023

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What are the best winter tires? These are the snow tires the pros recommend for peak traction in winter driving conditions.

This article was updated in December 2022.

If you live in a region that sees hefty amounts of ice, snow, and slush in the winter—or if you often find yourself traveling to places that experience severe winter weather—you should invest in a set of quality winter tires.

Winter tires use specialized rubber compounds and tread designs that are engineered to maximize tire bite and traction in freezing temperatures and on slick surfaces. In snowy and icy driving conditions, a dependable set of winter tires can mean the difference between arriving safely and being stranded for hours in a freezing car.

What are the best winter tires to buy? We've used plenty of different brands and styles, and we have our thoughts. For an even deeper dive into winter tires, we turned to our friends at Tire Rack for recommendations.

Winter tires have specially engineered grooves, channels, and biting edges designed to dig into ice and snow. They're made to divert water and debris such as salt and sand away from the tire's contact patch.

Are snow tires really necessary? Look at it this way: You could wear sneakers outside to go tromping around in the ice and snow—but wouldn't snow boots be a better idea? Sure, boots will keep your feet warm, dry, and comfortable. But most important, they provide better traction and stability for a more planted footprint. The same principle applies to your car tires.

If you're shopping for winter tires, here are some things you should consider before buying:

Here are our picks for the best winter tires based on our own personal experience with a variety of brands, as well as expert recommendations from the good folks at Tire Rack. Note that most of the winter tires listed below are for cars; for convenience, we've included links to SUV and light-truck variants where applicable.

Successor to the X-Ice Xi3, the X-Ice Snow should offer lower rolling resistance, better ice braking, improved resistance to hydroplaning in wet and slushy environments. The brand claims this tire will last one additional winter over the competition. While we can't speak to that, we enjoyed X-Ice Snow tires on our long-term Volvo S60 T8, particularly for their surprisingly normal feel in dry conditions.

For SUVs and light trucks, opt for the X-Ice Snow SUV. . . .

Since 1932, Nokian has been a pioneer in the winter-tire world. In fact, the Finnish manufacturer invented the winter tire. The Hakkapeliitta R5, Nokian's top-line winter tire, uses a highly aggressive tread pattern and silica compound to find grip in deep snow and ice. The Hakka R5 is a zero-compromise winter-tire option, but that superiority comes at a premium price.

If you drive an SUV, go for the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R5 SUV Winter. . . .

The Blizzak WS90 improves on the previous-generation WS80 with an updated tread design and compound, increased tread life, and more available sizes than ever before.

After mounting the WS90 on a few long-term cars, we have no doubt that the WS90 is even more capable than its predecessor. We've been impressed with the deep-snow traction and overall performance, but still find these tires to be noisier than some competitors.

Drive an SUV? Buy the B ridgestone Blizzak DM-V2. . . .

The VikingContact 7 from Continental is arguably its best snow tire yet. A specialized rubber compound containing canola oil helps the tires stay more flexible in extreme cold and is also more environmentally friendly to manufacture. The tread pattern is composed of innumerable biting edges and sipes for maximum snow traction.

This tire comes in sizes to fit most vehicles.

The Pirelli P Zero Winter is a compelling option for people who deal with occasional snow and ice but would like to retain the best possible handling in dry conditions. The tire promises to deliver an enticing combination of enhanced winter-weather competence and dry-weather fun for enthusiasts.

Where the Sottozero 3 it replaces was slightly compromised when it came to deep-snow traction and braking, the P Zero winter should improve those two issues while nearly matching the dry performance of a summer tire. In a past test, we measured the lateral grip of a Porsche 911 at 0.95 g, impressively close to that of the factory summer tires.

SUV owners should buy the P Zero Winter SUV. . . .

In addition to having an exploration-inspiring name, the Discoverer True North is a great winter-tire option for cars and SUVs alike. Cooper claims the True North has the highest silica content of any Cooper winter tire, giving it great ability to dig into icy surfaces. To that point, our long-term Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid was able to traverse Donner Pass in California during the dead of winter (without chaining the tires) with little effort.

This tire comes in sizes to fit most types of vehicles.

The WM02 is Dunlop's second generation of the Winter Maxx tire. Like the WM01, the Dunlop uses an asymmetric tread pattern that is supposed to help it run quietly.

The Winter Maxx typically is a bit more affordable than some other tires on this list. That's not to say they're of lower quality; the previous-generation WM01 nearly matched the braking performance of the best tires in our 2015 winter tire test.

If you drive an SUV, choose the Dunlop Winter Maxx SJ8. . . .

Unless you live at a lower elevation that never sees snow and ice, the answer is yes. Even if you travel to higher elevations only during the holidays or go skiing just a few times a year, it's wise to have a set of four winter tires mounted on a set of wheels and stored so you can swap them out without much cost or hassle.

Definitely. Having snow tires on only the front or the rear will mean more squirrely handling in all conditions, resulting in unexpected skids and reduced stopping power on snow and ice.

Oh, they can—but you'd be squandering a very valuable (and expensive) resource. You don't need deeper treads or biting edges during warm-weather driving, and the tires' softer compound will cause them to wear out far more quickly when they're used in warm temperatures. Further, winter tires' performance on dry or wet pavement in warm temperatures also isn't nearly as good that of an all-season or summer tire.

All-season tires have become extremely popular; indeed, the majority of today's cars roll right off the assembly line already outfitted with them. They offer decent traction in light to moderate snow and the occasional winter storm.

However, around the Car and Driver office, we refer to them "no-season tires," because while they have decent performance in a variety of conditions, they excel at none of them. A summer tire will always outperform an all-season on dry or wet pavement in warm temperatures, and a winter tire always beats an all-season in deep snow or packed ice. Put it this way: We don't drive with all-seasons in the snowy Michigan winter.

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Max Mortimer is a lifelong car enthusiast who spends his days managing Car and Driver's test data and processes, and evaluating vehicles. Starting at the age of five, he began working on classic muscle from the '60s with his father, which blossomed into his own passion for modifying cars, which include a 500 whp Big Turbo SRT-4 Neon and a FBO Protuned '17 WRX. Not a day goes by that Max doesn't think about owning his dream car, a fifth-gen Viper GTS . . . one day.

Jon Langston is an avid motorcyclist and gear collector whose work has appeared in Men's Journal, Cycle World, The Drive, Rider, Iron & Air, Motorcyclist, and more.

Dave VanderWerp has spent more than 20 years in the automotive industry, in varied roles from engineering to product consulting, and now leading Car and Driver's vehicle-testing efforts. Dave got his very lucky start at C/D by happening to submit an unsolicited resume at just the right time to land a part-time road warrior job when he was a student at the University of Michigan, where he immediately became enthralled with the world of automotive journalism.

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Tire Rack best winter tires Tire Rack X-Ice Snow X-Ice Snow SUV Hakkapeliitta R5 Nokian Hakkapeliitta R5 SUV Winter. . . . Blizzak WS90 B ridgestone Blizzak DM-V2 VikingContact 7 Pirelli P Zero Winter P Zero Winter SUV Discoverer True North Winter Maxx Dunlop Winter Maxx SJ8