Tire Test Results

Testing on Ice: Winter / Snow vs. All-Season vs. Summer Tires

February 5, 2008

Vehicles Used

2008 BMW E92 328i Coupe

Snow and ice are the most challenging conditions drivers typically face; and the tires they use can make a big difference. New cars, vans and light trucks are usually fitted with either summer or all-season tires as Original Equipment (O.E.). Summer tires are designed to provide traction in dry, wet and warm conditions, but were never intended to encounter winter's cold, slush, snow and ice. All-season tires are designed to provide traction in a wider range of temperatures, but we've found they can perform like a Jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Only today's dedicated winter / snow tires have proven to be able to blend good noise comfort and winter traction.

In order to better understand how much traction these types of tires provide on ice, several members of the Tire Rack Team conducted tests with our local skating rink's glare ice replicating the slippery intersections often encountered during winter.

While summer tires weren't designed to ever encounter winter's snow and ice, we included them in our test to show just how helpless they can be when driven out of their element in comparison to Original Equipment all-season tires and aftermarket winter / snow tires. Our evaluation used 2008 BMW E92 328i coupes representing rear-wheel drive vehicles equipped with new, full tread depth 205/55R16-sized tires mounted on 16x7.5" wheels.

What We Learned on the Ice

Acceleration

An ice rink has a lot in common with packed snow and ice-covered winter roads!

We began by comparing how long it took the test cars to cover the final 60-foot distance to the center of the ice rink as they accelerated for a dead stop. The summer tires relied heavily on the car's traction control to begin their trip and took about 7.4 seconds to cover the 60 feet. The all-season tires relied less on the traction control to initiate their trip down the ice, but still took about 6.5 seconds to complete it. The studless winter / snow tires relied less on traction control and more on their ability to grip the ice. They took only about 4.5 seconds to complete their run.

Braking

Tires make a significant difference in stopping distance on ice from just 10 mph.

We evaluated stopping traction by measuring how many feet it took to come to a complete stop from 10 mph. The limited ice traction of the summer tires caused the car's Antilock Braking System (ABS) to work overtime and they took about 47' to stop. While the all-season tires relied less on the car's ABS to control lockup, it took them about 39' 10" to stop the vehicle. The studless winter / snow tires provided the most grip on the ice, taking only about 21' 2" to stop.

Cornering

If the cones denoted a curb outside a corner, which tires would you want to be on?

Our final test was cornering. We compared the cars' ability to turn a 90-degree corner marked by traffic cones at a little over 10 miles per hour. The car equipped with summer tires lost traction shortly after initiating the corner and ran wide at the exit, hitting several of the cones that represented the curb. Even the car's Dynamic Stability Control couldn't restrain the vehicle when its tires lost grip. The car equipped with all-season tires did a better job of initiating the corner but still lost traction and ran wide at the exit, again hitting several of the cones. And finally, the car equipped with studless winter / snow tires offered enough grip to complete the corner without hitting any of the cones.

Conclusion

When winter's cold, slush, snow and ice arrives, drivers often need tires that provide their best traction when the road conditions are at their worst. We expected the summer tires to finish in last place on the ice, but we included them in the test because we are all too frequently surprised to read consumer reviews criticizing their summer tire's traction in snow and on ice (summer tires aren't designed to be driven in snow and on ice). The results also reflect the compromises all-season tires have to accept to provide year-round capabilities. In the end, only today's high-tech studless winter / snow tires have proven to consistently blend good noise comfort along with traction in snow and on ice.

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