AutosTo change tire or not to change. The dilemma strikes back

To change tire or not to change. The dilemma strikes back

All-season A/T type tire
All-season A/T type tire
Images source: © Autokult | Marcin Łobodziński
6:01 PM EDT, October 23, 2023

Like every year, there's a flood of publications about changing to winter tires in the fall. The internet is full of clickbait titles about obligations, fines, and even imprisonment for using improper tires, which distracts drivers from the only real issue: when to change them. One group has a double dilemma.

If passenger car drivers know perfectly well when to change to winter tires, and often laziness sets this deadline for them, then drivers of off-road vehicles have a completely different problem. It's about the type of tires and their size.

Typical off-road tires are not suitable for driving in the snow, and even on wet asphalt at low temperatures. The vast majority performs terribly even on dry asphalt. The worst behaved are retreaded tires, popular in this category of cars, also known as "retreads".

Not every off-road vehicle user is aware of the dangers of driving on snow, for example on M/T type tires, designed practically for off-road use only. However, there is a more serious problem. Tires of the A/T type, considered universal, supposedly suitable for winter use, are also not entirely a good solution.

Only a handful of companies offer A/T tires in an all-season version, i.e., with winter certification. They can be identified by the 3PMSF sign, a symbol of mountains with a snowflake. Only such tires cope fairly well in typical winter conditions, because the assignment of the so-called alpine symbol is legally standardized and preceded by passing tests.

So what is the problem?

It may seem trivial, but it's the reality. For many off-road vehicle users, their car is, in a certain sense, their business card. In such a case, a suspension lift (raising it) and the installation of larger wheels is an indicator of whether the car looks good or not. And here is the problem.

Typical winter tires (not A/T with winter approval) are usually only available in the factory size or similar and they don't look as good as a typical off-road tire. If the car is modified, and it has a raised suspension, then fitting the factory size and winter tire leads to a poor appearance. And here is the dilemma - appearance or safety?

Furthermore, winter tires are particularly unsuitable for off-road driving, so fitting such tires can be troublesome because you may need to give up off-road driving for the fall-winter period or change wheels before each trip. And this is one of the best times of the year for people who enjoy the "taste of mud".

Off-road and winter in one?

The only truly compromise solution is to buy A/T tires with winter approval (3PMSF). Thanks to such tires, you can safely drive on hard roads, without giving up off-road trips and without risking a puncture at low pressure. So what's the problem?

Typically, tires with winter certification are offered in a very limited number of typically off-road sizes, i.e. with a large outer diameter and a small seating diameter. The bigger the tire one wants to fit, the smaller the choice of all-season A/T. For a diameter of 33 inches, it usually comes down to one or two models.

Unfortunately, the sad truth is that if SUV owners want to maintain relatively safe driving properties in winter and decent off-road properties, they must choose - usually - tires that are close in size to factory ones, which are smaller than commonly used ones. The SUV will be "sad", but better "sad" than broken.

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