You might have heard that when it comes to exceptional safety and performance on wintry roads, nothing beats a studded tire. This was definitely true when the first winter tires hit the market, but since then, tire technology has gotten so advanced that many experts believe that studless winter tires actually perform better than studded.
You obviously don’t need winter tires of any kind if you live in a place like California, but getting studded tires is at least something to think about for us Canadians. So, if you’re thinking about getting them for your car, read on to learn about their downsides, benefits, and whether or not they’re right for you.
Where Studded Tires Fail
We’ll start off by addressing the two chief complaints about studded tires: they’re noisy and hard on the roads. Sadly, these complaints are completely warranted. If you’ve ever been inside a car outfitted with studded tires, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about, which is probably to be expected, given that you’re driving on four rubber tires with metal studs sticking out of them.
The noise levels certainly aren’t unbearable. You can easily hear your music and have a conversation, but there’s no escaping that studded tires do a number on the roads. The metal that protrudes out of the tires cause extra wear and tear on the asphalt, sometimes even causing ruts that allow water to pool, resulting in more hydroplaning and ice patches. In fact, the damage is so bad that many US states and countries around the world have outright banned studded tires. Canada hasn’t banned them, except in regions of Ontario, but their usage is restricted in many provinces so you can only drive on them during certain periods each year.
These tires have a reputation for providing outstanding traction on the ice, but less traction on dry roads and snow. Some tests have confirmed this, while others have shown that studless winter tires perform better than studded tires on all winter road conditions, including ice, as demonstrated in one small experiment that rated the performance of studded and studless tires on a skating rink. It’s important to remember that these studies are usually unofficial and test only two or three brands of tires at a time. However, you should still consider that studless winter tires have become so advanced in recent years that their performance can be close to, equivalent, or maybe even better than that of studded tires.
Where Studded Tires Excel
Notwithstanding the results of certain tests, the noisiness, and the damage caused on the roads, it’s a generally accepted fact that studded tires perform beautifully on ice, packed snow, or other extreme winter road conditions. Moreover, despite their reputation for not driving well on snow, other studies, including one road test in northern Sweden, have found that studded tires not only far outperformed all the other tires tested when it came to driving on the ice, but that they were on par with the studless tires while driving on the snow.
Studded tires are, in fact, winter tires, with the same kind of treads and rubber designed for cold weather and the conditions that come with it. Though this information is coming from tire manufacturers themselves, companies like Hankook, Nokian, and Gislaved insist that their studded tires give you all the grip and traction you get from the studless variety, but with the extra advantages that come with the metal studs.
The Internet has a substantial number of recommendations from tire experts who advise that studded tires aren’t necessary, especially when you can get comparable or better performance from studless tires, but if you take a look at the reviews from consumers, or even the videos that consumers themselves created to demonstrate the performance of the studded tires they have on their vehicles, it’s pretty obvious that most drivers with these tires are more than happy with them, including folks in Alaska, where the weather conditions are as bad as or worse than much of ours here in Canada.
If you’re thinking about getting studded tires, you should first make sure they’re permitted in your area. After that, consider the road conditions of your region and how often you’ll be driving through them. If you live in a climate that sees extreme conditions only now and then, you like a quiet ride, you don’t drive that often during the winter, or you don’t want to spend a little extra money to get studs, then regular studless winter tires are probably more than up for the job. On the other hand, if you want to get the best traction available because you regularly drive through extreme weather conditions, including icy roads or areas with hard, packed snow, then studded tires could be the best choice for you.
Most tire experts feel that you can get all the traction and handling you need from studless winter tires, especially if you experience a more moderate winter climate, but several road tests, both by experts and regular people, along with the countless customer reviews, suggest that nothing beats a studded tire, especially on extreme road conditions.
Studded tires are indisputably noisy and damaging to the roads, resulting in bans in parts of North America and around the world. But consider this: States like Oregon and Idaho have banned the use of studded tires, yet almost all of Canada allows them with only a few restrictions or none at all. This doesn’t mean you should get studded tires, but it could suggest that maybe our winter driving conditions are actually extreme enough that you should at least consider studded tires as an option.
Studded Tires Rules by Province/Territory