What to Know About Your Tires in Cold Weather

When the weather starts to turn cold, many drivers notice a change in their vehicle, particularly when it comes to their tires. They might wake up to a low tire pressure light, for example, the first frosty morning of winter. As if driving in icy conditions isn't stressful enough, right?

We can help alleviate some of that stress.

As temperatures get lower and roads get slicker, here's what you need to know about your tires in cold weather.

Tire pressure


The biggest change you can expect to see in your tires each winter is pressure. According to Consumer Reports, a significant drop in temperature can “cause the air to become denser and consequently lower the tire pressure.” Driving on low tire pressure can lead to tire damage, poor gas mileage and, in some cases, serious accident, so it's important to monitor your TPMS each winter.

What is TPMS on a car? A TPMS alert is a visual alert on your vehicle dashboard warning you to check your tire pressure. TPMS stands for Tire Pressure Monitoring System, which does exactly as the acronym suggests: Monitors your tire pressure. By law, any car after 2007 must have basic TPMS installed.

If you TPMS alert illuminates, you should look into adjusting your tires immediately. A tire monitor, however, can help you keep track of each tire's pressure so you're never surprised by an alert.

Tire tread


The tread of a tire is the rubber on its circumference that makes contact with the road or the ground. As tires are used, the tread is worn off, reducing its overall traction. In winter months, tread can be crucial to driving safely.

In extremely cold temperatures, the tread an all season or summer tire tends to stiffen up and lose traction. Winter tires, however, have a tread compound that remains flexible below 45 degrees, meaning they can retain traction where all-season tires start to slip. Winter tires also have deeper treads and more edges, which also provide a stronger grip on icy or wet roads.

Whether you choose all season tires or winter-specific ones, be sure to check the tread regularly — ideally every month when you check your tire pressure — and replace the tire as needed.

Tire studs and chains

One of the last things you should consider when driving in wintry conditions is whether you require studs or chains.

When temperatures become downright frigid and you're facing a drive through mountain roads or blizzard conditions, you might need more help than even a winter tire can provide. That's when studded tires or tire chains can come in handy.

Studded tires have studs built into the tread that help drivers maneuver in snow or ice. Chains are put on by the driver — usually in a preapproved area on dangerous roads. Keep in mind, however, that studs and chains are great for traction, but aren't intended for dry roads. Using them on roads without snow or ice can damage the roads and cost you money in tickets.