Don't Tread On Me
Updated: Jan 30, 2021
As we slide into the winter season, we prepare ourselves for the cold and the potential for inclement weather. However, by we I mean almost every car person and no one else. The average person, despite their fear and hatred for the cold, usually makes no effort to prepare for it. It is like this - if you own one pair of shoes, say a Nike sneaker, you will be pretty comfortable all year long. Eventually though there comes a time when that sneaker is not suitable for the activity or day, such as a rigorous hike or a snowy day. The average person, even in these instances, is intuitive enough to swap their sneakers for the more appropriate type of shoe - a boot. A boot was specifically designed to keep your feet warm, dry, protected, and provide grip thanks to a sole that is jagged enough to cut through rough terrain. If you kept those sneakers on you would have to be more thoughtful of your movements as not to slip. With sneakers in the snow you would be slower and more nervous about hurting yourself. So, if the average person is smart enough to change their shoes for the weather, why would they not change their tires?
Growing up I was taught that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Therefore, if your tires are bad, your car and your experience is bad. To go back to the shoe analogy - you throw away or donate your shoes when they are old or worn, right? They either are not as comfortable as they once were, do not perform as well as they should, or are simply outdated. The same principle should apply to tires! Over time your tires will not grip as well, either from treadwear due to use, or the rubber may also become hard from heat cycles (number of times the tires get warm and cool down again) or age. That is right, even when you have plenty of tread left on tires they can still be bad just from the age of the rubber (if you check, there is a year of when they were manufactured on them). That is what likely caused famous actor and Fast And The Furious star, Paul Walker, to crash when he went for a spirited drive in a Porsche Carrera GT with only 6 year old tires that had less than 5,000 miles on them!
It does not matter what kind of car you have - a bad set of tires will ruin the performance of a sports car, a bad set of tires will ruin the comfort of a luxury car, a bad set of tires will ruin the fuel efficiency of an economy car, and a bad set of tires will ruin the traction of an all-wheel drive car. You get the point, but as a real life example, my friends and I rented a newer Land Rover Discovery to go hiking in New Hampshire last winter. Land Rover is renowned for their luxury and off-road capabilities, but all of that went out the door with the set of worn low-profile “All-Season” tires it had. Due to the low profile of the tire there was less sidewall to cushion the 4,000 lb SUV and therefore less sidewall to absorb bumps and vibration from the road. Additionally, despite all the high-tech computers designed to make the car perform optimally in adverse conditions such as snow, the worn tread on the tire left us crawling through a snow storm on the way back home.
If we had newer tires we would have been better off, but if the Land Rover had Snow tires instead of All-Season tires we would have been exponentially better. The name “All-Season” is a misnomer. While the tire is designed to perform admirably in a wide range of common temperatures (like the 1st standard deviation on a bell curve), it does not perform well in the extremes (2nd and 3rd deviations). That is where a summer “Performance” tire, with a soft rubber compound, comes in to provide the most grip in warm temperatures, and winter “Snow” tire, with a rubber compound that stays soft in the coldest temperatures and tread designed to provide grip on snow/ice comes into play. Tires that achieve a certain level of performance through snow and ice receive a designation denoted by a snowflake to show that they are capable of conquering the adverse conditions. Most All-Season tires do not earn this designation.
You can even go a step further to make your Snow tires more capable by studding
them. By adding little metal knubs in your tires you can dominate winter. When I first bought
my Saab 9-3 Viggen, I wanted to guarantee the most amount of grip in the snow and ice, and to prevent the torque-steering-turbo-boosting car from spinning its tires, so I got studded Snows. While studded Snow tires only really provide an advantage for grip and stopping distance on ice, and are less effective in dry conditions, you are instantly rewarded when there is packed snow and ice. There have been numerous occasions when the Saab has bested the likes of Pickup Trucks, Jeep Wranglers and other SUV’s on snow packed roads. While it is true that All-Wheel Drive (AWD) provides advantages for additional grip, it is only as good as the tires that are on all the wheels.
Now, depending on where you live the adverse conditions of winter may not be an issue, but that does not make the choice of tires less important. Even if it never snows, there is a tire that is designed best for you and your car. For example, in the nice weather I drive my slow 1983 W123 Mercedes Benz 300D. While it is not a sports car, I do drive it spiritedly, and want the most grip out of the 195 section tires (width of tire) that fit on the OEM “Bundt” wheels. Therefore, I opted for a Summer “performance” tire. While I was limited in the options available for a Summer tire in my required tire size (195/75/14 - a.k.a. tire width/depth/wheel size), I am now convinced that anyone with a W123 or similar tire size would be a fool not to use the same tire I selected. This tire is the Vredestein Sportracs. If you are in the US, chances are you may not have heard of Vredestein (V-red-e-stein). It is primarily a European tire manufacturer that was founded in the Netherlands in 1908, but has had increased focus on the North American market. As they like to state, “Vredestein is tailor making tires for North America with European roots at the heart of it all”.
Well, once the Sportracs were fitted to my newly powder-coated Bundt wheels, my car was a totally new and different car. The first thing I noticed was the comfort. The tires soaked up potholes like they were filled with Charmin Ultra toilet paper - so soft and supple. On top of the comfort was the road noise, or lack thereof! These tires were so quiet that you could drive through a library with them and not disturb anyone (ignoring the loud clattering diesel engine powering them). Lastly, they were stylish - yes, I called a tire stylish. Not that most people look at how good looking tires are, but if you saw these you would certainly notice for once. The tires were actually designed by Giugiaro. Who is Giugiaro you ask? Well, if you are a car enthusiast then you know that this is the Italian design company led by Giorgetto Giugiaro which sketched the iconic designs of the Lancia Delta, Lotus Espirit, DMC Delorean, Volkswagen Scirocco, Saab 9000, and more. If you are not a car enthusiast, then Giugiaro is the Italian design company led by Giorgetto Giugiaro which sketched the iconic designs of the Lancia Delta, Lotus Espirit, DMC Delorean, Volkswagen Scirocco, Saab 9000, and more. If they did that well on full-sized cars, then you can imagine how they did on a simple tire. They certainly succeeded by creating an aesthetically pleasing symmetrical tire tread that is also functional in providing grip through rain, and a sidewall that is somehow appealing to look at. Vredestein has been continuing to stand out from the tire world with the help of Giugiaro since 1997.
I guess you can call me a “Vrede-fiend”, because I have come to love Vredestein so much that when it came to select a Winter tire for my 996 Porsche 911, I had to go with their Wintrac Pro's over the rest of the competition. With their deep grooves Winter tires can often make a lot of road noise in dry conditions, especially after a few thousand miles of wear. However, having experienced the quietness of my Sportracs, I knew the Wintracs would follow in their footsteps (or should I say treadmarks). Winter tires can also often look quite butch, which is fine on an offroader or SUV, but not preferred on a sleek sports car. Giugiaro made sure to take care of that on the Wintracs! Although it has only been a few months so far, and I have not had the car in any deep snow, Vredestein has continued to live up to my expectations. I am also not the only Porsche 911 owner to trust Vredestein in the winter. Famous automotive photographer and Editor in Chief of Type 7, Ted Geshue, also uses Wintrac Pro’s for driving his 1976 Porsche 911 around the snowy mountains of Saint Moritz, Switzerland.
I digress - all I am saying is that if you can pay $400 for a pair of shoes or sneakers you do not need, then you can certainly pay to get the right set of tires. Especially when you consider the fact that a shoe will not save your life, but your tires most likely will. You do not have to slide into the winter season, when you can drive through it. I promise it does not have to be that scary - get prepared by picking up yourself a set of proper Winter tires and a quality set of tires when the climate is warmer (like Vredesteins)!
(Note: I have not been paid by Vredestein to make these comments. It is purely based on my own personal experiences through use of my own money. )