Which do better in the snow: fat or skinny tires?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

I was talking to my co-worker, Roger, the other day, and he was saying that narrower tires are better in the snow than wider tires. He says the narrower tires will sink down through the snow and grip the pavement, whereas wider tires will ride on top of the snow. I thought that sounded reasonable, but then I realized I have very skinny tires (155s) on my '90 Toyota Corolla, and it seems to do rather poorly in snow despite its front wheel drive. So I think wider tires are better in snow. Could you please settle this?

TOM: It's settled, James. Roger is right. Narrower tires do make better snow tires.

RAY: There are several reasons your Corolla doesn't live up to your snowbound expectations. One is that it's a very light car. And even with narrow tires, a car can't sink down through the snow and grip the pavement if there's not enough weight (i.e. the car) pushing down on it. If your tires were wider, you'd be in even more trouble in the snow.

TOM: Also, your "skinny" tires are not snow tires. A lot of people expect front wheel drive to eliminate the need for snow tires. Well, on heavier cars, and on well-plowed roads, a good, all season tire may be good enough. But if you really need to get around in the snow, the best thing is a good set of snow tires. And you should get four of them. Then, you'll not only go, but you'll also be able to stop and turn.

RAY: So you need the right combination of ingredients to get around reliably in the snow. You need a narrow tire designed for snow, enough tread left on that tire, enough weight from the car to push down through the snow....

TOM: And a pair of Bronko Nagurski long underwear in the trunk just in case.

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