Winter tires a must for drive to Florida

Most consumers have been oversold about how quickly winter tires will wear when run on hot pavement, writes John Mahler. Yes, winter tires do wear faster in the heat than all-season tires, but they do not melt off the car.

  • Florida Winter Tires

What would be best? Driving to Florida this winter with winter tires, then driving around Florida for a month in summer-type heat on softer rubber, or driving south with all-season tires for a month’s stay in the warmer climate?

To me, the answer is obvious. Winter tires are the way to go. When it comes to those four small patches of rubber holding the car on the road safely, my philosophy is, “Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.”

It has been a rare driver who has made it all the way down the interstate to Florida without some form of weather raising its head: sometimes a little rain and many times a major snowfall. I think we can all remember TV news coverage of cars sliding — in slow motion — sideways into the ditches in Kentucky and the Carolinas. So depending on how lucky you feel, is it worth taking a chance with your family’s safety? I think not. Winter tires are a must for the trip down and back.

Most consumers have been oversold about how quickly winter tires will wear when run on hot pavement. Yes, winter tires do wear faster in the heat than all-season tires, but they do not melt off the car. That may have been true 20 years ago, but not today.

Today, winter tires use materials that can withstand heat much better, especially winter tires that are H-speed rated and above, as well as winter tires that are rated “XL” for extra-load.

The great enemy of winter tires is heat, that’s for sure. But if you make sure you do not generate extra heat in the tire, you can help its tread live longer. That means checking the tire pressures religiously. Under-inflation causes extra heat to build up, and that accelerates tire wear.

And don’t drive the tires like sport tires, throwing them into corners and braking late. Show the tire some respect and extra wear will be minimized.

I have regularly driven winter tires six to eight weeks in Florida, and they still lasted five winters. A tire company executive sheepishly admitted to me he drove a set of winter tires year-round in the GTA before they wore out in year four. He was just too busy to change them.

I just got an Audi Q5 equipped with Continental Cross Contact LX Sport P235/55R19 all-season tires. On all my previous vehicles, I have used winter tires from November to March, except for a Mercury Villager, which was no problem on all seasons.

However, I am seriously considering not installing winters on the Q5 because of cost and concerns over the handling/storage of spares. Given that the Q5 is four-wheel drive (I know, stopping is the major concern) driven only in the GTA, would you please comment?

You are correct, it is all about stopping when the roads are slushy. The Audi Quattro system is amazing for getting traction to go, but no AWD system can do anything to help you stop. The instant you move your foot from gas to brake, you go from AWD drive to no-wheel drive.

Remember all the traction aids on your Audi (traction control, AWD, stability control, ABS)? Well, none of these electronics can create traction; they can only maximize whatever traction you have. All traction is done by the tires.

The all-season Contis on your Q5 are not Continental’s best effort. Their newest SUV tire, the Continental CrossContct LX20 with EcoPlus Technology, deservedly ranks No. 1 on most consumer surveys. In short, it has higher grip levels in winter and summer and lasts longer. However it is still an all-season with little traction below -14C.

If this was my Quattro, and I did not have room to store winter tires and wheels, I would at least get a set of all-weather tires, specifically the Nokian WRG3 SUV. These are winter snowflake-rated but stay on the car year-round. In winter, they will out-stop an all-season tire almost as well as a fully dedicated winter tire.

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