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We bought a car recently which has very bad winter tires on. We didn’t realise how bad they are until it snowed last week. They lost all grip, the car barely stopped while braking or even go in the wrong direction while steering. So, they’re really bad. They might even lose some air, there was a warn light on once but we refilled them and now it’s off.

It came also with summer tires and now we‘re wondering - is it better to put the summer tires on now? Winter should be over in around a month or maybe two. We don’t plan to drive if it snows again. Now it’s really mild - spring might start soon. It’s just about when there might be an icy spot on the street that we didn’t expect to be there - what would be less dangerous to drive on it?

We‘ll replace the winter tires next year. We had a lot to repair so we can’t afford them right now.

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    Are you sure other tires would have fared better? If the snow was of really bad “quality” or there was black ice under it the tires might not be as bad as you think. Check the wear indicator and look for reviews of the tires online. – Michael Mar 12 '18 at 8:47
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    Where are you? This is rather important for legal/climatic/altitude aspects to the question.. – Oscar Bravo Mar 12 '18 at 9:11
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    @OscarBravo I‘m in Germany. Both options would not be legally accepted in winter weather especially in an accident. I wouldn’t drive the car then. But I might drive it now in temperature between 3 and 10•C without snow and known ice. I just wondered which would be better in case of a sudden frozen patch of the street. If I could afford it I‘d buy the new wheels yet. – Kinaeh Mar 12 '18 at 9:30
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    Can´t afford right now is a really bad excuse to say to some parents whose child you just run over because your breaking took to long. Never save on tires! – Daniel Mar 12 '18 at 12:37
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    FWIW in Quebec (Canada) you are required to have certified winter tires in good condition on your car, between Dec.15 and Mar.15; failure to comply jeopardizes your insurance coverage, should you hit anything. – Mathieu Guindon Mar 12 '18 at 14:51
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Neither option is ideal.

The way the current winter tires are described, it seems that they would be equally bad on ice as a set of summer tires.

If you don't plan on using the car in snow, it makes sense to at least have grip for non-icy conditions. Fresh summer tires would be much safer in this scenario.

Please bear in mind though that weather is unpredictable, and this is a matter of safety. The right thing to do here is to get a fresh set of winter tires for the winter (or not use the car until the winter is over, if possible).

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    Check if your tires are really "summer" tires or are all-season. Real "summer" tires should not be installed on cars at all in places that snow, because those things lose grip due to temperature alone. The snow is just extra death. – Nelson Mar 12 '18 at 14:43
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    @Nelson That sounds like a separate answer to me. – jpmc26 Mar 12 '18 at 20:25
  • @Nelson thank you. If they were 'all-season' I had them be put on without asking this question. So they're summer. But we really won't drive in snow, no matter if summer tires or this winter tires... we had one awful drive as we drove home from the automotive workshop in a kind of snow storm. - Most panic 10 minutes of my life. My husband handled it better but we wont try that again. – Kinaeh Mar 13 '18 at 6:12
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    If the tires are truly summer tires, you don't drive them in the cold. Period. Doesn't matter if the sun is up and there is 0 chance of snow. I forgot the exact temperature, but anything near zero is not good. – Nelson Mar 13 '18 at 15:21
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This sounds like the winter tyres are past it.

I have winter tyres and they only ever do two winter seasons and then they are changed. Also, they are stored out of sunlight during the summer as the UV degrades the compounds...

As for using summer tyres in winter conditions - most of the tourists are the ones who get stuck - with summer tyres...

So, yes put the summer ones on but don't drive in winter conditions as you say - also be aware that in some countries if you don't have winter tyres in winter conditions you won't be covered or covered completely by insurance if you are involved in an accident.

5

Winter tyres won't really stop you skidding if you hit ice. That's not what they're meant for. Their compound is formulated to give better grip at lower temperatures and in wetter conditions (so rain and snow). However, tyres do go off after a period of time even if they have a lot of tread left on them.

As the weather improves the temperatures increase, and the compound isn't designed to deal with warmer weather. That's when summer tyres come in to their own. All Weather tyres do exist which should provide the best grip in both cold and wet conditions as it would in hot dry conditions.

Check the tyres for any signs of cracks on the tyre wall, or near the tread. This can indicate the tyres age and/or condition. You can also check the date the tyres were manufactured, follow this article for a guide. A general life expectancy of tyres is usually 5 years.

It's also worth mentioning that cheap tyres don't perform the same as more expensive tyres. I've had tyres that cost £20 each and the moment the road got a bit moist the tyres wouldn't grip. There are some rare exceptions to this, but generally it's best to steer clear of budget tyres. They're the only things, aside from brakes, that stop you from crashing in to something. So don't cheap out on them. A good general rule is to go for mid-range tyres.

If it was me, and I've been in your position before, I'd stick new tyres on there and be done with it.

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    Those cheap tyres you mention are called "ditch-finders".... – Solar Mike Mar 12 '18 at 10:17
  • Yeah the point about quality of the tyres is really my problem. I won’t buy some cheap ones, therefore new winter tyres are out of budget right now. If the summer tyres were worn out too I‘d bite the sour apple and buy some all weather tyres. – Kinaeh Mar 12 '18 at 10:18
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    @Kinaeh I would check the date of manufacture on the summer tyres with the link provided. If they're older than 5 years then I'd consider them scrap. Check the walls of the tyres for cracks. If they're cracking, I'd consider them scrap. – mickburkejnr Mar 12 '18 at 11:52
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Lots of misinformation in the answers here.

Old winter tires are preferable to summer tires in snowy conditions.

The OP mentions "we didn’t realise how bad they are", so I conclude that the tread is fine, thus the likely problem is that the compound (rubber) has hardened. In that aspect, the compound will behave very similar to summer compounds, which are harder. However, the winter tire still has a winter tread pattern, winter sidewalls (thicker due to the greater temp differences between driving and parking conditions), and other winter features. Additionally, the use of summer tires in winter may violate certain laws or void certain insurance claims.

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    Old winter tires vs summer tires is a showcase of false dichotomy. There is a third option: to get new winter tires and/or refrain from driving on snow until they do. – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 12 '18 at 16:58
  • @DmitryGrigoryev: You are 100% correct, the OP mentions that option. – dotancohen Mar 12 '18 at 19:20
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Check out the production date on your winter tires:

enter image description here

If they are more than 10 years old, they have probably hardened to the point there's little difference in grip compared to summer tires. Replace them, or put your summer tires on and refrain from driving when it's +3°C or below outside.

Otherwise, your tires are probably fine. What you should do is tone down your expectations about traction/grip you'll have in winter conditions. Whatever tires you'll get, it will never be as good as in summer.

I assume your tires are not worn out or visibly damaged, if that's the case you should obviously get rid of them.

  • Ten years is a long time even for summer tires. I believe that winter tires harden after only three years, even when kept indoors during the other months. – dotancohen Mar 12 '18 at 19:21
  • @dotancohen Do you happen to have a source for that? E.g. this source seems to disagree. – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 13 '18 at 11:35
  • The linked source states that tire manufacturers in general (not specific to snow tires) recommend an inspection after six years to determine if the tire can continue, and definite retirement after 10. That is not specific to winter tires which have much more pliable compounds, are subject to much higher water penetration, much more drastic temperature cycles, and are used on much less grippy surfaces including water ice and snow, suspended oil (not a problem in dry summer as the road absorbs it), leaves, surface treatments such as sand and salt, etc. Those compounds do not last. – dotancohen Mar 14 '18 at 8:44
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First it does not only matter how much profile you have left, but also how old your tires are. The rubber gets harder over time, and with cold weather grip gets worse. The make and model and the dimensions will also make a difference.

Then it really depends on the conditions:

  • If it´s snowing or icy, a worn-down winter tire may fare better then a newer summer tire.
  • On rain the summer tire will probably win.
  • On a cold but dry street I would see the winter tire in the lead.

(But as stated, this all may vary with age, dimensions and model)

As you say you are in Germany: You are legally required to have winter tires on as long as it is below 7°C! Your tires have to have at least 1.6mm of profile on them, but 4mm min is recommended!

At last, a word of warning: Don't save in the wrong places. The brakes and tires are about the most important safety parts. Your tires are your only contact to the street. Even the smallest of accidents will cost you more than a decent set of tires! Not to mention the responsibility of operating two tons of steel at deadly speeds in public.

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If you can't afford new winter tyres, put on good summer tyres and buy some snow-chains, in case you find bad weather and/or police, you can show that you're prepared to drive on bad road. To check if tyres are good, take a 2€ coin and put it in the tyre's grooves, if all the outer 'ring' remains inside the groove (test 2 cm away from tyre side wall) tyres are OK, in other cases, throw away even summer ones and get a set of 4-season.

  • Would snow chains be helpful on ice? – Zaid Mar 13 '18 at 14:07
  • Much better than winter tyres only (only 'nailed tyres' are better then chains on ice) – DDS Mar 13 '18 at 14:20
  • I like this idea – Zaid Mar 13 '18 at 14:21
  • Keep in mind that you can't go over 30 km/h with chains on – DDS Mar 13 '18 at 14:24
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I have driven on both old little-driven quality winter tires and new "all-season" tires in light snow. With the old winter tires, I drove also in heavy snow and ice.

I can definitely say that the new "all-season" tires are in snow worse than old (more accurately, about 20 years old) Nokian Hakkapeliitta studded tires.

This shouldn't be surprising. The tread pattern of winter tires is designed for snow. Even with age, the tread pattern won't go away.

I won't recommend installing over 6 year old tires to your rims. If the tires are 10 years old and your budget allows, consider replacing even though there can be tread left.

To make it absolutely clear, I don't recommend to others driving around in 20 years old winter tires. When I did so, I never exceeded 100 km/h and usually limited my speed to 80 km/h for safety reasons. The tires never gave me any problem despite their age.

Are your winter tires from a reputable brand? How many kilometers on them? Treadwear can affect the tread pattern, but age doesn't.

My recommendation would be to install new quality winter tires. Whatever you do, don't start driving around in snow with summer tires! Winter tires are an extraordinarily good safety investment and not the place to save money.

I know the difference between old and new quality winter tires. The difference is noticeable. Yet the difference between old winter tires and summer tires is noticeable too, with old winter tires being better than summer tires.

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I've done a good deal of experimentation in the area of snow tires vs. all-season radials, and here's what I found:

  1. Not all tires are created equal. Some all-season radials are great in the snow and some are terrible.
  2. Not all vehicles are good in the snow - so no matter what tires you use they can still be terrible to drive.

Some notes from my experience:

  • My Lexus RX330 was like a tractor in snow and ice with Blizzak snow tires and drives well with worn all-season Yokohama Geolanders.
  • My Camry Hybrid is awful in slippery conditions with any tires - even with Bridgestone Blizzaks. I'm considering testing out studded snows for next winter.
  • My Cadillac Escalade is awful to drive in the snow with General all-season radials, but it's a dream in the snow with Firestone winterforce radials.

In conclusion, I don't think you can rate a vehicle's performance and handling in slippery conditions on the tires alone. So the tires might not be the only problem, part of the problem might be the car.

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    It should be noted that "drives like a tractor" is a positive trait as used here! – dotancohen Mar 12 '18 at 19:22
  • Yeah, my car is a BMW X5 with AWD. One reason to buy it was because I thought it should be save to drive in winter, so I hope it was because of the tires and I have a tractor next year, too ;D – Kinaeh Mar 13 '18 at 6:02

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