You read that right. I wasn’t skating in an ice rink. I was driving in it.
It was all part of the TireRack.com Winter Driving Experience with Michelin that I recently attended on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Go Irish (apparently)!
When I mentioned I was traveling to South Bend, Indiana for some ice driving at the end of September, I had many friends quizzically ask me if it’s really cold enough for ice this time of year. While Indiana does get it’s fair share of snow and ice, it’s not something you can typically expect in September. In the Compton Family Ice Arena, you’ll find plenty of ice on their two indoor rinks and a definite chill in the air.
It was so chilly (we were warned of 50 degree temps but I know it was colder) that we came prepared with hats, gloves, jackets, and even hand warmers (we needed it all too!). PROOF:
What, might you ask, was the point of doing something as crazy as driving on a sheet of ice? Glad you asked. Because I learned so much about why the TIRES you choose can make all the difference in the world.
What’s the deal with winter tires?
Let’s do a little tire education first.
Things I already knew about tires… THEY ARE SO IMPORTANT. Not only do they affect the sound and smoothness of your ride but they are the only thing between you and the road. All the safety and technology of your vehicle won’t matter if you don’t have tires that can keep you safely moving on the road.
If you’re like me, you bought a car and you’ve been using the tires that came with your car without giving them a second thought. It’s a new car, after all. The tires should be pretty good, right?
Yes and no.
You’ll certainly have the right sized tires for your vehicle and they’re probably pretty decent all season tires. But if you live in a state that experiences winter weather (that typically means snow, ice, or temperatures that average below 44 degrees), you need to know why winter tires can make all the difference.
This particular tire is the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 and there are a few things I want you to take notice of in this tire.
There’s a jagged edge on each of the blocks of the tire. As you might imagine, this allows the tire to dig into the ice and snow. Next, you’ll find the sipes – a term that was totally new to me. These little beauties are what help give you more traction in winter weather conditions (more on how that happens in my video below). And on this tire, you’ll also find tiny pits. These are designed to wick away the small amounts of water created as the tire ever so slightly melts the snow and ice.
Need more? Here’s your complete winter tire education in only two minutes.
Pretty cool, huh? I had no idea all of that went into a winter tire. But the proof isn’t in seeing the difference. It’s in experiencing the difference. And driving on the ice convinced me beyond the shadow of a doubt that winter tires could potentially save your car (or even your life) in severe weather.
Ice Rink #1: Toyota Camry All-Season Tires vs. Winter Tires
For our morning run, we drove two Toyota Camrys, one equipped with Michelin Primacy XV4 all-season tires, and the other equipped with the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 winter tires.
With the Camry sporting the winter tires (on the left in this video), I saw quicker acceleration, higher possible speeds, and quicker braking distances. The all-season tires performed fairly but there was definitely a difference.
What really clinched it for me was the demonstration in the afternoon when we took out a few Toyota RAV-4 crossovers so that we could compare a bigger, heavier vehicle with all wheel drive to the vehicle with winter tires.
Ice Rink #2: Toyota RAV-4 AWD All-Season Tires vs. Winter Tires
In the afternoon, we switched to the second ice rink and put the Toyota RAV-4s to the test, one equipped with the Michelin Latitude Tour HP and the other with Michelin Latitude X-Ice Xi2. And both equipped with all wheel drive. We tested both acceleration, braking, AND handling. The results were quite dramatic.
While the acceleration and braking wasn’t as obvious (at least not in this video), I noticed that the vehicle with all-season tires was much more difficult to control. With the heavier vehicle accelerating and braking, I noticed some fishtailing happening as I drove on the ice.
More dramatic than that was the handling. Luckily, they had professional drivers doing that second portion. As both vehicles drove at the same exact speed and attempted to take the same exact corner, the vehicle with the all-season tires when careening off through a lines of cones into what could have been oncoming traffic. The vehicle with winter tires was able to maintain complete traction on the ice.
Who Needs Winter Tires?
If you’re like me, I walked away thinking, OMG, I need to get winter tires ASAP. Everyone should have winter tires. WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE HAVE WINTER TIRES?
Truth be told, not everyone needs winter tires. It depends on where you live and what kind of winter weather you experience. Here’s a quick overview.
I’m in Maryland so I could go either way. My husband, on the other hand, travels up north quite a bit for sales meeting. Before I went on this trip, he mentioned he might be getting winter tires. I scoffed (#truestory). I came back from this trip and told him to order his tires from TireRack.com with my blessing.
And if you’re still confused, Michelin made this handy dandy decision tree that you can click on a print out as your very own reference guide.