Do I need winter tires or increase my psi?

My wife and I are in a debate whether or not we should buy snow tires or if running a higher psi will fix our cars terrible traction. We own a 2004 Pontiac Vibe (fwd) and since the first winter we have had the car its had bad traction in snow. I always buy good tires so I know that can’t be the reason behind the traction issue. The other day while driving in a 4-6 inches of snow it was nearly impossible to start from a stop without the tires spinning, which is the norm and while driving on the highway I almost crashed into the center median. I was hoping that everyone had the same problem, but I was dead wrong when my co-worker reminded me that I got stuck in my parking spot at work the day before! I feel that there is a problem with the weight distribution of the car, while my wife feels we should increase the tire pressure. Any clue how to determine the problem without waiting for the next snow fall to check the psi theory???

You need winter tires. “All” season tires are really 3 season tires and are not great for snow.

Increasing the tire pressure is backward. If you wanted to increase traction you’d decrease the pressure. But neither of these things is a good idea no matter what. If snow is going to be a regular thing for you then you need winter tires.

At a minimum, you should make sure the pressure is at the correct pressure. Mucking around with really high or really low pressures isn’t the best answer, however. Buying snow/winter tires is. All season tires aren’t really, as they aren’t nearly as good in winter conditions as snow tires.

Cigroller is right; don’t fool around with tire pressues, and install a good set of WINTER TIRES, such as Michelin X-ICE or Nokia. There are many good ones on the market. My Toyota has the Michelins and we have no problem with traction, either on ice, snow or wet surfaces.

Budget about $700 for tires and new rims. You won’t regret the decision.

You have a weight problem, but it isn’t distribution. You have a light weight car and it is going to have problems dealing with 4 to 6" of unplowed snow. Winter tires will make the car handle much better in snow. Your current tires might be good, but they are not good in snow and ice. Changing the psi will have very little affect. Consider the cost of your insurance deductible if you have an accident and the cost of winter tires might not look too steep.

What tires do you have on now?

These are my thoughts exactly. Uncle, the deducticlble is my biggest arguement for buying a set. Why are steel wheels a better option rather then having a tire dealer put on and take off the snows?

I have winter tires on a Honda Civic that I bought in 2003 mounted on the OEM steel wheels. I have summer tires mounted on American Racing (brand) alloy wheels. Changing from winter to summer tires is easy, no cost for remounting and balancing 2X a year. Just pop off the wheels and replace with the others. This I can do myself in the driveway.

If you have tire shop switch the tires using the same wheels it is costly and takes time. You get back the cost of the wheels in a couple of years.

I know my winter tires are “old” but they still have good tread and good bite in snow, so I will run them at least this winter. You can get a lot of winters out of good winter tires. If you plan on selling or trading the car in a year or two, then don’t bother buying wheels in that case; you won’t recoup your investment.

Another benefit of just having dedicated wheels for the winters is that every time a tire has to go off and on there is a change of error and/or damage. One more place to add potential hassle & cost 2X per year.

I don’t need to run winters where I live, but if I did I would absolutely have a set of wheels for them.

Good point, I was thinking about the discount that is applied for mounting/balancing/tires as I work for Bridgestone. If the fee is low then I’ll stick with the alloys and if not then I’ll take your advice and get some steelies. Thanks for the advice everyone!

How worn down are your tires? How many /32" ?

I’d look for rims and winter tires on Craigslist. I just bought a couple Blizzaks from Craigslist for $50.

Either Craigslist, a local shop, or tirerack will mount, balance, and ship you a set of wheels/tires ready to put on the car. Just make sure you get 4, either way.

The tires I have on now are Bridgestone Turanza w/ Serenity and they were put on in December. I’ve been checking Craigslist and nothing close to my current size or another size that I would be able to run for a decent price.

|There are all-season tires and then there are all-season tires.

Wife has been running all-season tires on her fwd vehicles for over 30+ years and HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of miles…and she NEVER EVER had any problems what-so-ever.

But not all "all-season’ tires are the same.

Your only solution is to get new tires (good all-season or dedicated winter tires). Messing the the PSI to get better traction won’t help and is dangerous.

TIRE RACK: Higher Tire Pressures for Winter Driving.
Increasing tire pressure 3-5 psi is not as outré as some people on this board think it is. Tire manufacturers have recommended doing so, for reasons given in the above TireRack tech article. Snow tires would be better, but increasing the tire pressure about 5 psi would help.

Very interesting Mechaniker, I think I’m going to find an unplowed parking lot somewhere and try this.

In addition to using slightly higher pressure, using a thinner tire (also likely will need new wheels) will usually help. With the thinner tyres, you get more PSI on the road and that will tend to get down to the pavement faster than fat summer tyres which will tend to run on the snow.

Remember when driving in winter, it is all about being able to stop and control your car. Not getting stuck is not the really important part of winter driving. Being able to control your car and avoid injury accidents is what it is really all about.

“Increasing tire pressure 3-5 psi is not as outré as some people on this board think it is. Tire manufacturers have recommended doing so, for reasons given in the above TireRack tech article.”

But you didn’t read very carefully. It doesn’t say run your all seasons at higher psi. It says to run winter tires at a higher psi than summer or all season. The whole thing is predicated on the assumption that you are using winter tires.

From the article:
“Several vehicle manufacturer’s owner’s manuals recommend operating winter tires several psi (typically 3-5) higher than their recommended pressures for summer and all-season tires.”

Increasing the psi of your all season radials isn’t going to do a thing - except maybe make things worse.


Unless the OP wants to exacerbate the poor traction situation with his current tires, he will make sure that he runs them at the pressure specified on the door jamb, NOT at a higher pressure.

I can alos tell you from personal experience that the difference that real winter tires make in your safety and security in slippery conditions makes them FAR superior to so-called all-season tires.

Snow tires can often start at 10/32 to 12/32 inch depth while all seasons start at much less that. A half worn winter tire can still have more tread depth then an all season with very little use that may start with as little as 8/32 inch. So don’t be fooled by “new” all seasons as having enough winter traction tread, regardless of design. Snow tires should be changed at 5/32 inch while people often run all seasons down to below legal of less then 3/32. Why wouldn’t they stink in deep snow with just a year of two wear ?

That’s why having TWO sets, one for dedicated winter, can not only be safer…but cheaper as well.

Lastly, it doesn’t matter what you have for tires if you drive in snow much deeper then your ground clearance (5.8" unloaded). When the chassis starts floating, the tires, winter tread and studded or not don’t help and you’re stuck
I doubt that a Vibe has as much as 6 inches plus of clearance. Close to that makes the very best all seasons useless and even winter tires compromised.