Snow Tires (not again!)

I have a 2006 Toyota Sienna (fwd). It has and has always had lousy performance on ice and snow, even though we are experienced and conservative drivers. We live in a city and most of the time it isn’t an issue. We like to ski in winter, though, and last year we had a nasty slide on a sheet of ice (coming down a mountain) which freaked me out. This year I want to get snow tires, except I was reading that they are not as safe on regular dry pavement. We have to drive our car at least a couple of hours on highways in order to get to the places where these snow tires will be of real use. I thought snow tires were a no-brainer until I read about them being unsafe on the highway. What to do?

Snow, or better term today is winter, tires are just fine on dry highways. The winter tires have a more open ttead design and in particular have more open areas on the shoulders of the tread. These improve grip in snow, but reduce grip just a bit on dry pavement.

In making tires everything is a compromise. To get more performance in one area means a decrease in performance in another area. The best tire for dry roadways would have lousy performance on wet roads. Winter tires also have a softer rubber in the tread which stays pliable as the temps go down. Softer rubber means better grip on ice but the tread wears down faster. Also the softer tread can get “mushy” if winter tires are run in hot weather.

Winter tires perform fine at normal highway speeds during the fall, winter, and early spring months. They should be taken off the car in the summer.

" I thought snow tires were a no-brainer until I read about them being unsafe on the highway."

Could you please cite the source of the information that winter tires are “UNSAFE” in highway conditions?
I suspect that you are either grossly misinterpreting what you read, or that your source is…shall we say…less than authoritative.

While it is true that most true winter tires are rated for “only” 99 mph, I think it is rather unlikely that a “conservative driver” (your words) is going to drive at that speed. And, it is possible to buy winter tires nowadays that are rated for higher sustained speeds.

It is true that many winter tires have less dry road traction than a so-called “all-season” tire, but this reduced traction is slight unless one is driving at the extreme limits of a vehicle’s handling ability. If you are truly a “conservative driver”, it is very unlikely that you would notice any difference in dry road traction with winter tires.

I have been using Michelin winter tires since 1998, and I can tell you that they actually have very good dry road handling, as compared to some “all-season” tires. Obviously, many other all-season tires are far better in dry road handling characteristics, but the fact remains that Michelin’s winter tires give a driver far fewer of the usual compromises than most other makers’ winter tires. Specifically, Michelin’s winter tires have much better tread life than other winter tires, have a lower level of road noise than most competitors, and handle very robustly on dry roads.

If you take a look at Consumer Reports’ recent test results for winter tires, you will see a brand-by-brand comparison of most of the issues that I have mentioned. They did not keep their winter tires long enough to be able to compare wear patterns, but I can tell you from personal experience that Michelin winter tires are better than their competitors on that issue, as well as other issues.

I agree with both of the posts. Differences lie in the makes of tires. We are devotees to them but only because we drive on ice and snow everyday from Dec. to April. We are especially more careful at speed with the studded on the SUV and careful still with the other. You need better tires, but they don’t have to be winter if you seldom have a need. One’s that are rated better for winter traction but still all season. My other recommendation is for down hill mountain traction, are traction spray cans kept in the car. They may help for very limited use, and have yet to speak with anyone with experience with them. IMO, it’s worth the try. Winter tires are definitely superior, and the better ones as “UT and VDC” say are reasonable dry pavement performers. Studs are not the solution as when new they can skate on dry pavement. Most of us are pretty conservative drivers in winter anyway, so superior dry pavement traction is not comparably as big an issue. I’ve read of new tire tech with retractable studs, but I don’t want the expense or be someone else proving ground.
Good luck in your inquiry…you do well to be concerned. IMHO, think better all seasons and spray traction, and winter tires if you feel the investment is worth your time and safety on special occasions.

Where did you read this? Winter tires (non-studded) aren’t unsafe on the highway by any means. They might have slightly less traction when driven to the limit on a sports car, but that’s not your situation. They might have a slightly longer stopping distance on dry or wet roads, but this is a sensible tradeoff for the much greater safety in snow and ice.

Tire Rack’s web site has a lot of good technical information and reviews on tires, so maybe you want to compare winter tires with your normal all-season tires there.

Hi, I am the original poster. Thank you all for taking the time to reply. I just wanted to respond to a question above. I know nothing about tires and I started with consumer reports. In the tire buying guide, if you look in the section for winter tires you will see a lot of black circles and semi circles in the dry braking column, indicating poor to below average performance. For the high performance winter tires, the ratings are slightly better, but they don’t appear to match the performance of all season tires. In addition, I also read internet review comments by a number of snow tire owners who said they felt their cars slipped around when driving on highways.

I assumed that I would be replacing my tires with four winter tires and I might sacrifice a bit in mileage. I did not assume that I would have to sacrifice anything in terms of dry and wet highway braking, where 95 percent of all of our driving occurs.

You do have to sacrifice a little and you’re absolutely right to be concerned. “In making tires everything is a compromise” by Uncle Turbo has it. But the difference IMO isn’t great enough to be concerned about if you’re a careful driver, as we have “survived” for 25 years with them. The dramatic increased winter traction is well worth it for many. If you don’t plan on changing back to your all season tires in the spring, I would then say never buy winter tires, just better winter rated all seasons. Does your last statement indicate that ?

In Milwaukee most every BMW driver has a set of winter tires. We sold mainly Blizzacks. One e-39 (2000 5 series) driver complained about extreme vibration when he drove on the freeway. It was June and he still had his Blizzacks on. They were ruined. The tread area of they tire was so uneven it was no problem diagnosing the problem with just a look,you did even have to run your hand accross the tire. Run those blizzacks in the summer haet and you will ruin them.

Winter tires use a softer rubber compound, often deeper tread blocks, and often siped (each tread block is sliced to create more edges). More edges and more ability of the tread blocks to flex creates better traction on slick surfaces, but can combine to make the tires more “squarrely” on dry highways. How much depends both on the tires and the car in combination.

That does not make the tires unsafe. It simply means you need to slow down a bit, think ahead, and skip that NASCAR feeling of tearing into off ramps. You should be doing these things in winter anyway.

Again, thank you all for the replies. Unfortunately my dealer tells me that my 06 Sienna LE will only take run flats and there is no place for a spare and, in his opinion, nothing brakes on ice anyway. Maybe nothing does a great job braking on ice, but I see a lot of cars out there that do a better job on the ice than mine does with its OE Dunlop 4000 sp. I had decided to just change to an all season with better rated performance on ice, but then I ran into the run flat issue.

I can’t believe this is so complicated!!!

Jennifer, I posted a link to Blizzak replacement tires for your Sienna at These should help you stop and handle much better on slick surfaces.
You can also peruse other options on Tirerack that will fit. The runflats Toyota puts on these are replaceable with regular tires. Most tire stores will carry Blizzaks and other brands that will fit. The key is in the size and the load ratings. You can also buy a spare steel wheel, throw an all-season spare on it, and store it in the back of the rear seat…or as I used to call mine “the wayback”…as a spare.

You must have spoke to the “customer service advisor”. These guys often know little about cars.

Thank you for the link. I don’t think the Blizzaks are right for me, though. One of the reviewers–the one who lives in Pennsylvania–is closer to my situation. That reviewer didn’t drive in that much snow and ice and found the performance on the highway to be tedious. I was going to try to find an all season that was better rated on the ice but then I ran into the run flat issue. I am still going to look around, even though the service rep really tried hard to talk me out of it.

W/o an answer, I’m guessing you don’t plan on rotating your tires. With that in mind there are significant differences in all season tire performance in winter. The other problem is, tread depth is even more critical for all seasons to perform well in winter. You wont be able to “stretch” the performance over miles of use as well as you could if you rotated.

The dealer is dead wrong when he says “nothing” brakes on ice. Better winter tires always do a better job in this respect. I apologize on the part of all those you have to deal who seem to think your safety is secondary to they making a sale, including your problems having a vehicle with run flats. I feel really good about every piece of advice you’ve received from all here on this issue. If you can spare the room, I’d dump the run flats and throw a spare in the back in a plastic bag and get the best all around tires regardless.

I’d be willing to do that but the dealer told me it would be unsafe because the sensor wouldn’t work and I wouldn’t know if I had a problem with one of the tires. My car only has slightly more than 20,000 miles on it even though it is four years old. I get it serviced routinely and I would have the tires rotated if that was recommended. I believe on one of my service visits they rotated and rebalanced them.

I think for this trip coming up I am going to get some S cables in case there is a rain and hard freeze the next day and we encounter a sheet of ice. Then I will look into the possibility of getting a set of better regular tires–at least just for the winter. I have to say, as much as I’ve trashed the Dunlops here–they have performed well for us in all the other months and they are holding up fine and we are generally happy with them. Maybe I’ll just put them back on in the spring.

Good idea about the cables…I would get them for all 4 wheels for safer handling on ice and practice putting them on before the trip. They are good insurance regardless of tires, for skiers. Eventually, you could just run winter tires in the winter with a spare, get a tire gauge and return to the run flats in the spring. That’s what I do with my 4Runner. The glowing tire pressure light (if that’s what we’re talking about) is just a season’s greeting lamp during this time of year. I think the dealer has to be a little more helpful then just spew the Toyota line.

You put the cables on all four wheels? I thought the drive wheels only.

“the dealer told me it would be unsafe because the sensor wouldn’t work and I wouldn’t know if I had a problem with one of the tires.”

Based on that statement, I have to assume that you don’t own a hand-held tire pressure gauge, or that you never use the one that you have. Please be assured that people drove their cars in complete safety prior to the advent of Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems IF they simply checked their tire pressure on a regular basis.

“in his opinion, nothing brakes on ice anyway.”

A good winter tire will allow you to brake on ice in approximately 30 feet less distance in low-speed driving situations than if you were using non-winter tires. That is the difference between having a collision and not having a collision in many cases. At higher speeds, the difference in stopping distances is even greater. Anyone who is not aware of the vast superiority of winter tires for braking purposes is just not aware of the realities of this technology.

If you want my advice–coming from a person who is thrifty, practical, and so safety oriented that he has not had a car accident in 38 years/450,000+ miles–I would recommend that you:

Forget about the “run-flats”, and buy a set of 4 winter tires, preferably Michelins.
Buy a good-quality tire pressure gauge and use it at least once a month.
Throw a tire–be it a run-flat or not–in the back as a spare.
Stop taking the advice of “service writers” as gospel, simply because most of them have little automotive knowledge.

Cables on front will help you go, but balanced braking and handling is always better if all 4 wheels have the same traction aid. If you drive down an icy hill or corner w/o equal traction on rear, you run a much greater risk of loosing control. Been there, done that. I use to ice race and traction aids on back are very important, maybe more so. Racing reveals desired emergency situation preparation and responses better than normal driving.
Many here have that experience while the dealer spokes person may not.
We all recommend winter tires on all 4 wheels for the same reason.

Jennifer, the tire pressure monitoring system will work fine. These systems use one of two methods.

One is actual pressure sensors located generally inside the tire on the rim. They don’t care if you have run-flats or regular tires. If you have a spare rim with a tire and have to mount it, you’ll get a TPS light until you put the regular rim back on. No biggie.

The other is by comparing the signals from “wheel speed sensors” mounted on the axles seperate from the tires. They too don’t car what you have on for tires. The Toyota products I’ve been familiar with, including my own, use this system.

The run flats on your car only have strengthened sidewalls able to take the car a certain distance at lowered speeds. They’re easily replaceable with regular tires. A different type of run flat is used by some manufacturers that has a soft solid “tire” wrapped around the rim inside the regular tire. That type presents problems, but you don’t have that type.

I just put Blizzack’s on my '04 T’bird. I try not to drive this car in the winter, but there are times I may have to and the standard tires did zippo in the snow. I live in PA and have hills and high speed highways to contend with.

So far I have driven the car on the interstate up to 70 mph to make sure they were balanced and smooth going downing down the road. I tryed some performance tests on dry roads and they are just fine. Surprisingly not too much noisier then the summer tires. Blizzacks have been excellent winter tires for many years now and you shouldn’t get too swayed by one negative review.