This for a moment about a day of driving in January. You might start out with a sunny day on your way to work, but that can quickly change. Suddenly, the flurries start, it drops in temperature, and the snow starts to accumulate. Your drive home will be difficult at best.
Compare that to a day in the middle of July. You start out your day with a cool drive in, but the day quickly heats up from there. The temperatures climb – 80, 90, 100 degrees and more. It’s so hot even the pavement seems a bit gooey.
What about your tires? Should you prepare for each and get two separate sets? Or will one set of tires handle it all? Can you leave winter tires on all year? Or is there a better way to drive?
Get to know Colorado’s Traction Law
If you’ve ever driven Colorado roads, especially in the dead of winter, you know how treacherous they can be. When one car has trouble, spins out of control, and winds up by the side of the road, it can impact traffic for hours. It can turn one small accident into a major pileup in seconds.
It can also be deadly.
The Traction Law is designed to require motorists to have:
- 4WD or AWD vehicle with at least a 3/16 inch tread depth
- Tires designated as mud and snow tires and a 3/16 inch tread depth
- Winter tires with a 3/16 inch tread depth
- All-weather tires with a 3/16 inch tread depth
- Chains or an Autosock
It can go into effect at any time from September 1st to May 31st, depending on road conditions. If a Traction Alert is issued, you’ll have to stay off the road unless you have the specified tires on your vehicle.
This law was designed for two reasons. First, and the most obvious, is to keep Colorado drivers safe. Second, to keep the roads moving, and avoid hours of delay that can quickly occur in the event of a major pileup.
Your first question – Do your tires meet the Traction Law?
While this new Colorado law went into effect in 2019, if you haven’t evaluated if your car meets the guidelines, it’s time to give your tires a second look. All tires must have at least 3/16 inch tread depth to be considered compliant with Colorado law. If you aren’t sure what your tires’ tread depth is, measure it. Try this simple trick. Stick a quarter into the tread, making sure George Washinton’s head goes into the tire. If you can’t see the top of his head, your tire passes the 3/16 inch test.
However, don’t try the test just once and assume your tires are okay. Try all four tires. Try it in multiple places. In some cases, you might have a tire that isn’t wearing evenly, and you might be low in certain areas.
Don’t worry if you aren’t sure. The easiest (and possibly the best) way to determine if your tires are okay is to have them checked by one of our mechanics. We can tell you if they all meet required specifications, and how much traction you have left before replacement.
Winter tires, summer tires, what’s the difference?
Typically, you’ll find several different types of tires on the market: winter, summer, all-weather.
There are a few fundamental differences between them.
Winter tires have a higher rubber content, which helps keep them softer, more supple when the temperatures dip low. The softer they are, the more able they are to grip the road surface in all kinds of weather conditions.
Winter tires have thousands of tiny grooves built into the tread blocks to disperse water and prevent hydroplaning. These grooves also can bite into the packed snow and provide optimal grip as you speed up and slow down.
Winter tires also have a deep tread pattern that allows snow to build up in the cavities. Snow helps grip snow, and intensifies the connection to the road.
Summer tires are built from a harder compound that softens in milder and warmer weather conditions. This makes them more drivable on dry as well as rainy roads.
Summer tires have fewer grooves than winter tires, and are built more for handling afternoon rain showers and to prevent hydroplaning on suddenly wet roads.
Summer tires are made from a harder rubber compound that is designed to soften as the temperatures rise. They have more friction in the heat, which in turn gives you more fuel efficiency when the pavement reaches peak temperatures.
Summer tires also have a simpler block tread, which gives you better handling on hot roads, and has a massive impact on quickly you can brake.
All-season tires are somewhere in the middle. They are designed for average performance, no matter what the weather brings. You won’t have the grip and performance of summer tires, and will sacrifice more intense braking and handling in the winter. But overall, they get the job done.
Now let’s talk about winter tires. Are winter tires good all year long?
Should you leave your winter tires on all year? After all, the Denver metro area can see cold and snowy conditions ten months out of the year. It isn’t unheard of to have a snowstorm hit in May, while we’ve had sudden blizzard-like conditions as early as September.
And if you live in the foothills, the chance of snowfall increases from there. You might be tempted to trade in your tires for a good set of winter tires, and make those your year-round replacements. Here’s why you shouldn’t.
Winter tires are designed for traction and grip on snowy roads. They have unique features that make them great at what they do.
But if you leave them on, you’ll find:
They’ll wear down faster. Because winter tires are designed with deep treads that grip in cold weather, they can also wear down faster when they meet warm or hot roads day after day.
They won’t perform. You would never wear your snow boots to go jogging in the summer. You need the right tools for the job. Winter tires are designed for lower speeds and careful driving. When you want to hit the open road, you won’t get the same maneuvering or handling with winter tires.
You replace your tires faster. When we buy new tires, we focus on the manufacturer’s guidelines for how much mileage we can expect to see. If you’re not following the guidelines, the performance factors will decrease. You’ll replace your tires more often, and possibly have more problems (and repair bills) along the way.
It makes sense to have the right tire for the job.
Have you left your winter tires on all year long in the past?