Studded vs. studless winter tires: which should you buy?

October 17, 2014

With the days getting noticeably shorter there's no doubt that it's time to prepare for winter, which means installing winter tires on your vehicle for optimal handling and safety.  But should you buy studded or studless winter tires? Here's what experts advise.

Studded vs. studless winter tires: which should you buy?

Those living in the outer reaches ask themselves this question almost every year: should we buy winter tires with or without studs?

On the one hand, studded tires are enemies of asphalt because they dig into dry pavement and create ruts that collect water and increase the odds of dangerous hydroplaning year-round. In addition, as studded tires chew up the road they tend to create dust that pollutes the air.

On the other hand, there's one undeniable fact about studded tires that make them worthy of consideration: they are excellent on snow and ice.

Before you decide to buy one or the other, find out if  winter tires are required by law in your province and also if studded tires have been outlawed in your area for their road-destroying tendencies. Local transportation authorities can tell you.

What are studded tires?

For the uninitiated, studs are pins about the size of a pencil lead, encased in a tungsten carbide body that sits just below the tire tread surface.

  • The pins protrude past the end of the casing and tire tread, thus providing the “bite” into an icy surface. They are effectively like the cleated shoes athletes wear to play, e.g., soccer.

Why are they still popular?

The short answer to the enduring popularity of studded tires is that some people remain convinced that studded tires are the best way to enhance wintertime traction.

  • To better stand up to the punishment of studded tires, certain areas that get a lot of snow and ice are fighting back by building roads with a rubberized asphalt mix that is more resilient.

Do studded tires really work?

On icy roads where the temperature is at or near freezing for a good few months, studded tires work splendidly.

  • To the surprise of many, however, a recent Alaskan study has shown that in almost every situation studless winter tires perform as well (or better) than studded versions.

So why are studless tires apparently as effective?

  • Experts suggest that tire technology (e.g., advances in the rubber compounds, more efficient tread designs) has reached the point where road-eating studs may be unnecessary.

Pros and cons of studless winter tires

In that same study, results showed that studless winter tires performed equally well on snow and even better than studded tires while cornering.

  • Although modern studless tires maintain their performance under a wide array of extreme winter conditions and tend to last longer than tires produced 10 years ago, they can also wear faster than their studded counterparts.

A recent Consumer Reports study

A few years ago, a Consumer Reports study found that studded tires work extremely well on ice, but so do studless models.

  • In fact, the test team wouldn’t even try the studded tires on their test track, fearing damage. They also noted that studded tires are noisy.

How do studless tires work?

Studless winter tires are made of a pliable, absorbent rubber that wicks away water on the surface of the ice that makes traveling so slippery.

  • Increased flexibility of modern rubber compounds allows them to maintain greater traction on icy, snowy and wet road conditions.
  • Better computer-generated tread designs permit better control of a vehicle, by dispersing slush and water more efficiently.
  • The deeper tread depth of a winter (versus a summer or all-season) tire, too, makes them grippier.
  • In addition, upon closer inspection of winter tires you may have noticed thousands of tiny slits. They are called "sipes" and provide traction when accelerating, decelerating and cornering.

Final choice

Modern tire technology has made studless winter tires as efficient as studded ones. However, the final choice is still ultimately yours to make. If you're still considering studded tires, ensure that the law doesn't restrict their use in your municipality, province or territory before you buy and install a new set on your vehicle.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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