Ask TFLcar: I am Moving to Colorado, Do I Need Snow Chains or Winter Tires?

Do you need snow winter tires?

TFLcar recently received this question from H.C.:

Dear Fast lane Car, I am moving from the Bay Area to Colorado Springs around January (so, winter time).  I will have to drive there. I really don’t want  to use snow chains, I would appreciate your advice for a safe trip. Should I buy all weather or snow tires for the trip? Some general advice about safe winter driving would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
PS. I drive a 2005 Mercury Sable

This is a great question that goes directly to driving safety and choosing the correct tire for the job.

Dear H.C., it is unlikely that you will hit a snow storm bad enough that it will require snow chains while you are driving from California to Colorado. You will probably be driving East on I-80. You will be crossing several mountain ranges along the way, including the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains. It’s possible that the highway will be closed if the snow is too bad, but it will re-open when the plows have cleared it.

It sounds like you do not have a lot of winter (slippery surface) driving experience. I would recommend getting two sets of tires for your Mercury: a set of proper winter/snow tires for your trip and the winter, and a set of all-season tires for the rest of the year.  Winter tires get easily damaged if driven during the heat of the summer. If your budget does not allow you to buy two sets of tires, then a set of all-season tires with a bias for cold weather is a must.

Slowing down and turning are the main challenges of driving on snow or ice. Keeping a slower speed in winter driving conditions is crucial for safety. Your ability to see the road and other vehicles is very important: new windshield wiper blades and a properly working windshield defroster are a must. If the blowing snow gets really bad on the highway, then it’s advisable to find a safe stopping place (at the nearest exit) to wait out the worst part of the storm.

Naturally, you will need to get some practice. Once you get to Colorado, go out to an empty snow-covered area with no other cars, obstacles, or people – and practice stopping and turning in the snow.

Here are a couple of video test that show some of the differences between snow and all-season tires.