Get a grip with tire knowledge

Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2006

Snow and ice have returned to the peninsula, so don’t let preparing your vehicle for winter slip your mind, leaving your vehicle to slide into a ditch.

While it may be tempting to sipe your tires to avoid paying the more than $400 you will likely have to dish out for a set of new studded tires, in the long run you may save more by just purchasing studded tires.

Siping, the process of cutting groves into tires, will improve their grip, but siping also will reduce the life of your tires, requiring you to buy new ones sooner.

And its hard to beat good old-fashioned studded tires when it comes to getting the most traction in the winter, said Darrin Marshal, who teaches automotive classes at the University of Alaska Corporate Programs, in Anchorage.

“It grips that ice, whereas rubber tires don’t,” he said. “It sure makes a difference.”

Studded tires are particularly useful on roads where snow is packed down by traffic and quickly turns to ice, he said.

So if studded tires are better on ice, would two studded tires be better than none?

“Absolutely not, never put two of them on there,” Marshal said.

Say you have front-wheel drive and put two studded tires on your front wheels. This will give you more traction in the front, but won’t mix well with the way your rubber rear tires perform.

“That’s all fine and dandy as long as you are going straight, but when you start to take a corner the front two will get a grip, the back two won’t and you’ll do a couple of circles and end up in the ditch. Very, very dangerous,” Marshal said.

If the new studded tires are outside your reach you may want to consider searching the classified ads for a pair of used ones.

But while you’re thinking about preparing your vehicle for winter, don’t limit yourself to just tires. Your battery, coolant system and engine should all receive a little extra loving care in the winter, too.

Block heaters aren’t a must in the winter, but even if you don’t have any trouble starting your vehicle in the winter they’re a good idea.

Block heaters will not only help your vehicle start on cold mornings and help ensure you get to work on time, but also improve the efficiency of your vehicle once started. The colder it is outside, the thicker the oil becomes in your engine. And although your vehicle will warm up as you drive, it will burn more gas and emit more emissions until it reaches that optimum temperature.

Another way to help keep that oil flowing is to replace heavy and natural oils with light and synthetic oils.

The next time you take your vehicle to get an oil change, ask for an antifreeze check.

Coolant is mixed to a particular ratio with water, and too much water and not enough coolant can spell trouble, he said.

“If it hits 20 below you’re buying a new engine because everything is frozen inside,” he said.

Finally, your battery is putting out a lot of oomph to turn over that engine in the winter, so the more you can do to help your battery in the winter, the better.

Marshal recommends cleaning your battery terminals and having it tested to make sure it’s ready for winter.

Patrice Kohl can be reached at

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