With the east coast digging out from the Blizzard of 2016, the subject of winter tires has become a topic during snow shoveling breaks. Tire tread patterns, air pressure and the rubber compound are all important variables that contribute to how a vehicle performs in various weather conditions and temperatures. When the temperatures drop to 45°F and under, temperature influences the rubber compound and even the best summer tires begin to lose their adhesion properties. Add several inches of snow on top of frozen pavement and tire performance changes significantly.


The contact patch of a tire is not much larger than an adult-size hand, just a few square inches. A tire’s profile influences drivability. Higher profiles (taller side walls) found on the SUVs like the XC60 and XC90 traditionally provide a long and narrow contact patch whereas low profile tires on the V60 Polestar have a short and wide contact patch. The lower profile tires on dry pavement provide very responsive handling. The rubber compound of performance tires is harder and provides improved cornering stability with hot temperatures. Conversely, when the temperatures turn cold, performance tires are unable to soften sufficiently for optimal performance. During the winter months, the swedespeed staff affectionately calls our summer tires hockey pucks because of their hard rubber and lack of grip.


From November to April, weather in the DC Metro area can be unpredictable. Seventy-degree temps in December and a record setting blizzard in January have already happened this year. Deciding whether or not to invest in a second set of tires is understandable. However, given the unpredictability I would argue that a set of winter tires is the prudent, especially if you have summer tires. All-season tires offer a balance but many drivers exposed to the in the Blizzard of 2016 are finding out that all-seasons are not good enough when combined with his or her limited experience driving on snow.


Installing a set of winter tires improves safety and optimum control of the vehicle.
Winter tires improve traction on snow and decrease braking distances. A tire may have a M+S (Mud & Snow) label. In addition, tires approved for severe winter use have a 3-peak mountain with a snowflake. Before making our annual trip to the Detroit Auto Show, we installed a set of Pirelli Winter SOTTOZERO™ SERIE II on our Volvo V60 R-Design’s 19-inch Ixion wheels that came from the factory with summer tires. Pirelli advertise the tire as, “The ideal choice for sports cars and top end vehicles, balancing performance, safety and respect for the environment. For demanding drivers, the Winter SOTTOZERO™ SERIE II guarantees excellent performance on dry roads, in the wet and in the presence of snow.” After driving 1000 miles through all types of conditions, I can confidently state that the SOTTOZERO™ tire is the real deal providing excellent traction from dry to snow covered conditions.


Our drive back from Detroit took us across the western part of the Pennsylvania turnpike. The higher altitude drive through Somerset, PA area was very treacherous with numerous accidents and jack-knifed tractor-trailers. One horrific accident had a truck cab fully engulfed in flames and created a 31-vehicle pile-up making national headlines. Driving past the various accidents I noticed cars and trucks of all sizes and just because one may drive an all-wheel drive car or SUV, even with winter tires, driving beyond his or her ability and the road conditions will lead to an unfortunate end.


On dry and wet pavement, the Pirelli SOTTOZERO™ tires retain very good performance, similar to an all-season tire with only a minor audible increase. I have driven with Vredestein, Nokian RSI and Pirelli W.drive winter tires on several current generation AWD Volvo models and the SOTTOZERO delivers an all-season experience with addition of winter grip on unplowed or packed snow. Pirelli has identified the following seven advantages to winter tire technology worth considering if you are on the fence about a winter tire purchase:

On a wet or snow-covered road surface, but also on a dry surface when the outside temperature is low, winter tires guarantee greater safety compared to summer tires, because they are designed specifically for low temperatures. The adhesion of summer tires decreases at lower temperatures, while winter tires guarantee maximum grip because of their specific mixtures.

The special winter tire tread design provides high drainage capacity, which counters the danger of aquaplaning. Aquaplaning can occur when the road surface is very wet or when there is standing water, which causes the vehicle to "float" because the tread is unable to expel the water quickly.

When the temperature drops below 45°F, winter tires decrease braking distances relative to summer tires, by 10% on wet surfaces at low temperatures and by 20% on snow.

At the same speed, under 45°F, winter tires deliver better performance than summer tires under all road conditions. The stronger grip guarantees a high level of traction, stability, and braking efficiency.

When installed at the start of the cold season, they allow traveling with maximum control on dry, wet, or snowy roads, thanks to the most innovative technologies delivered by research. The law considers them equivalent to chains, which take up much space in the trunk and generate high noise levels, and greatly decrease driving comfort.

Alternating winter and summer tires as the seasons change, besides providing the highest possible safety under all weather conditions also yields higher total tire life in miles.

Winter tires make it possible to travel without restrictions from fall to spring, without having to stop suddenly because of sudden changes in weather conditions.


In the final analysis, each driver’s experience, skill, confidence and budget will determine if winter tires are an appropriate purchase. The science and my own personal experience leaves me with no doubt that winter tires are a must for winter driving, even with the sometimes mild winters in the DC Metro area. Winter tires provide improved traction for front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles but when the roads get icy any vehicle can begin to slide. The Blizzard of 2016 has delivered record snowfall and dangerous road conditions and for some a refresher on how to or not to drive on the snow. A modest investment in a set of snow tires could mean the difference of sitting on the side of the road or getting home safely. Contact your local Volvo retailer for details on a winter tire package or recommendations for your Volvo model.