This article is written by Tony Giambro, Owner and Chief Sustainability Officer of Paris Autobarn in South Paris, Maine. You can read the original blog post here.
Winter tires are necessary in Maine regardless of whether you drive an all wheel drive SUV, a truck, or a front wheel drive car. Using winter tires does not mean you're less "manly" (if that's what you're going for) or that you don't know how to drive in the snow. Even if you've been driving on Maine roads for the past 50 years and consider yourself to be a true "Mainer" please set aside your ego for a moment and consider these facts.
All-wheel-drive vehicles help you accelerate on slippery surfaces but they do not help you brake or slow down any faster than a front-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive vehicle. All-wheel-drive vehicles may give you a false sense of security because you'll probably get out of your snow-covered driveway without too much of a problem, but the first time you have to jam on your brakes you'll discover that your SUV doesn't stop any faster than a front-wheel-drive car. Only a set of tires designed specifically for cold and icy conditions will help you slow down quickly. In fact, as far as winter driving goes, I'd gladly choose a front-wheel-drive Toyota Prius with a set of four high-quality studded winter tires over your all-wheel drive SUV equipped with "all-season" tires.
"All-season" tires are only truly adequate for all seasons in states where temperatures rarely fall below 40 degrees, which is most definitely not true in Maine. Not only do winter tires offer far superior traction in winter because of their specialized tread designs, but they are also made of much softer rubber compounds that remain flexible and therefore provide more traction than the harder rubber compounds found in all-season tires.
Despite the common misuse of the phrase snow tires, winter tires are not just for driving in snow storms. Even if you have the luxury to not have to go out during snow storms, you should seriously consider installing winter tires on your vehicle. Our highly varied and unpredictable weather causes melting and freezing cycles and patches of extremely slick black ice to form on our roadways, even when there's no storm in sight. Driving slower in winter is an obvious precaution you should take to lower your chances of losing control unexpectedly, but having a set of studded winter tires on your car should be first on your list of things to do each fall in preparation for winter.
Not all winter tires are created equal, and the old adage "you get what you pay for" truly applies when you're shopping for winter tires. We highly recommend studded tires, as they are significantly safer than non-studded winter tires when driving on icy roads. Yes, they'll be noisier than non-studded tires -- but we like to say that it's the sound of safety that you're hearing. Factory-studded tires are superior to those that are studded on-site at the tire installer because they use a far more advanced stud design. These more modern designs usually incorporate lightweight studs with carbide tips that last much longer than traditional studs. At Paris Autobarn we exclusively sell Nokian tires because after years of testing on our own vehicles we've concluded that they make the best winter tires that money can buy.
Hopefully by now I've convinced you that winter tires are necessary in Maine, as with all northern climates. Unfortunately even if you install the best winter tires that money can buy on your vehicle, you're still susceptible to another driver losing control and crashing into you because they have inadequate tires on their vehicle. In my mind there are two things that can help with that problem. One would be education, which I'm hopefully helping with here, and another would be government regulation requiring the use of winter tires during certain months. This isn't such a crazy idea as you may think. Many countries and regions of the world already have these rules in place. As a result, they've seen a significant reduction in crashes while at the same time saving money by reducing the amount of salt and sand that's used on the roads.