We don’t advocate summer tires in cold conditions. We never have and we never will. However through a series of unfortunate events our F56 Cooper S a few years ago ended up not just with little 16″ wheels but summer-only tires. In the dead of winter. In Chicago. Hilarity did not always ensue. What it did was a wild few months that included more than a few white knuckles and e-brake turns. How did we survive? Read on.
I’m in the minority by saying that I’ll always prefer rear wheel drive cars with snow tires over just about anything else. Plenty of control with on-demand oversteer equals success in my book. But let’s be honest. Front wheel drive with oversteer induced by that magical e-brake in the middle of the car is also a great option. Both can be loads of fun if you know how to handle snow and have basics of car control down. Then there’s all wheel drive which can give you commend and control in ways nothing can. It may note be as fun as the other two options but unquestionably the safest option with the right tires.
Having to deal with a front wheel drive car with summer tires through a Chicago winter doesn’t fall into the fun category. With big blocks of tread that don’t adhere well to anything below 40F, summer tires simply aren’t intended to ever deal with the white stuff (let alone the cold stuff). Why? Winter tires work due to more flexible sidewalls, winter tread patterns, deeper tread depth, and most importantly, rubber compounds that remain soft in the lowest temperatures. In other words chemistry.
Our Goodyears simply could not dig into snow no matter what the depth. While they had better lateral grip than we would have expected (thank God) the ability to get off the line was all but zero in snowy conditions. Serious skill was required to do pretty much anything from starting at a light to parallel parking. Luckily we had our own snow package which consisted of the largest possible square-point shovel that would fit in the boot.
In case you skipped to the end, the official MotoringFile position is pretty clear. We don’t recommend summer tires in winter weather. That means any environment that is consistently below 40F and gets any kind of freezing precipitation.
Snow Tires or All Seasons?
They’re ok at everything and great at nothing. If you can afford the hassle and extra cash, we would highly recommend a set of dedicated summer and winter tires if you like in an environment that gets any type of snow.