We don’t advocate summer tires in cold conditions. We never have and we never will. However through a series of unfortunate events our long term F56 Cooper S ended up not just with little 16″ wheels but summer-only tires. In the dead of winter. In Chicago. Hilarity did not ensue. What it did was create 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. A close second would be front wheel drive with oversteer induced by that magical e-brake in the middle of the car. Both are infinitely more fun than all wheel drive and offer just as much safety without the weight penalty you carry for the rest of the year.
Having to deal with a front wheel drive car with summer tires through a Chicago winter doesn’t however 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 precipatation.