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Old 09-30-2003, 11:59 AM   #1
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Winter Tires, wider vs. narrow

Seems the common theme is 'narrow is always better' for snow driving.

I disagree.

First, ignore the NorCal tag over there, I grew up in Maine and have some small experience w/ snow.

The concept of going w/ a narrow tire is that it will cut through the snow and ride on the ground below it, much like going mudding. This works well as long as A> the snow isn't that deep and B> the road under the snow is safe to drive on.

We often have layers of ice on our roads in Maine under the snow, as well as dirt and salt layed for traction. In these conditions a wider tire is better.

The wider tires will offer a higher level of floatation, meaning the weight of the car is distributed over a wider contact area. When running on snow over ice this will actually help to keep your tread off the lower layers of ice by not having the tire push through to the ground. If you are running on roads w/ gravel or salt then wider will offer more contact w/ the provided traction.

Of course, factors like tread depth and design, experience, air pressure, etc. will factor in more then the half inch/inch difference we're talking here.

Narrow is better, imo, is a common myth for tires like 'new should go in the front.'


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Old 10-01-2003, 05:13 PM   #2
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I totally agree, based on the conditions you said. It depends on various conditions. I live in Ks, so am no stranger to snow over ice.
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Old 10-01-2003, 06:12 PM   #3
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agreed. which is why 14 or 15" stockers are a TON better than these damn 16"ers.
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Old 10-02-2003, 10:20 AM   #4
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you are from Maine, yet you doubt the sage advice that narrow is better. Are you smoking glue? I have lived in Maine my whole life except the four awful years that I spent in NY going to school. Wider tires do not push through as narrower tires do, but regardless of how much contact patch you have on the ice, it still slides. Snow build up on wider tires, and the snowplaning effect on wider tires are exactly why they aren't recommended during winter conditions. The only thing effective at providing traction on ice is studded tires. I have a hard time believing that you truly understand the physics of friction in this instance. Also the last thing you want is for the cars weight to be distributed over a larger area, in boats this is referred to as bouyancy, and in cars (when water is involved) it is called hydroplaning, and it follows the premise that the tire doesn't have the capability to move the layer of water from underneath the tire quick enough to maintain contact with the roadway. Now simple laws of chemistry here, pavement is a solid, and water is a liquid, a solid has its own shape and does not change, whereas a liquid conforms to the container it is in. Without a container, it will spread to its maximum area allowed by volume. When a tire tread grips the pavement, the only thing that flexes is the sidewall of the tire, which is limited by its elasticity. The pavement provides a high level of UNMOVING FRICTION onto the tire resulting in traction. With water present, the tire applies force onto the water, but since the water is not restricted in its mobility by anything due to the nature of fluid dynamics, the water moves with the tire, and traction is lost. It is the same concept with snow. I had an 88 Jetta with 175 tires that handled like a trooper in snow up to and in some cases exceeding 6 inches in depth (Living in the country can be a bitch sometimes) and in the 3 snow storms that I've experienced near 6 inches with the 195's on the focus, by comparison it sucks. On its own right it is fine, but comparedly is worse. And it also matters about alot of other things, one in particular is tire profile! My 195/60R15's handle a ton better than my girlfriends 195/50R15's on her car. (See MassPike 360's are no fun handbook). If wider was better snowmobiles would have narrow ski's. I'd rather deal with one problem instead of two. IF there is ice, I'll deal with that, at least I won't have to worry about snowplaning across the underlying ice.
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Old 10-02-2003, 11:17 AM   #5
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Man, when are you going to publish that thing?
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Old 10-02-2003, 11:40 AM   #6
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Do I need to post a snow drifting video to compliment this arguement I wish it would snow alot down here. It was scary the first time it did but the second time I went had some fun. The only thing we get alot of is roads covered in ice and that crap sucks.
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Old 10-03-2003, 01:12 AM   #7
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Nice post, but you failed to refute the 2 conditions that wider tires would work better, those being layered ice under snow and the snow being too deep for the tires to reach the ground. You tried to brush off the ice (which is more common on the Islands where snow tends to melt during the day due to the warmer air around the ocean and freeze at night, leaving a nice layer of ice) with a big IF. If you are going to make long technical posts at least make sure you are covering the right issues first.

Never been 4wheeling in snow have you?

The purpose behind the first post is to dispute the fact that narrow is not always better, which has been posted here many times. You have managed to completely misunderstand that and have attacked a nonexsistant postion that wider is always better. There is a pretty good chance that I understand a bit more then you give me credit for.

On a side note, your comparison of tire widths and profiles is completely useless w/o knowing the types of tires involved and tread depths, though it would prolly be amusing to see you try to explain how the tire profile effects traction more then tread design and rubber compound.

But like I said, nice post. Maybe one of your teachers would give you a gold star for it.
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Old 10-03-2003, 01:40 AM   #8
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what RPIJG said.. in spades. Troublelucky... I think your not understanding here. Ice is ice. I would rather drive on the ice in deep snow than on top of the snow. The snow acts like a fluid and your not getting traction there!! Ice is a solid, and is predictable. You mention salt and sand. If that is present then for sure I want narrow tires!!! At least in minnesota, they don't put salt and sand down untill the road is plowed. If it snows after that, I want to get down to the salt and sand!! Narrow tires will get you there. wide tires don't have any place in snow. This winter, look at the pickup trucks plowing parking lots... they all have narrow tires. These people have experimented and came up with the best tire for the job... narrow!!
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Old 10-03-2003, 01:54 AM   #9
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Again, in spades, the focus of the post was that the statement narrow is always better is incorrect. A truck moving through deep unplowed snow is the easiest example to falsify that. when your 235-85-16s fail to reach the ground and gets you caught up I'll tow you out w/ my 14.5' wide mudders.

Also I fail to see how anyone w/ winter experience would prefer to drive on ice. Packed snow will provide a MUCH more stable and safe driving surface then ice. Ice is predictible? So are tornados, I've heard.
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Old 10-03-2003, 08:41 AM   #10
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Lucky, I'm not sure you really know what you are talking about. Wide mudders in the snow, the only thing you are going to move is snow. Think paddlewheel cars on a lake. The snow acts like a fluid and exerts a force like water on a paddlewheel. This has NOTHING to do with traction. I wouldn't say that I'd prefer to drive on ice, but I'd prefer not to drive on the snow ON the ice even more. PACKED snow isn't any more stable, if you try stopping it crumbles, grooves, compresses in many different ways, it can spin your car, and if you catch a rut it will flip it. Ice...yeah, you can't stop, but you can't steer really either, and chances are you'll just spin out until you hit something. So choose, I've rolled a car, I'd rather spin. Now, if there is too much snow for the tires to hit the ground...Why the hell are you driving? Chances are likely that you are going to do tremendous amounts of damage to your undercarriage and suspension, not to mention your exhaust. In the instance that you are driving in 1+ feet of standing snow on the roadway, you better have REALLY wide tires in order to stay on top of that. Think snow tracks from a snowmobile maybe. On a Focus there is NO way, that you could A) fit tires wide enough to raise you on the snow, and B) have it be effective at anything but going straight forward, stopping and turning would be nearly impossible without getting stuck. Comparing a truck to a car in this instance isn't much help, yeah trucks have wider tires...they also weigh probably two to three times as much, so they need the available tread.
And one more thing.
In reference to ice. Have you ever walked on ice in a pair of sneakers? It isn't that easy, you quickly lose traction. Is it any easier in winter boots with more treadwidth, no not really. Now, a pair of ice skates? Here's the concept. When you apply pressure to the ice with your shoe, thermal energy is generated...not alot, but usually enough for a small monolayer of water to form, which causes you to fall down because of the lubricative effect of the water. With skates, you form this layer, and use a sharp edge (NARROW) to push yourself around on it. If everyone is wrong, how come we (users, and experts) are in agreement? Perhaps in extreme conditions, like on a trail groomer, your theory may hold. But if the snow is too deep for the tires to touch the bottom, I guess I'm not worried about what is down there am I, and if I am dumb enough to drive my FOCUS in that much snow, well I deserve to be stuck, and chances are there isn't anything I could have done about it. A 215/45R17 tire will not handle as well in inclement conditions as a 195/60R15 with similiar compounds. PLAIN SIMPLE. That is why high performance cars have wider tires and DON'T drive in the snow.
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