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How Retractable-stud Snow Tires Work

        Auto | Wheels

Real-world Winter Tires
The ultimate in real-world tire-conversion technology: tire chains.
The ultimate in real-world tire-conversion technology: tire chains.
(Creative Commons/Flickr/rjshade)

If you live in a snowy wonderland, metal studded tires are available, but probably restricted. Several states ban them outright, even notoriously snow-bound states like Minnesota and Wisconsin. (They're also banned in Florida. Um, okay.) Even in states where you are allowed to use metal studs, they can only be on the car for certain months of the year.

Many winter tires are what's known as "studdable," which means that they're winter tires with grippy tread and a rubber compound that doesn't freeze up and get hard when it's really cold. They don't come with studs installed from the factory, but a tire shop can add the studs for a fee. It's not like pushing a button on your way across a snow-covered mountain pass, but maybe the tire guy will let you push a button on the counter or something when you buy the studs. But comparisons have shown that studless winter tires perform as well as studded tires in almost all winter driving conditions without tearing up the road.

And then, there's the ultimate in real-world tire-conversion technology: tire chains. Cable chains and chain-chains offer better grip on slippery surfaces than studded tires, and you really, truly only use these rotten things when you need to. No one drives around town on merely wet streets with chains on. Again, there's still no push-button solution, but if you live in California, you might be able to find a chain monkey at the chain-up pull-off spot who will put the chains on your car for about the price of dinner and drinks for two. These guys hang out in warm trailers just waiting for pathetic urban weaklings on their weekend jaunt to the mountain to pull over when they see the "chains required" signs. These weekend warriors do pull over, and then quickly realize that putting their shiny new chains on involves crawling around in the slushy layer on top of the snow. Maybe, for a nice tip, the chain monkey will let you push a button, if that makes you feel cooler about it.