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How Tire Traction Works

By: Akweli Parker  | 

Tire Traction Enhancers

Carlos Santiago-Morales of Lakewood, Wash. checks his tire chains after driving from Lakewood to bring food, water and other supplies to his grandparents in Tacoma, Wash.
Carlos Santiago-Morales of Lakewood, Wash. checks his tire chains after driving from Lakewood to bring food, water and other supplies to his grandparents in Tacoma, Wash.
AP Photo/The News Tribune, Craig Sailor

In severe weather, lack of traction can either result in the pain in the neck of having your car stuck in a snowdrift or it could result in something as serious as a collision. The critical factor in avoiding either problem is the ability of your tires to bite through the loose and slippery stuff and claw into something solid.

To this end, tire traction enhancers can help. Of course the low-tech, old-school solution that nearly all northerners in the United States have seen, are snow chains. These metal chains fit harness-like around a vehicle's tires and provide additional grab in snowy and icy road conditions.

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Newer to the scene are spray-on enhancers that make tires more sticky, and fabric wheel coverings intended for low-speed, short distance driving over snow- and ice-covered roads. Consumer Reports, the impartial consumer products testing magazine, has reported on such devices and concluded that while these traction enhancers may be effective to a degree, your best bet is a set of seasonal snow tires [source: Petersen].

For more information about tires, traction and other related topics, follow the links below.

Originally Published: Aug 11, 2010

Tire Traction FAQ

What is a good tire traction rating?
Tire traction is rated on the UTQG Treadwear Grades scale, which gauge tires' traction durability against tested tires. The higher the rating — for example, 300 instead of 100 — the better a tire's traction, notes Tirerack.com.
What does treadwear 500 mean on a tire?
A treadwear 500 rating means that a tire is very highly rated. It's expected to last five times as long as the tire tested by UTQG.
What does UTQG 300 AA A mean?
A UTQG 300 AA A rating means that a tire is expected to last three times as long as the tire tested by UTQG. The AA means the tire has an asphalt g-force of above 0.54 and the A means the tire can perform reliably at speeds more than 115 miles per hour. https://www.tirerack.com/tires/tiretech/techpage.jsp?techid=48
What is considered a traction tire?
Any tire with tread can really be a traction tire. However, the best traction tires are typically those that feature thicker, deeper tread. Some also have special traction-enhancing features, like studs or spikes.
How do you check the traction on a tire?
You can check traction with just a penny. Put a penny between the "ribs", or the raised parts of your tire's surface; the penny sits in the groove. The more of the penny that's covered, the better your tread is. Ideally, the tread should rise above President Lincoln's head in height.

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Sources

  • Edmunds.com. "Tires: Traffic Safety Tips." (July 21, 2010)http://www.edmunds.com/ownership/safety/articles/43815/article.html
  • Petersen, Gene. "Snow Test: Winter Tire Traction Aids." Consumer Reports. March 13, 2008. (July 21, 2010)http://blogs.consumerreports.org/cars/2008/03/snow-tire-help.html
  • Petersen, Gene. "Tested: Snobootz Winter Traction Aid for Car Tires." Consumer Reports. Feb. 23, 2009. (July 23, 2010)http://blogs.consumerreports.org/cars/2009/02/test-snobootz-winter-traction-aid-for-car-tires.html
  • Pettit, Joe. "Drag Racing Chassis Tuning." Hot Rod. February 2009. (July 20, 2010)http://www.hotrod.com/techarticles/chassis/chassis_tuning_tire_traction/index.html
  • Ramsey, Phil. "How to Buy Tires." Machinery Lubrication. (July 24, 2010)http://www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/510/buy-tires
  • Safercar.gov. "Tire Rating Lookup." (July 21, 2010)http://www.safercar.gov/portal/site/safercar/menuitem.13dd5c887c7e1358fefe0a2f35a67789/?vgnextoid=9f4baa8c16e35110VgnVCM1000002fd17898RCRD