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Column: Removing winter tires is first sign of spring

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Remember snow tires? At this moment in much of the country—particularly the Northeast—a lot of people wish they had.

Nothing like a series of brutal winter storms to awaken the East Coast City Slickers to the joys of winter tires. Yes, many of us—and I put myself in the Midwest City Slicker subcategory—have forgotten how good snow tires are at keeping your car on the road and not in a ditch during 14-below-zero temperatures.

Putting snow tires on a vehicle used to be a sign of winter's pending arrival. Taking them off—ahhhh, the first sign of spring. Then along came all-season tires, front-wheel drive cars, four-wheel drive SUVs and the wide use of 4x4 pickups.

Northeast Ohio isn't the Rockies, Canada or Maine, but we do get a fair dousing of snow. A goodly amount of our tax dollars go toward plowing and salting the roads. Fact is, in this region you usually can get by with all-weather tires.

No, they aren't as good as winter tires, made specifically for service in snowy, icy, slushy and generally icky conditions. All-season tires offer enhanced braking performance in snow and ice but nothing like that of winter tires.

So why don't I have snow tires on my vehicles? For that matter, why doesn't anyone in my circle of friends and relatives in this part of the world use winter tires?

One reason is the hassle. You have to replace your “decent weather” tires with snow tires, then switch back in spring. Another is poorer fuel economy with winter tires. At least that's the perception, since a snow tire has more tread, and logically more rolling resistance. I'd bet it's not much of a difference today as compared to the past.

Then there's the belief that “I can drive in anything,” which comes from, well, driving in anything. Experienced drivers in the snow belt tend to drive slower, stay off the brake, give more clearance than, say, nut-cases in the nation's capital who panic when there's a half-inch of snow on the ground. Slow down, Mr. Beltway.

Personally, I can drive anywhere, anytime, since I have a huge four-wheel drive pickup that only needs a plow for me to make some extra money. But to do that properly I'd have to invest in winter tires. Therein lies the real reason we city folks don't buy snow tires when for safety's sake we should. They cost a lot.

Winter tire sales in the U.S. grew a bit in 2014 after a couple of years of decline. My guess is they will be stronger next fall, if people remember this winter. Especially back East.

Noga is a contributing editor to RPN and its former editor. He can be reached at elnmails