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Notes From the Road

Summer Tires in Snow
By Mac Demere/

I have personally experienced summer tires in the snow many times. Once I got stuck on a perfectly level-packed snowfield. Another time an ultra-high-performance summer tire would not go forward if the snowy road had any incline, but in reverse it could maintain about 5 mph. A third was the safest snow tire in the world: It couldn't get out of the garage.
Most recently, I drove for a video that was designed to sing the praises of a new ultra-high-performance all-season tire. We were using a snow-covered track. Air temperature hovered in the low 20s. The client supplied a BMW 3 Series, but that wasn't flashy enough for the ad agency. So, they hitched a trailer to a bright yellow Dodge Charger SRT-8 Super Bee fitted with 20-inch tires from a different tire company. I said, "Uh, those are (Brand X, Model Y)." When they looked at me as if I was wearing an aluminum foil hat to keep the CIA from reading my thoughts, I elaborated: "They're summer tires." Attempting to placate this whacko driver they replied, "Oh, you won't be able to tell the brand in the video."
"Absolutely right," I said, "because the car won't move with them on it." I attempted to explain the differences among winter, summer and all-season tires, but their California eyes quickly glazed over.
The ad guys' next bright idea was to have me borrow some all-season tires from Dodge, which was testing at the same facility. I drove the Charger over to their garage and almost crashed about 25 times in the quarter mile trip. I never exceeded 15 mph: I didn't want to go that fast, but with the brake pedal buried to the floor it picked up speed on a slight downgrade. I've run 210 mph in an Indy Car at Texas Motor Speedway but I scared myself more times on that short trip.
Dodge graciously offered to loan us some 20-inch high-performance all-season tires. But over the two-way radio came their test driver's fourth request that day to be pulled out of a snow bank. His car was fitted with the tires we would be borrowing. I said "No thanks." The Charger went back on the trailer.
Here's the bottom line: If you have a high performance car on summer tires, don't drive it in the snow or when it's much below freezing. Don't count on ultra-high-performance all-season tires to provide anything more than limited mobility in snow, but you can be assured of less wet and dry grip. And a BMW 335 on first-class snow tires is a blast on a snow-covered track.
About the Author
Mac Demere is a vehicle tester and race driver who competed in the NASCAR Southwest Tour and Daytona 24 Hours.

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