This beautiful sunny weather we've enjoyed this past couple of weeks - where was it last summer when we could have really used it?
But check your Kenzie Car Calendar in support of SmartRisk (click on www.jimkenzie.com to re-order - once again, I can't seem to make hot links work in this blogging software...) - it really is mid-November.
While the temperature feels pretty nice, especially when the sun shines, thermometer usually reads in single-digits these days. And whenever it drops below seven degrees C., your summer tires, or even "all-seasons" (which I call "no-seasons" because they're not much good any time) become even less effective.
That's because modern winter tires really are not just 'snow' tires any more. Their tread compounds are softer, more pliable, and don't get rigid when the temperature drops.
The rubber can therefore conform to irregularities in the road surface, which is a big part of how tires get traction.
Of course, their tread pattern means they get better traction in snow, in slush and on ice. But they're better in winter on all road surfaces.
You also really should put four winter tires on your car. I have heard of some tire retailers still telling consumers that this advice is mere propaganda from tire manufacturers to move product, that you really only need two, and to put them on the driving wheels.
Wrong on both counts.
I participated in a tire test late last winter, conducted by Continental Tire. One of the most illuminating exercises involved three mechanically-identical Mustang GTs - rear-wheel drive V8-powered sport coupes.
Car One had four of Conti's newest winter tires. Car Two had a set of four Conti all-seasons. Car Three had all-seasons on the front, winter tires on the rears - what a lot of people still do, and which, as noted, some tire professionals are still recommending.
The test, run on packed snow at below-zero temperatures, consisted of acceleration from rest, into a fairly high-speed slalom course, with a 'keyhole' - a big circle - at the end.
Predictably and as expected, Car One was the best. It accelerated strongly, and steered fine through the slalom and keyhole.
Car Two, the all-season car, was in a way the safest - you can't get into too much trouble if you can't move. Without a shove from one of the instructors, this car could barely get off the line.
But once it got rolling, it was at least balanced. Having similar levels of grip at both ends, it could be steered safely through the twisty bits - albeit slowly, or off-course it would go.
Car Three? All-seasons up front, winters on the back? It was all but undriveable.
It got away from rest fine, thanks to the grip of the winters on the rear wheels.
But when it came time to turn - nothing. It understeered - plowed straight ahead - like the Queen Mary. Very dangerous.
If for whatever reasons you can only put on two winter tires - really, NOT recommended - they should not necessarily go on the driving wheels. They should go on the rear wheels, regardless of which pair are the drivers.
The issue isn't acceleration - it's stability, in cornering or under braking. You don't want the back end of the car swinging around and leading the way, so the tires with the best traction - the winters - should always go on the back.
Yes, it looks weird to see winter tires only on the rear wheels of a front-wheel drive car. The first time I saw this was when I was a kid, on a DKW van, a then-competitor for the VW Microvan. If I was blogging then, I probably would have ripped into the doofus with his "snow tires" on the wrong axle.
But hey - we can all learn.
And virtually every tire expert (except for that handful of ignorant sales people) is on board with this idea.
But really - four is the only way to go. Give up one latte per week, or one professional nails job a month. The extra two winter tires could save you a lot more than those luxuries would cost.
Put them on a set of steel wheel rims, so you only have to replace the wheel/tire as a unit, instead of subjecting both rim and tire to the wear and tear of mounting and re-mounting at each seasonal change.
Also, your car probably came with alloy rims; the salt and sand, not to mention increased likelihood of curb contact, means winter can really play havoc with those expensive bits of shiny metal. Let the cheap steel rims be sacrificial lambs.
True, apartment-dwellers might have a challenge finding a place to store the off-season wheels and tires. Some tire retailers offer this service.
Or, get on good terms with a friend who lives in a house with a really big garage.