Winter is just around the corner, which for many means icy, slick roads. Safety is paramount for drivers, but does that mean buying special snow tires for the winter is a necessity?

The answer seems to be: sometimes.

Special winter tires can be expensive, costing more five hundred dollars for the parts alone. But based on testing from Consumer Reports, winter tires do have “exceptional grip on snowy, icy roads. Even if your vehicle has all-wheel drive, winter tires deliver better stopping grip on snow and ice than most all-season tires.”

Driving in snowy weather presents plenty of dangers–low visibility, other vehicles that might be ill-equipped for the weather—but the primary danger is the slick road. So if you live or drive in areas that experience long bouts of snowy weather, the increased safety provided by snow tires is probably well worth the expense—especially if you can use them for a few winters.

However for drivers in more mild climes where snow is rare or in places where the snow is cleared before people have to drive on it, all-season tires provide the best performance. That’s because while snow tires provide better handling and stopping in icy, snowy weather, when the road is dry or merely wet, it’s all-season tires that have better stopping time and distance.

It’s important to note that these characteristics are just guidelines. Certain all-season and winter tires can accommodate both snowy and clear roads. It’s best to consult ratings like Consumer Reports or talk to someone in your local garage to find out what’s best for you.

But regardless of what kind of tires you use, you should take special care to make sure they are in good shape. A significant factor in tire performance (as well as durability) is keeping your tires at the correct PSI. Most new cars come with some sort of indicator of low tire pressure, but some don’t turn on until there’s been a significant amount deflation.

It’s important to monitor pressure during the winter because ever 10 degree drop in temperature typically corresponds to a 1 PSI drop. That can become especially meaningful if you live in the kind of place that can be 60 degrees one week then drop down to freezing the next.

You can see more tips for preparing your tires for winter in this video from Consumer Reports:

Photo Credit: Sean Buchan