It sounds like most of the snow that is predicted to hit Montana this weekend or early next week is probably not going to amount to very much accumulation around the Billings area. We know our turn is eventually coming and that means a lot of us are thinking about snow tires.

People assume that if you live in Montana, you have to have a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Here's the thing. That's not entirely true. I've lived here for 30+ years and have never owned an AWD or 4WD rig as my primary vehicle. I've only had to borrow my wife's SUV a couple of days each winter when we get those once-in-a-while big snowstorms. I'll probably buy an SUV at some point, but not because I need it to get to work 99% of the year.

Good snow tires will change your life in winter driving. They seriously make all the difference in the winter between terrifying driving and "this is going to be ok" driving. You have a choice between studded and non-studded. Non-studded has big, grippy traction and special cuts on the treads called sipes. Studded tires feature that, plus what looks like screws or little pointy metal pieces sticking out. I talked to Jay over at Staley's Tire on the Frontage road about  some of the differences:

  • Non-studded tires can be a little quieter on the road. They are legal in all 50 states (a number of snowy states have banned studded tires). Non-studded tires can be used year-round without getting a ticket. A disadvantage would be less grip on ice.
  • Studded tires can offer better traction on icy conditions. Studs can fall out. Driving on a lot of gravel roads increases the chances of the studs being pushed into the tire. Driving studded tires on a lot of bare pavement can cause wear issues.
  • Manufacturers have developed a new "year around" snow tire. Think of it as an all-season tire on steroids. These tires cost a little more than your normal summertime rubber, but if you figure in the cost of getting your tires changed from snow tires to summer tires twice per year, the cost difference is negligible.

Montana law says you can have studded snow tires on your car from Oct 1 - May 31st.  That pretty much covers our snow and ice season. If you get caught running studded tires outside of those dates, you risk a $25 ticket. You should never run studs in the summer anyway because they can spark and start a wildfire.  Staley's recommended getting your tires swapped out early, instead of waiting till the first big snowstorm when everyone is trying to get them mounted at the same time.