Should You Lower Tire Pressure to Gain Traction in Snow?

Deviating from the manufacturer’s recommendations could be a slippery slope

detail of car and tires on road while snowing Photo: Andrii Biletskyi/Getty Images

When it comes to winter driving most people know the importance of good tires to provide sure-footed grip for ice and snow. But a question that often comes up in the winter months is whether lowering your tire pressure can give you even better traction in the snow.

Off-roaders and beach-goers sometimes reduce inflation pressure to increase the surface area of the tire that comes in contact with dirt, mud, and sand so that the tire doesn’t sink into the terrain. (Of course, reinflation is necessary to safely drive back on pavement.) This is a useful trick for certain, low-speed off-pavement situations, but this strategy doesn’t translate well to winter driving.

When it comes to snow, you actually want your tire to dig in so that the tire gets to the road surface beneath the layer of snow and gives you better traction. Particularly with winter tires, the edges of the tread are doing much of the digging and biting that enhances control. Simply put: Keeping your tires at the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended pressure is your best bet to maintain traction in all weather conditions. 

Car manufacturers design the mass of the vehicle around a specific tire size in order to optimize contact with the road surface. When you lower the tire pressure that will also sacrifice some braking and handling capabilities, as well as hurting your overall fuel economy and risk of the tire separating from the wheel.

Another thing to remember is that in cold temperatures, tire pressure will drop on its own because the air becomes denser. You typically lose one PSI for every 10 degrees drop in temperature. So if it’s 70 degrees in the fall and the average temperature in your area drops by 40-50 degrees in the winter then you can expect your tire pressure to drop by 4-5 PSI.  Be particularly mindful of the impact temperature has on your tire pressure and adjust it accordingly. 

The bottom line is you should always stick to the manufacturer’s tire pressure recommendation and remember to check your tire pressure every month.

This article has been adapted from an episode of Talking Cars.