Whenever I talk about all-season tires, I mainly mention that for the best possible winter performance, you need proper winter tires, which is what I’ll be talking about today. Some people think that there’s only one type of those and to get the model that fits their needs, but that’s not the case here.
Whenever we say winter tires, we usually mean those “traditional” models we get for when the snow gets deeper, or there are some icy roads we need to drive on. Generally, they get the job done, but their performance has some limitations.
With that said, if a winter tire cannot get the job done, what kind of tire can? A studdable one, of course. In this comparison, I’ll be looking at the standard winter tires or studless ones and comparing them with the studdable ones to see which would be a better option.
What's In This Guide?
Studless vs. Studdable Tires
Studless tires are regular winter tires that most people get for their cars. They are designed to deliver excellent performance in those conditions and are a suitable option for many conditions. With that said, they cannot be fitted with studs, so there are some limitations, especially on deeper snow or ice.
Studdable tires, on the other hand, are like regular winter tires, but manufacturers design the tread with small holes to fit the studs. Without them, the tire performs like a regular winter tire, but for situations where you want better performance, you can fit the studs and improve performance on ice.
What are Studless Tires?
A studless tire is the “regular” winter tire that most people are getting from manufacturers. These are tires designed specifically for winter conditions, and they’re not designed to be fitted with studs. They’re so common because, in most cases, they get the job done, and car owners don’t have to worry about a lack of performance or safety.
There are two things that make a good winter tire – the rubber compound and the tread design. Manufacturers use a rubber compound that strikes an excellent balance between its capability to remain pliable at freezing temperatures and not melting like ice cream once it starts rolling. Generally speaking, studless tires are “softer” as they should be, considering that their compound is designed to deliver performance at temperatures lower than what your typical summer tire can handle.
The second crucial part of a studless tire is the tread design, which delivers traction in various conditions. Most manufacturers go for the zig-zag pattern with biting edges around the blocks with the main task of delivering traction on snowy surfaces.
When you start comparing designs between multiple models, you’ll notice differences, meaning that, in some cases, you’ll have different performances. Some tires may be able to bite in snow better than others, while in some cases, you may find studless tires that can offer some ice performance.
What are Studdable Tires?
The simplest definition is that studdable tires are regular winter tires to which you can fit studs. This is a fairly broad explanation, so let’s dive into some of the specifics.
Studdable tires are primarily winter tires, so there’s a big similarity with the studless ones. The rubber compound’s basics are similar; manufacturers aim to have a tire capable of delivering the advertised performance in winter conditions, regardless of whether we’re talking about dry roads or several inches of snow.
The tread pattern also plays a huge role here, but there is a slight difference. When you look at a studdable winter tire, you’ll notice that it features sipes or a zig-zag pattern which help it with traction on snow or slush. This is for when you don’t have the studs on, and you’re driving it as a regular winter tire.
One thing that sets studdable winter tires from the studless is the ability to insert metal studs in the small holes on the blocks. These aren’t just random places where a technician drilled holes. They are specially designed so that once you install the studs, the tire’s performance in the harshest conditions improves. The biggest benefit of going for these types of tires can be seen on icy surfaces, something that some studless tires will struggle with.
Differences Between Studless and Studdable Tires
Based on the definition, you’ve probably figured out that the main difference between studless and studdable tires is the ability to fit studs. This is where the most significant difference lies, but first, let’s take a look at the differences without the tiny metal helpers.
A more precise comparison can be made between two specific models, but I’m giving you the broad one. A studless tire will perform similarly to a studdable one without the studs. Both types are focused on delivering performance in wintery conditions, so low temperatures, snow, and sometimes ice is something that should be an issue. Naturally, there are some bad apples in both categories, so you’ll need to check out our reviews or comparisons for a specific model.
I mentioned that some studless tires could offer acceptable performance in icy conditions, and that is true, up to a point. As good as some studless tires can be on ice, the performance is limited and barely passes as usable, something you should consider only in a pinch. This is where the metal studs of the studdable tires come into play, as without them, these tires are not too different from the studless ones on ice.
The idea behind the studs is like with chains, so you should be getting improved performance in very harsh conditions like packed snow and ice. With the studs, these tires can dig in even on hard surfaces and deliver traction that the studless tires cannot.
In terms of the rest of the performance, without studs, both types of tires are more or less on a similar level. There are individual cases where a tire can be more responsive while others can be softer, but at the end of the day, they are comparable.
When Should you Get Studless Tires?
Anytime the winter is harsh-enough so that an all-season tire cannot get the job done, you should consider studless tires. Since they’re designed to be used only in winter conditions, you will be getting better performance compared to other types of tires on the market.
While a studless tire does an excellent job at keeping things under control in the winter, it has some limitations. With this type of tire, you’re looking at excellent performance on unpacked snow and pretty good on packed one. The area where a studless tire won’t impress anyone is performance on ice. You may get some acceptable performance with a handful of models, but that’s as much as you can expect.
Overall, people should look at studless tires if they don’t drive in too harsh conditions, something that I do. The winters here are not too mild, but we don’t see some overly harsh conditions, so studless tires do an excellent job for me. All my driving “adventures” are on either clean roads or with an inch or two of snow, so these tires perfectly satisfy my needs.
If by any chance I get in a situation where I need more performance, I have a set of chains in the trunk, which have come in handy once or twice.
When Should you Get Studdable Tires?
Studdable tires are like regular ones, but you can fit metal studs throughout the tread, so you should consider these if the performance of the studless ones won’t fit your needs.
The great thing about studdable tires is that the studs can be removed or added depending on what you need. If the performance explained in the studless tires is what works for you in every winter situation, then you probably won’t benefit too much from studdable tires. Sure, if you have them, you may use them, but this is where it gets tricky. If you haven’t used studdable tires in the past and haven’t felt the need for them, then you probably don’t need them.
Here’s an example from my history book. In my years spent driving, I’ve only needed to fit chains on my tires once, meaning that I’ve only thought about studdable tires only once. My driving habits don’t include driving on too much ice or too packed snow, so it would be pointless for me to get studdable tires. It would be nice to have them, but not necessary.
This leads me to “when should you get studdable tires,” and the answer is in the previous paragraph. Ice and packed snow are something that studless tires can do, but not very well. If you find yourself in those situations too often, studdable tires are a much better option. You’ll get better performance and, most importantly – safer performance.
Where do Studded Tires Come Into Play?
If you know a thing or two about tires, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t mention studded tires, and there’s a good reason for that.
For those confused, here’s a quick intro: Studded tires are winter tires with permanently fitted studs, unlike the studdable ones where you can remove them. These were the golden standard for driving in the harshest winter conditions for a long time, but there was a problem with them.
Studded tires may still exist, but only a very limited amount of people would be after them. As good as they are on snow or ice, they won’t be your first choice on dry and wet roads. The studs don’t have the gripping power as rubber, so you’re getting a bit of limited performance. Next is the noise, which, as you can guess, isn’t on the low side. Metal on concrete isn’t a pleasant sound, especially from your tires.
Finally, we have the law. In some areas and states, studded tires are considered illegal due to their “poor” performance on the road. While I’m on the subject, I should mention that the same thing goes for studdable tires if you drive them with the studs on.
As always, get the tires that fit your needs the best. For most people, myself included, a set of studless tires is more than enough to get through the winter. They provide excellent performance in most winter conditions ranging from dry and wet roads to snow, slush, and in some rare cases, a bit of ice performance.
If you feel that this won’t be enough and want more, then the studdable tires are the ones you should be looking at. They can do pretty much everything the studless can, but with the added benefit of the studs. With those, the performance on ice increases drastically, and you will also notice traction and grip improvements over hard-packed snow.