As Airdrie’s hybrid and electric vehicle service leader, we’re often asked, “What are the best winter tires for an electric car? Is there any difference? Does my electric vehicle require a special winter tire?” In this article, we hope that we can answer all of those questions. While it’s true that you can install any winter tire on your hybrid, PHEV or EV, there are significant advantages to choosing the right one.
Most hybrids and electric vehicles are originally equipped with a low rolling resistance tire. These tires feature a rubber compound, sidewall design and tread pattern all designed to reduce the energy required to push them down the road. This translates into improved electric range. When these tires are replaced with a more conventional design, most EVs lose around 10% of their highway range. On a Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus, this translates into a loss of over 40 kilometers! In a recent test, Road and Track magazine managed to reduce the range of a Volkswagen e-Golf by a whopping 20% through installing a set of grippy high performance tires in place of the eco-friendly factory rubber.
Fitting winter tires to an electric car will produce a similar drop in range, because traction and rolling resistance have a mostly inverse relationship; you give up one to improve the other. That being said, tire manufacturers are finding ways to improve winter traction without the range penalty that we used to see 5-10 years ago. Leading brands including Pirelli, Michelin and Continental now offer a low rolling resistance winter tire. We explore some of our favorites below.
Speed & Load Ratings
This is a mistake that we still see quite a few tire retailers making: forgetting about tire speed and load ratings. Along with being the correct size, your replacement tires must have the correct speed and load rating, as outlined by the sticker inside your driver’s door. This is especially important on an electric vehicle.
The tire speed rating is often misunderstood; partially because of how we express them. For example, a basic “S” rated tire has a maximum speed of 180 km/h, while an “H” rated tire is good for 210 km/h. The W-rated tire in the photo above can reach a blistering 270 km/h without failing. Now, we know what you’re thinking: “Why do I need anything more than an S-rated tire? I’m not gonna drive that fast!” What we haven’t explained yet is that the speed rating also measures the overall performance and quality of a tire, including:
- The strength of the casing and sidewall construction.
- The quality of the rubber compound.
- Cornering and braking grip.
- Stability when swerving or making sudden corrections.
- How well the tire gets rid of heat.
As an example, an H-rated tire actually stops over 3 meters shorter from highway speeds than an S-rated tire. That’s a whole car length! While the S-rated tire squishes and deforms under high pressure, the H-rated tire stands up and delivers better braking with better steering response. This matters more with an EV because electrified vehicles are hard on their tires; typically being heavier than their gasoline counterparts, and delivering a lot more torque (twisting force) through the tires.
The load index is also important, for more obvious reasons. Our Chevrolet Bolt courtesy car is 1000 pounds (454 kg) heavier than a similarly-sized Honda Fit. While all of the extra battery weight (and lower center of gravity) translates into a more confident feel on winter roads, it’s also harder on the tires. When purchasing winter tires for your hybrid, PHEV or EV, make sure the speed and load ratings are correct.
Our Favourite Winter Tires for Hybrids and EVs
Without further ado, here are our – in our opinion – the best winter tire choices for a hybrid or electric vehicle. These winter tires have the lowest rolling resistances on the market, but we have also taken into account tire strength, stability and handling from independent tire testing. (Last updated October 2021.)
Continental WinterContact TS 860
This tire is our first choice for most EVs, when it is available in your size. One of Continental’s highest performing winter tires, the WinterContact TS 860 offers a low rolling resistance and great performance; consistently winning tire shootouts in Europe. Braking distance in snow is the shortest we have measured, and tread life is good. The TS 860 is a solid, well-constructed tire that delivers predictable steering feel and great handling, dry or wet. This makes it a great choice in low profile 18″ and 19″ sizes, such as for the Tesla Model S or Audi E-Tron.
Bridgestone Blizzak LM001/LM005
The Blizzak LM001 and LM005 feature the lowest rolling resistance and longest range of our choices. The LM005 also offers the shortest braking distances (dry and wet), best snow traction and best snow handling. Wet handling is also very good; just behind the Continental TS 860, and stopping distances are superb. In exchange for all of this, the Blizzak does offer slightly shorter tread life. Bridgestone Blizzak tires have never been known for longevity, and these are no different.
Michelin X-ICE XI3
We’re including this tire for one last year, but with a disclaimer: After a long run, Michelin’s former flagship winter tire is being discontinued, and today you have better options. With Michelin’s “GreenX” technology, the X-ICE was the first winter tire to offer lower rolling resistance. It is also very quiet and smooth, which made it a great choice for electric vehicles. Unfortunately, its snow traction was never great – and despite the name, ice traction pales in comparison to its modern competitors. The XI3 is better suited to urban environments that include lower levels of mostly hard packed snow. If this describes your winter commute, and you can find a set for a low price on clearance, they might be worth your consideration.
Michelin X-ICE Snow
This tire replaces the X-ICE XI3, and aims to improve its predecessor’s main weakness: snow traction. The new tire can finally take on deep snow and slush with the confidence of the other tires on our list. It’s packed with technology, too: Despite the more aggressive design, Michelin has managed to improve noise levels and ice traction as well. Rolling resistance is similar to the XI3. Isn’t progress a wonderful thing?
Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3
In the interest of honesty and accuracy, this article contains a tire that we can’t actually sell you. In Canada, most Nokian tires (sorry – “tyres”) are exclusive to Kal Tire. The Hakkapeliitta R3 deserves mention because of its superbly low rolling resistance and noise levels. Ice traction is very good, and snow traction is average. Tread life is average, too, making it a good middle-of-the-road choice. At the right price, the “Hakka” is certainly worth looking at. That price part is key: The Hakkapeliitta is a quality mid-range or “tier 2” tire, but is sometimes misrepresented as a top-tier product and sold at a correspondingly high price.
Winter Wheels for Hybrids and EVs
For some drivers, mounting your winter tires on a separate set of wheels makes a lot of sense. This protects your expensive OEM wheels from salt, corrosion and damage from hidden curbs or potholes. Seasonal change-overs are quicker, too, and they cost less. In most cases, a set of winter wheels will pay for themselves in 2-3 years.
If you’re looking for an upgrade from conventional black steel winter rims, we sell the FAST EV line of alloy wheels! Crafted with hybrid and electric vehicles in mind, these wheels are lighter than your OEM wheels, and feature aerodynamic designs that improve range. This can help offset the range loss from installing winter tires. For more information, please contact us.
Do you have any questions or comments? Please never hesitate to get in touch!