Tire Siping for Winter Driving

tire on roadDear Tracy,
I recently heard about process called tire siping. Apparently this is something you can have done to your tires to improve traction and handling on snow and ice. Is this something I should do this fall, before winter arrives?
-Duncan S.

Dear Duncan,
Tire siping is a process that involves cutting slices across the tire tread. The idea is that the slice spreads open on the road surface, griping it and dispersing water to improve tire traction.

The concept of siping actually began with shoe rubber, not tires. In the early 20’s a slaughterhouse employee by the name of John Sipe found a solution to the problem of his shoes slipping on the wet floor. Sipe tried cutting groves into the bottoms of his rubber shoes and discovered that it greatly improved their traction. Mr. Sipe had the foresight to realize that his discovery would be useful and had the concept patented. About 30 years later, by the 1950’s, tire manufacturers were widely using the siping concept in their tire tread designs. Specialized siping patterns are still used today for a variety of tires.

As to whether or not after-market tire siping is a good idea, opinions differ. Tire siping machines have been developed do a variety of configurations for after-market tire modification. Those who believe in tire siping contend that it offers significant performance and safety benefits. The problem with siping, others say, is that today’s tire manufacturers already use siping in the design and manufacture of new tires. Extensive engineering and performance testing goes into modern tread design, so many experts believe there is no need for after-market modification.

Another consideration is that after-market siping could void your tread-wear warranty.

When considering tire siping, first talk to your tire dealer about  the type, condition, and age of your tires. Rather than make irreversible changes to your tires, consider purchasing a quality set of winter tires, which are designed to incorporate siping features and benefits.