Does Lowering Tire Pressure Help You Get Traction in Snow?

  • Lowering your tire pressure won’t get you out the snow
  • Winter tires are still king when it comes to snowy driving conditions
  • Lowering tire pressure actually makes it harder to get out of the snow

“Mechanics hate him for this one simple trick!” Not really, but lowering tire pressure might actually help you out of a jam. Maybe. Getting your new car stuck in yonder snowbank sucks, but running out of ways to get un-stuck sucks even more. This weird myth might add one more winter driving tip to your arsenal. But is it using this off-roader trick really going to help that much?

A car tire with snow between the treads
Winter tires in snow | Soeren Stache via Getty Images

Does lowering tire pressure help in the snow?

Unfortunately, lowering your car’s tire pressure really isn’t going to do much for you. The idea comes from off-road trails. Those who crawl rocks for fun often drop their PSIs for a reason. Doing so helps an all-terrain tire get more purchase on its rocky surroundings. Obviously, it also has the benefit of making your tire less puncture-prone. And it’s all those reasons that mean this trick doesn’t actually work in the snow. And that’s doubly true if you have winter tires (you’d better).

If you’re wading through the snow, the physics says you want your tires to work like a snow boot. It’s supposed to get down beneath the snow to the more grippy dirt or asphalt underneath. You can’t do that if your tires are all soft and airless, now can you? More to the point, the best winter tires (which you absolutely need in winter) do most of their work at the edges. They vent snow, water, and ice off the surface of the tire, in addition to pushing down into the snow. Again, you can’t do any of that if your tires are all spineless and floppy.

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How to get your car out of the snow- before lowering your tire pressure

A woman lowering tire pressure and applying snow chains to her car in a snow strom
Lowering tire pressures and putting on snow chains | Pascal Pochard-Casabianca via Getty Images

So. How does one free themselves from yonder snowbank? Unlike the crashed WRX I saw a few months back, powering out isn’t really an option. As I continue to tell anyone who’ll listen (you, hopefully), winter tires are the single best thing you can do to improve grip. It’s both a preventative and active fix to the snowbank problem. Snow treads provide more grip, reducing your likelihood of being stuck in the first place. They also add traction at lower speeds thanks to their chunky edges.

Supposing that won’t get your car out, there’s still a few little tricks you can use aside from lowering tire pressure. Of course, the old cat litter trick works wonders. It gives your winter steed a nice gravelly surface to cling to while you attempt to free your frozen self. Failing that, snow chains or sleeves like the one in the image above provide the best possible traction in snowy conditions. Just know those can’t be used on dry pavement without destroying asphalt (and probably leading to a fat ticket).

Snow tires are the best thing you can do for winter traction

A close up of a car's tires with snow in the treads
Winter rubber in the snow | Patrick Pleul via Getty Images

At the end of the day, lowering tire pressure just isn’t something that works. The best snow tires you can buy are always going to be your best bet at getting through the snowy months. Well, that and a big off-roader like the Ford Bronco. But who can pay Bronco prices right now anyways? Just go get some winter treads and stop googling myths like airing down your tires in the snow.

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