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Secrets of Winter Tires


Ordinarily used in the same sentence with cooking oils, canola has found a new niche at Nokian Tyre’s winter tire plant in Finland. That’s where the "low-sat-fat" oil is mixed into Nokian Hakkapeliitta winter tire tread compounds. "It increases the tear resistance of rubber and improves the tire’s grip in winter and wet conditions," says Nokian.

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Ordinarily used in the same sentence with cooking oils, canola has found a new niche at Nokian Tyre’s winter tire plant in Finland.

That’s where the “low-sat-fat” oil is mixed into Nokian Hakkapeliitta winter tire tread compounds. ®€œIt increases the tear resistance of rubber and improves the tire’s grip in winter and wet conditions,®€ says Nokian.

The Finish tiremaker also says canola oil assists in reducing rolling resistance, which, subsequently, improves fuel savings without compromising the tire’s winter handling properties.

Of course, this isn’t a story about cooking oil; it’s a story about winter tires, something many tire dealers need to think about within the next 30 days. It’s time to place your orders.


If your product screen includes winter tires from overseas, you may need to do a bit of homework before making your decisions. In this short winter tire story, we’re focusing on a pair of European winter tiremakers ®€“ Nokian and Vredestein. Both closely guard their winter traction secrets, even though we pushed hard for answers.

Breaking news at Nokian headquarters is centered around the company’s soon-to-be introduced Nokian Hakkapeliitta RSi, R-rated for speeds up to 106 mph. In addition to a long list of winter driving properties, the new tire is said to retain its braking and acceleration grip in snow, slush, icy and wet roads.


This tire, says Nokian, has been developed to take full advantage of the advances offered by ABS brake systems, traction control systems and electronic stability systems.

Successor to the popular Nokian Hakkapeliitta Q friction-type tire, the RSi is targeted at Nordic, Russian and North American audiences. Watch for its introduction in the fall.

Selling this tire means you need to know a bit about not only canola oil and its environmentally safe contributions, but also the tire’s saw-toothed or “brake-booster” sipes. ®€œThis tire and its sturdy center tread area will even correct small driver steering errors,®€ claims Nokian.


The RSi is also built with what Nokian calls “sipe activators” located on the edge of the tire’s tread pattern. According to the company, if a driver encounters a slippery winter surface, the sipe activators perform as their name implies ®€“ they activate the sipes.

Wedge sipes are also part of the RSi’s arsenal of winter driving weapons, which Nokian says adds still more winter driving stability. The RSi is available in sizes covering 13- through 19-inch wheel diameters.

Delving deeper into the Finnish company’s scientific approach to sipes is downright interesting. First, Nokian sipes go right down through the tread ®€“ not 50% tread depth ®€“ all the way down. Any further and they’d be into the nylon cap ply. “You can wear our tires down to 2/32nds and still have working sipes,” says a company spokeswoman.


Two other winter tires ®€“ the Nokian WR All-Weather Plus tire (for passenger cars) and the Nokian WR SUV All-Weather Plus ®€“ were designed specifically for changing winter conditions in central Europe. Little, if anything, has been left to the imagination.

A built-in “driving safety indicator” makes its home in the center rib of each tire and visually alerts when the tread is too worn. Numbers stamped into the tread show the remaining groove depth in millimeters. As the tire wears down, so also do the numbers, which fade away one by one.


Because Nokian has siped its tires to full tread depth, its engineers can literally control how the tire performs as it wears. As “bridge” sipes wear down, they leave what appear to be lots of small rubber studs. As a Nokian representative put it: ®€œAs the tire wears down, its handling characteristics, driving stability in particular, remain stable.®€

Like other tiremakers, Nokian uses silica to help improve traction and wear. “We call ours ‘high dispersion silica,’” says a spokeswoman. ®€œThe process calls for the removal of impurities and chemically realigned elements. The result is a blend that improves tire handling properties in wet and winter conditions alike.®€


Yet another Nokian creation appears in the form of a small green button, complete with an arrow. “We’ve named it the ‘info button,’” she says. ®€œIt is inserted into the sidewall in a small hole created precisely for that purpose. When the temperature drops below freezing, the green button turns black, indicating the likelihood of such dangerous driving conditions as black ice.®€

Further, a small arrow on the info button shows the position of the tire on the car (or mounting position). A small screwdriver allows the driver to point the arrow in the appropriate direction of travel. In this way, Nokian makes seasonal tire changeovers a lot easier.


Both the Nokian WR All-Weather Plus and the Nokian All-Weather SUV come with a 50,000-mile limited warranty and are RMA/RAC winter-certified. They are available in T-, H-, V- and W-speed ratings in a host of 13- to 19-inch sizes.

Joining the WR series is the Vatiiva, a white-lettered, all-purpose light truck/SUV radial. Inspired by the Nokian WR, the non-directional Vatiiva is available in both Q and S speed ratings in metric and LT-metric, 15- through 17-inch sizes.

In terms of tire studding, Nokian refers to its system as “eco studding,” which is a system of prepared stud holes complete with padding underneath each stud. ®€œThe padding act as a cushion under each stud, preventing it from working loose and lessening the impact of the stud as it strikes the surface,®€ says Nokian.


The company’s tire strategy makes as much sense as its tire science. “We sell only to independent wholesalers,” says Nokian. ®€œIn turn, the wholesalers work with us in choosing the right kind of dealer to handle our tires. Once chosen, we extend exclusive territories to those dealers.

“We are also obligated by company mandate to improve tire safety by 10% each and every year,” the spokeswoman says. ®€œHence our company slogan, ‘Where Safety Begins.’®€

Ditto that for Vredestein, the winter tire specialist from The Netherlands, with only minor differences. “We sell our tires direct to independent tire dealers who are then given the exclusive right to sell our tires in protected territories,” says the company.


“We aren’t interested in selling to the buying clubs or large dealer organizations,” says Al Smoke, president of Vredestein Tires North America. ®€œWe see our winter tires as a premium niche-market product. To protect the image and reputation we have established, we are extremely careful about our position in the marketplace.®€

In other words, Vredestein prefers controlled growth over marketshare. “It’s part of our philosophy,” says the company which makes all of its winter tires in Enschede, The Netherlands, a few miles from the German border.


On the Vredestein winter tire menu are such stalwarts as Icetrac, the Snowtrac 2, the Wintrac and the Ultrac. The latter, with its Giugiaro Design look, employs a full dose of silica silan solution, making it a top performer in all weather conditions, according to the company. It’s available in 25 sizes, in 16- to 19-inch diameters, with W and Y speed ratings.

Zig-zag sipes and super secret solution Silica Nova 7ºC (44ºF) make the Wintrac the Vredestein winter tire of choice among premium car owners, says the company. Available in H and V speed ratings, the Wintrac comes in 14- to 18-inch sizes.


The Snowtrac 2 is the company’s top-end winter tire. The tread on this entry is directional, noise levels are reported to be ultra low and it can be driven quickly on snow-packed roads. The tire is T-rated for speeds up to 118 mph and is available in 60- and 65-series in 13- through 16-inch sizes.

The Icetrac is Vredestein’s tire for the most extreme winter conditions. It is fitted with studs, or spikes as they are called in Europe.

Company engineers came up with a specific mathematical pattern of as many as 12 lines of studs around the tire’s circumference, depending on tire size. This is a Q-rated tire (99 mph) and is available in 13- to 16-inch sizes.


What makes Vredestein winter tires special? According to the company, it’s special silica solutions with names like thermo-elastic Hard Silica Solution III. There are varying degrees of the solution added to the tread compounds of every Vredestein winter tire, but no one at Vredestein is willing to talk about it. Not even a little.

The remainder of the company’s successful winter tire venture is tied to company philosophy. “People who buy our tires are those who want maximum winter driving safety under the most difficult conditions,” says Smoke.

Although Bridgestone, Goodyear and Michelin continue to dominate the winter tire market, they don’t have the corner on winter tiremaking excellence. Smaller firms like Nokian and Vredestein are recognized as equal technological players in the always evolving and challenging winter tire business.

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