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What are three-peak mountain snowflake tires?

Chris Teague

Chris Teague

three-peak mountain snowflake tire

Here in Maine, good tires make the difference between an uneventful winter driving season and one fraught with difficulty. Most people here need dedicated winter tires, as the weather can turn quickly and become severe once it does. At the same time, many drivers find that they can avoid driving during the worst of the snow, and others live a bit further south, where snow comes but isn’t debilitating when it does. 

People in these areas may not need dedicated winter tires, as the snow is less frequent, and they have little need to travel when it’s nasty out. For them, there’s a great in-between tire that provides legitimate snow traction while retaining all-season performance. These tires feature a unique logo called the three-peak mountain snowflake, and the little image carries a lot of weight when it comes to winter traction.

What is the three-peak mountain snowflake?

The three-peak mountain snowflake, or 3PMSF, means that tires meet the standards set by the United States Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA). Though they are still considered all-season tires, models with the 3PMSF designation have passed an acceleration test on medium-pack snow. Tires that successfully pass receive the designation, but testing is not comprehensive and does not include observations of braking or turning/cornering abilities. 

Who should buy 3PMSF tires?

Three-peak mountain snowflake tires can be an excellent choice for people who live in areas that receive legitimate winter weather but don’t need to drive in severe snow consistently. They are effective in many snowy situations, but 3PMSF tires are not a substitute for dedicated winter tires. They won’t be the best choice for people in areas with extreme snow, such as parts of Colorado and the upper Midwest. Most people find that 3PMSF tires are a good in-between that can help avoid the sometimes annoying seasonal changeover between summer and winter tires.

Winter tires versus three-peak mountain snowflake tires

Because they are all-season tires and not dedicated winter rubber, 3PMSF tires don’t offer the specialized rubber compounds that help winter tires remain pliable and grippy in frigid temperatures. Winter tires also feature a unique tread design that helps move snow and slush away at speed, providing better grip in braking and turning when it’s cold out. Good 3PMSF tires may provide some of those benefits, but dedicated winter tires do almost everything better.

Things to consider when shopping for winter tires

We’ve already covered some of the weaknesses with 3PMSF tires, but there are a few other things to remember when shopping. Brand names matter with tires, and you get what you pay for. Tire Rack tested generic or off-brand 3PMSF-rated tires and found that some models performed worse in wet weather than their standard counterparts, which could pose a significant problem, depending on where you live.

You should also think about your driving habits. Do you really need 3PMSF or winter tires? How often does your home area receive snow? How cold does it get in winter? If the answers to those questions are “not a lot” and “not very,” you might be better off keeping your all-season tires and avoiding driving when it snows. Of course, there’s always a chance of an emergency, and proper tires could make the difference, so the choice to switch is clear for some people.

Do I need studded tires?

Some tire models can be studded, which means they can have metal spikes installed to provide traction on ice and in severe winter weather. They offer better acceleration and stopping power when there’s ice on the road and can make the difference between keeping a car on the road or skidding off into a ditch. That said, having tires studded can be expensive, and they are not legal at all times in all places. Some states limit the times of year drivers can run studded tires because they can damage the road and are not appropriate for all weather conditions. Studded tires are also very loud and do not provide the best ride quality.

Which three-peak mountain snowflake tire brands are best?

The best 3PMSF tires come from brands you already know and love. 

Michelin CrossClimate2

The Michelin CrossClimate2 is a great tire with excellent reviews and a good treadwear warranty. Some report limited wet grip and some understeer in wet conditions, and Michelins are also among the most expensive tire brands.

Pirelli Cinturato Weatheractive

Your Test Driver is testing the Pirelli Cinturato Weatheractive tires on a 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI. The tires provide good wet and snow traction and are considerably quieter than some traditional all-season tires.

Goodyear Assurance WeatherReady

Goodyear is a top-rated tire brand, and the Assurance WeatherReady tires have received top reviews from thousands of happy owners. They provide solid wet and snow traction, and most report a smooth, quiet ride.

Do I need 3PSMF tires if I have four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive?

Four- and all-wheel drive are great to help get a vehicle moving and provide better traction to keep a vehicle on the road, but the drive systems cannot overcome bad tires in the snow. No amount of all-wheel drive will help slow your vehicle if you’re traveling on worn all-season tires. It’s a common mistake among new drivers in snowy areas, as SUVs and large pickup trucks can give them a sense of invincibility when they genuinely need a more robust set of tires and a lesson on how to drive.

We’re not saying you need studded tires or even dedicated winter tires, but it’s easy to look at the beefy 4WD sitting in your driveway and think it’ll be fine in the snow. Consider 3PMSF tires if you receive light winter weather, and be ready to spring for dedicated winter tires if you live in a snowy wonderland half the year. It’s also important to note that all-terrain or mud-terrain tires are not rated for snow use, regardless of how knobby or robust-looking they are. Don’t make the mistake of relying on the wrong tires when the weather changes.

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