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M+S Tires and Winter Tires - How do They Perform in Snow?

When shopping for new tires, we often neglect to think about winter tire markings. We search for the best snow-mud tires, without considering their limitations.

Do you know the difference between mud and snow tires and winter tires?

The distinction might seem straightforward, but each tire rating gives tires a specific categorization. Keep reading and see which tires are truly winter-rated tires!

M+S and 3PMSF on Tire

Both mud and snow tires and tires with snowflake symbol offer specific performances. This allows consumers to find the perfect fit for their vehicles and needs.

But, what exactly do they indicate?

They specify whether a tire is good for light or severe winter weather performance. What type of traction a tire offers will determine if it becomes an M+S tire or one with a three peak mountain snowflake symbol.

Let's take a look at the differences between these tires in a bit more detail.

Tire Marking Explained for MS Tires

The M&S tire rating first appeared in the 1970s. At first, it indicated tires with a specific tread block placement, as they offered better packed-snow and ice traction.

Nowadays, it is a bit more lenient as most all season tires will receive a mud-snow rating. In other words, snow and mud tires were approved for year-round use, especially on muddy and snowy road conditions.

Technically speaking, most tires meet the minimum requirements to receive the MS tire rating. However, only those tires are actually stamped with it that offer better traction and performance in light winter weather.

M+S marking on tires

The 3 Peak Mountain Snowflake Symbol

In the 1990s a need arose to separate winter tires from all season ones. This was achieved by creating and adding the snowflake symbol on tires offering traction even in harsh winter conditions.

Models sporting the tire snowflake symbol are considered to be "true" winter tires. This is due to them passing more difficult winter-weather testing. From their compound blend to their tread design, winter tires with the three peak mountain snowflake symbol offer the best ice and snow traction.

While some off-road, light truck tires are also marked with this symbol, most tires that feature it on their sidewall were specifically designed for winter weather use only.

3PMS symbol on tires

The Difference Between 3PMS and M+S Tires

Tire ratings exist for a reason. They give insight into the different performing capabilities of specific tire models even before they are mounted on your vehicle.

The same applies to mud & snow tires and snow tires. One offers excellent light winter traction but will struggle in severe conditions, while the other is capable of handling harsh winters but its warm-weather performance is lacking.

The difference between mud and snow tires and a dedicated winter tire set is eye-catching. Their tread patterns differ greatly. Mud and snow tires lack tread detail when compared to winter tires. Both sport larger tread blocks, but snow tires sport multiple biting edges in the form of sipes.

Something less obvious is their compound blend. Not even the best mud and snow tires are able to keep their rubber flexible in sub-zero temperatures. Winter tire compounds have no issue doing that.

Therefore, looking at their tread details and rubber materials, it is obvious that winter tires and MS tires differ.

3-season tires vs. snow tires

The Benefits of Using M&S Tires

M and S tires offer light winter traction, that much is true. But, what else do these tires provide for your winter weather drive?

Tire brands use flexible compounds to manufacture snow and mud tire models. These compound blends are able to keep the tire pliable until 45°F, after which the rubber becomes rigid from the cold. While this might not sound like much, it allows mud and snow tires to safely perform in three seasons, as well as in light winter conditions.

What do we mean by light winter weather? As long as temperatures do not drop below 45°F, mud, and snow tires will provide adequate traction on snow and ice. Still, drivers need to be careful when the snow packs between the tread elements, diminishing their surface grip.

If you live in areas where harsh winter conditions do not rule, a good set of mud and snow tires will keep you safe.

What Makes 3PMSF Winter Tires Stand Out?

Snow-rated tires, one sporting the three-peak mountain snowflake on their sidewall, offer true winter weather traction. To safely conquer severe winter conditions, drivers will need a set on their vehicles.

But, what do the snow tire ratings indicate?

Let's talk about the tire compound first. The snowflake symbol on tires means that the specific model was designed with a durable compound blend. They utilize more natural rubber, which keeps their flexibility even below 45°F, unlike M+S tires. Instead, snow tires do not freeze when temperatures drop, optimizing their performance.

On the other hand, their tread pattern is more detailed. Sipes, grooves, notches, etc. provide a higher number of biting edges that firmly grip ice- and snow-covered roads. Wider grooves and larger tread blocks increase the self-cleaning capability. This makes sure snow does not pack between the tread elements and blocks the winter tires' surface contact.


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Considering Winter Tire Laws and Regulations Before Your Trip

Versatile weather conditions rule in different areas of our vast country. While usually we do not have to worry about driving conditions in other states, when the time arrives to travel it is important to be prepared.

What we wish to say is this: different areas experience varying weather, and these areas will have diverse driving laws and regulations we need to follow.

It is important to keep up to date with the driving requirements when you travel, especially whether you need snow-rated tires or if mud and snow tires are enough. Due to severe winter conditions and sub-zero temperatures that rule in certain areas, legislators have ruled the mandatory use of winter tires or snow chains on all season tires.

Even if you do not live in an area where winter tires are required, if you decide to travel, you better look up winter travel laws.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does M+S Mean on a Tire?


M+S on a tire stands for "Mud and Snow", which indicates extra traction in mud and snow. To put it simply, mud and snow tires are year-round models, which ensure better grip in dry, wet, and winter conditions. S and M tires are known for their secure performance and traction in light winter weather.

Are Mud Tires Good in the Snow?


Mud tires in snow often offer better traction. These tires are designed with aggressive tread designs and use durable rubber compounds. Mud tires in the snow are able to offer better grip, even on ice and snow-covered road surfaces.

What Does MT Mean on a Tire?


MT on the tire sidewall stands for "Mud Terrain". These tires are designed for off-road use, which is made possible by their aggressive tread design. Mud terrain tires in snow often offer better traction, but their true power shines during their off-road applications.

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