DENVER—Although tire stud sales are only a small fraction of his business, wholesale distributor Chuck McGee said those sales have climbed steadily over the past five years, despite legislation to eliminate their use in favor of winter tires.
For McGee Co., a Denver-based wholesaler and one of the U.S.'s largest importers of tire studs, sales of studs aren't going to make or break its success. And just like all winter tire sales, much of the company's profits depend on that year's winter weather pattern.
As some states placed restrictions on studded tire usage over the years, the company began importing more light-weight studs. "For us to make a product to meet those needs is not a problem," Mr. McGee said.
Light-weight steel studs are a trend in the Northwest, particularly in Washington and Oregon where studs are permitted from Nov. 1 through April 1, he said. They've been heavily used in Europe for some time, he added.
A 1989 study of studded tires by the Swedish Road and Transport Research Institute found that:
When lighter weight studs are used, road wear is reduced by approximately 50 percent;
Roughening of the ice from studs increases skid resistance so even non-studded tires can benefit; and
Studded tires have a much higher coefficient of friction on ice at 0 degrees Celsius than other tread designs.
The study also concluded that a ban on studded tires would result in a mass increase in total driving accidents.
Mr. McGee said in the Rocky Mountain area and in other parts of the country, winter tires can be useless.
Because there is so much heavy traffic everywhere nowadays, he said, motorists usually don't come across unpacked snow.
"You're trying to get traction on hard-packed, usually icy, conditions," he said. "And so that's where the studded tire really adds some value."
Mr. McGee noted that studded tires are useful on all types of vehicles.
"In a four-wheel drive you get great acceleration because you have four wheels trying to get traction," he said. "But when you stop, it doesn't matter what you're driving. It then comes down to the vehicle's configuration in weight.
"Studs give you a lot of advantage in stopping and any kind of lateral movement."