Winter is Here! Here are 5 Tips For Checking Your 4Runner’s Tires Before Snow Hits (Plus Winter Tire Options)!
A few years ago, we published an extensive article going over the Basics of Winter Travel (which if you haven’t read already, you definitely should), including tips to keep you safe on your colder adventures. Most of the country is experiencing a shift from warmer summertime temperatures to colder, snowier conditions that make for tricky roads.
It’s always important to check, maintain, and monitor your tire’s performance just before winter. Below are a few of our top tips for checking your tire’s tread, pressure, and general signs of wear and tear before winter.
Before You Hit the Road
You’ve undoubtedly spent a good portion of the year on the road and on the trail because let’s face it, you’re a 4Runner owner.
With the changing of seasons in many parts of North America, temperatures are getting colder and inclement weather is settling in. All of those fun miles on your current set of tires may mean that they’re not up to the task of another round of winter.
Thanks to our friends at Cooper Tire, we have some checklist items to make sure your tires are prepared for the upcoming winter.
#1. Check Your Tread Depth
2/32” (0.0625”) is the accepted legal limit for minimum tread depth, however, it’s far from the optimal range.
For us who use our 4Runners as off-road performance vehicles (it’s a stretch, I know), we demand more from our tires. I’ll be hasty and say that tires should be replaced at 1/4 to 1/2 tread remaining to get the most out of them, especially during winter conditions.
Every input is affected by tread depth:
Don’t wait to replace your tires until it’s too late in the season to find what you need, or worse, until you find yourself in a situation where new tires would have prevented it in the first place.
Checking your tread depth is easily done with a gauge like this one or using the good ol’ “Lincoln Head Technique”. Using the latter won’t account for an optimal tread depth for us 4Runner owners, so a gauge is recommended.
Tread Depth Checker
- Preciva LCD Digital Tire Tread Depth Gauge Tool: Check Price
#2. Check Your Tire Condition
Tires take a beating from everything. Roads, rocks, mud, the sun, time…
Everything they experience with your 4Runner is aging or wearing them. With heading into winter, check your tires for overall health by looking for uneven wear, cuts or gouges, bulges and the condition of the rubber itself. Also, here’s a handy trick to check the age of your tires.
Tires that are older than 10 years can have UV deterioration or dried out rubber. Cold weather in winter accentuates any flaws or weaknesses that your tires might already have, and they can result in reduced performance or even failure when the temperatures drop. Your tires may “still have some life left” in them, but if they’re compromised you can’t trust them to get you where you need safely.
#3. Check Your Tire Pressure
Enthusiast’s tire pressure preferences are like their oil preferences. Everyone has their favorite setting that works best for their setup, their roads, and their comfort.
One thing is a constant though: cold weather changes the pressure in your tires, lowering them below what you might consider satisfactory. On average, tire pressure decreases by about one pound per square inch for every 10°F drop in the temperature.
Now, I tend to run lower tire pressures in the winter as I get better traction around town when it’s snowing or icy, but I set those pressures myself. Grab your gauge and see what pressures your tires are at first thing in the morning after cooling overnight. This will give you the most accurate reading of your tires, and the best control of their settings.
Tire Pressure Checker:
- Milton Pencil Gauge: Check Price
- ARB Deflator: Check Price
#4. Check Your Spare Tire
Your spare tire is your “get-home-without-a-tow” card that you could need at any time.
If you haven’t checked your spare in recent memory, take it down and inspect for proper pressure and for any damage it might have received on the trail. This often neglected tire will save you when you need it most, but only if it’s properly maintained. If it’s older than 10 years, consider replacing it as a part of preventative maintenance.
#5. Check Your Chains
If you live in mountainous winter climates, you might have a set of chains that you lug around for traversing high-elevation passes, or just for around town if your streets aren’t frequently plowed.
If your set hasn’t seen daylight since last year or before, drag them out and lay them on your driveway to inspect for any damaged components from their last use. I’d recommend giving them a good hose down before inspecting as they tend to collect gravel and dirt during use.
Tire Chain Recommendations:
- SCC Z Cable Chains: Check Price
- Peerless Chains: Check Price
Trust me, it’ll make your inspection that much easier!
Bonus: Tire Recommendations
If you do find yourself in need of a new set of tires after your thorough inspection, we have a couple of recommendations to get you set up before winter hits full force:
Cooper Tire AT3
The Cooper Tire AT3 line (see above) is extremely well-rounded with options for everyone.
The 4S provides a stock size and a P-rated 285/70R17 option for the 4Runner. It’s a 3PMSF (snowflake) rated tire as well, so you’ll get better snow/ice performance. Read our review of the 4S’s here.
The LT steps up the aggressive look and offers some larger sizing for the 17” wheel range. It’s a great all-around performer for a daily driver 4Runner that sees the dirt occasionally.
Cooper Tire Discoverer XLT
The XLT is the ultimate formula for an all-terrain tire that is built for tough terrain.
This tire is offered in larger sizes and is geared towards a lifted 4Runner who spends a lot of time off-pavement. Read our review of the XLT Tires here.
Cooper Evolution MT
Although the EVOLUTION MT (EVO MT) is labeled as a mud-terrain, it’s more of a hybrid all-terrain/mud-terrain tire but leans closer to an MT. It’s marked as an M+S (mud and snow) and handles excellent in the mud of course, but also does great in the snow; powder, slush, and ice. Its tread pattern is not all that aggressive when it comes to a traditional mud-terrain but its road manners are that of an all-terrain. With the EVO MT, you get the performance of a true mud-terrain, the road manners of an all-terrain, and the performance of an M+S rated tire. See our initial thoughts here.
Dedicated Winter Tire
A dedicated winter tire is the best option for those living in constant winter conditions. They’ll provide traction in situations where just standing up might be difficult, and confidence on the road no matter the conditions.
New to the Cooper Discoverer range this year, the Cooper Discoverer Snow Claw is a dedicated winter tire built for ice and snow-covered roads. It’s studdable, 3PMSF rated for the most severe winter conditions, and available in a stock size all the way up to a 285/70R17 “33”. Its softer rubber composition will adhere to the slickest roads, and avoid hardening up when things get really cold. If you need ultimate winter traction, these might be what you’re looking for.
We want you to have a safe winter season in your 4Runner, whether it’s around town in the wet or plowing some fresh snow in the mountains. Start with your tire maintenance before setting out on your next winter adventure!
Just put on a set of 285 Cooper AT3 XLTs on my 4Runner after reading your article on them, and I absolutely love how there’re handing the snow
Regarding tread depth, how do you know what *new* tire tread depth is/was? I’m guessing not all tires are the same. You can’t calculate percentage tread left after you measure, unless you know what you started with new, right? In other words what do you compare your measured tread depth *against*?
David // Tire manufacturers will list the new tread depth on their website in the specification section. See the attached photo with tread depth being the column on the far right.
Good article. I have 40+ years wheeling in Quebec. The last 30 in 4Runners. For the best traction get true winter tires, studdable if you can. Although some AT and MT tires have the mountain snowflake pictogram, THEY ARE NOWHERE near as effective as true winter tires. Get them mounted on steel wheels to save money down the road and wear on your nice wheels. I don’t bother with TPMS on my winter steel wheels.
Ray // Thanks for the comment, glad to have some feedback from a seasoned winter driver! I totally agree, winter tires are 100% the best way to go for those driving under constant winter conditions. For most, a set of 3PMSF rated tires will suffice for seasonal trips to the snow, with some good driving common sense of course! Steelies winter tires and studs win for traction any day though!
Thanks Max for taking the time to post your articles. They are always well thought out and informative. I do have one question for you after looking at pic #4 Spare Tire. What side exit exhaust are you running? Thanks!
Tim // I’m glad you have enjoyed the article! I cut about 12″ off the stock exhaust after it met a rock ledge some time back. I had a muffler shop bend, cut and weld a tip on that’s the same diameter as the stock exhaust. It added some clearance, and the side exit helps with exhaust fumes.