What are Studded Tires?

Barbara R. Cochran

Vehicle tires that have metal pins or "studs" protruding from them are called studded tires. Since tires are made with different tread depths, their studs are varied in length. The studs usually consist of tungsten carbide pins encased inside of a cylindrical metal piece that is held in the tire by a flange. It is the pins that protrude from the tire and cut into road ice, and chip away at pavement. Typically, 60 to 120 studs are inserted into each tire’s tread.

Snow studded tires increase traction for driving on snow and ice.
Snow studded tires increase traction for driving on snow and ice.

Studded tires have been in existence in various forms since the end of the 19th century. Modern versions of the tires first became popular in Scandinavian countries to make it easier and safer to drive on snowy, icy roads. Starting in the 1960s, studded tires saw widespread use in the United States. It was thought that the tires made driving safer because of the way the metal pins in bit into the ice and caused enough friction to prevent slipping and sliding.

Studded tires can help prevent skidding on snowy, slippery roads.
Studded tires can help prevent skidding on snowy, slippery roads.

During the 1970s, research engineers staring looking at safety issues related to the use of such tires, as well as the damage they cause to pavement. As a result, studded tires underwent technical improvements during that decade, and on through the 1990s. Some states in the US have restricted the use of studded tires to the winter driving season or banned them entirely because of pavement damage and safety issues. Countries like Germany, Belgium, and Japan also have banned their use. In the case of Japan, tires with metal studs were banned in part because the dust from the damaged concrete caused noticeable air pollution along its highways during their winter months.

Studded tires can cause ruts in pavement when the studs chip into a road or highway’s surface, especially when a driver is going fast along the road or highway. This means that when it rains, there could be a hydroplaning hazard. Prior to the banning of studded tires in various countries and American states, citizens had to pay many millions in taxes each year to try to keep roads and highways in good, safe condition. The extent of damage that occurs from the use of studded tires depends on stud length, how much the studs weigh, the number of studs per tire, the type of pavement surface, and vehicle speed.

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Discussion Comments


I never did like driving on studded tires, and I wasn't bothered at all when my state banned their use. I didn't think studded snow tires offered that much more traction than regular snow tires, and if I was in real trouble, I'd put on tire chains anyway. I always felt like I was about to skid out when I used studded truck tires. I also noticed all the damage those studded tires caused on my town's roads.


Growing up in Ohio, I remember my dad switching to studded snow tires after our first good snowstorm. Our driveway sloped up the side of a hill, so if a car didn't have chains or studs, it was probably not going to make it. Sometimes there was a warm spell and the roads would be clear for a few days. I could hear a clinking noise whenever those studded tires were on dry pavement.

I think the law in Ohio was that snow studded tires were allowed during the winter months, but they weren't allowed on the road when the roads were warm and dry. Sometimes my dad would forget to change them out for summer tires, and he was always afraid he would get a warning or a ticket if an officer pulled him over for some other reason.

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