With much of the eastern half of the US in record cold conditions (it is 0F/-18C as I write this) I got to wondering about summer tires in the cold. Most summer rated performance tires state that they are to be used only above 40F. The tire compounds that give them good stickiness on warm tarmac turn to rock hard bricks in cold temps and don’t have much traction.

Now, I have had occasions where I’ve needed to drive a performance car with summer performance tires in cold and dry conditions. I managed to survive but it was clear traction was way down. I think it would be almost undriveable in any frozen precip.

But can driving summer tires in cold or extreme cold actually damage the tire? I have heard that cold temps can permanently change the chemical composition of the summer tread compound (freezing and thawing). I’m not sure if this is true though. I see many performance cars that are issued with summer rated tires as factory equipment (some AWD cars come to mind) driving in extreme cold and I seriously doubt the owners have switched to all seasons or winter tires.