Buckle up for the new passenger economy

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(BPT) – A hundred years ago, few thought that the clunky automobile that broke down so often would ever replace a horse. In the 1970s, people wondered if the personal computer that a few eccentrics were using would have any use beyond storing recipes. It’s safe to say that these innovations, along with many of the technologies we now use daily, were once considered impossible dreams.

Right now, the most-talked-about piece of technological innovation that is poised to transform our lives is the autonomous or self-driving car. As self-driving cars gain widespread adoption, analysts are predicting the rise of what is known as the passenger economy — a term coined by Intel — that is expected to be worth $7 trillion by 2050 as validated in a new report by analyst firm Strategy Analytics.

Seven trillion dollars is a lot of money! A decade ago, people couldn’t fully imagine the way smartphones would give rise to the app economy. Today we are at the threshold of something equally momentous — that’s why entrepreneurs and investors are now beginning to imagine the economic possibilities tied in with autonomous cars.

The following are five big areas of opportunity that will unfold in the passenger economy era.

  1. Time will be on people’s side. One of the most obvious benefits of a self-driving car is the amount of time it frees up. Drivers become passengers, and so will be able to concentrate on other tasks. Not only will people be able to work or watch a movie on their way to work, but the commute itself will be shorter, since traffic congestion will become a thing of the past. With smarter analytics, it’s estimated that by 2050, the widespread use of autonomous cars will free up over 250 million hours of commute time per year in the most congested cities.
  2. Apps were only the beginning. As more people use autonomous cars, companies and entrepreneurs will respond by developing innovative applications that will entertain and provide services to passengers. Just like innovators used smartphones to unlock the sharing economy, there will be opportunities for startups to discover new “car-veniences” that will be expected to generate some $200 billion in revenue.
  3. A new world of advertising. From the late ’90s, we started seeing new forms of advertising emerge on the web. With self-driving cars, we are poised to see powerful new opportunities that deliver personalized messages to consumers. For instance, algorithms can compute routes and route history to hone in on passengers with specific onboard advertisements from surrounding businesses or attractions. This could be a huge boost to local businesses and will be much more effective than the primitive billboard.
  4. Mobility-as-a-service. Imagine ordering take-out, or having your groceries or a package of diapers come to your door via a driverless car. This is something that we’re likely to see fairly soon. Shipping and freight companies, local delivery services and internet giants will make use of autonomous vehicles to transport goods across the country. These types of services will likely generate $3 trillion in revenues by 2050.
  5. New business models. Today, many companies offer perks such as work-from-home days or the option for people to leave the office to work in a cafe or wherever is most suitable for them. In the not-too-distant future, the workplace will further transform as the commute evolves. The self-driving car will blend with the office, turning the commute into a productive part of the workday. In turn, this will allow people to go home earlier and spend more time with their families.

The advent of the passenger economy will contribute to a safer and more efficient world. Those who can imagine and anticipate the coming changes will be in the best position to get the most out of it.

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5 hacks to save time and money during the holidays

(BPT) – The holidays are a wonderful time of year to spend with family and friends, and to reconnect with those you may not often see. However, the festive season can also be a busy and expensive time. By January, many are left feeling exhausted physically, emotionally and financially. But don’t let the stress of the season stand in the way of the magic — follow these easy tips and tricks to enjoy a more relaxing and joyful holiday season.

* Make a list: And check it twice! Getting organized this holiday season can save you time and money. When shopping for holiday gifts, having a complete list before you enter the store can prevent you from browsing the aisles for items you do not need. You will also have an estimated total cost before shopping, so you can stick to your budget.

* Send e-cards: It is always exciting to receive holiday mail from loved ones, but between the postage and printing fees, sending your own cards can quickly add up. Sending e-cards, however, is a more cost-effective approach and you can send as many as you’d like! You can also apply the money you save to your gifting budget.

* Switch to Straight Talk: From searching seasonal recipes to online shopping, there is no better helper than a smartphone during the holiday season. Straight Talk Wireless recently launched its new Ultimate Unlimited Plan for just $55 per month — helping you tackle the holidays and stream your favorite videos at DVD quality, without worrying about running out of high speed data. Never get throttled again. So treat yourself to the gift of unlimited data by switching to Straight Talk Wireless, the leading no-contract wireless provider that offers customers the best phones on the best networks for less. With no contracts, no credit checks and no mystery fees, your phone bill will be one less cost to worry about this season.

* Wrap like a pro: Gift wrapping can be one of the most time consuming activities of the holidays. However, there are multiple hacks to expedite the wrapping process. For oddly shaped gifts — use Kraft paper bags and decorate with a silver paint marker. You can also spruce up plain wrapping paper using twine, ribbons and stencils. Be creative if you run out of supplies, in the end it is the thought that matters, not the presentation!

* Monitor for deals: Online holiday shopping has made it easy to avoid the craze of the mall. But another added benefit of shopping from home is finding ways to avoid paying full price. Once you reach the checkout page, do a quick online search for discount codes for that particular site. You will be shocked to find how simple it is to save a few extra bucks or even snag free shipping!

Make it a priority this year to not lose the spirit of the season within the hustle and bustle. While they may seem simple, these few steps will help you put an end to the post-holiday slump before it hits.

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Beyond the diploma: Helping teens forge their futures

(BPT) – What’s the key to optimism? From a career standpoint, it’s having a vision where you see yourself climbing and thriving, and you know there will be a place in the world for your skills and knowledge.

Unfortunately, there are many teens and young people who have a much bleaker vision of their futures. Ask them where they see themselves in five years, and they may shrug, draw a blank or get that tight feeling in their stomachs. They worry about living their lives adrift or being left behind.

It’s more prevalent than you may think. Approximately 5 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 — or one out of seven — are not enrolled in school and are unemployed, according to the Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America report.

Within this problem, though, is an opportunity for these youth. The U.S. has a record 6 million job openings, even as 6.8 million Americans are looking for employment.

Two groups have come together to help young people pursue these in-demand jobs by providing resources to prepare them for college and their careers.

Through a $3 million partnership, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and The Hartford will help develop the next generation’s workforce by creating 30 college and career centers in the next three years. The centers will be built in Boys & Girls Clubs across the country, reaching 70,000 teens per year.

“This partnership is part of The Hartford’s commitment to help build successful communities through targeted philanthropic investment and employee volunteerism,” said Diane Cantello, vice president of corporate sustainability at The Hartford. “We are proud to partner with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to give teens access to relevant and inspiring resources as they plan their futures.”

With career preparation in mind, it’s never too early for any teen to start thinking about how to achieve workforce success. Here are some tips from Boys & Girls Clubs of America and The Hartford to help young people find traction.

Set short-term and long-term goals. From passing next Friday’s test to graduating high school and pursuing a college degree, focus on setting and achieving individual goals that ladder up to your vision of success. Take time to think about the progression of steps that need to take place between now and where you hope to see yourself in the future. At the same time, don’t get overwhelmed. After all, each journey begins with a single step. And each step can shape your future in ways that are both large and small.

Learn how to look for a job — and how to stand out. Whether you’re looking for a part-time job, or starting to put together your resume, learn about what hiring managers are looking for. Spend time revising your application and resume, and ask trusted adults to help you fine-tune it. It’s also worthwhile to put your video camera to use to practice job interviews. Do some research on common interview questions and then film yourself as you answer. Learning to respond to these questions with confidence and poise will help you stand out above the crowd.

It’s never too early to network. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” While it’s true that the economy isn’t exactly stable and technology is rapidly transforming the job market, the most valuable resource in a job search is people. Talk to teachers, guidance counselors, mentors and parents about your career interests; not only can they provide feedback on what fields they see as a potential fit, they can also connect you with people in those careers for a job shadow or informational interview.

Volunteer. If you already know what you want to do, finding a volunteer opportunity is a great way to get hands-on experience. Or if you’re not sure yet, volunteering allows you to try out different things and discover what you find interesting. Take the opportunity to volunteer — on top of all the other benefits to yourself and others, community service stands out to employers, so be sure to include these experiences in your resume and talk about them during your interviews.

Pursue your passions. Discovering what you’re passionate about is a lifelong pursuit that will evolve and change over time; however, you will spend a significant portion of your life working, so why not make it as enjoyable as possible? Think about the things you love most and areas where you excel, then consider potential career options that align with those interests and skills. And above all, don’t be afraid to fail. If you discover at some point that your chosen path isn’t the best fit after all, it’s disappointing, but don’t be discouraged. Learning these things now will only help you find the career path that’s right for you.

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Buying life insurance can be complicated. But it doesn’t need to be

(BPT) – Getting insurance can be famously complex and time-consuming. Whether it’s life, health, automobile or home, it takes time to understand what coverage you need and how to get it. As a result, it’s easy to put off items that don’t feel truly urgent until it’s too late.

Buying life insurance and helping to protect your family in the event of the unexpected is one of the most important purchases you can make. Doing this right requires a clear understanding of how much coverage you need, what a policy actually covers and how much you can reasonably afford. That’s a tall order for anyone.

But life insurance doesn’t need to be complicated. Understanding the basics — and taking advantage of the tools out there that can help you find the right policy in just minutes — are all you need to help protect your family’s future.

So, what do you need to know about life insurance to make an informed decision? Let’s answer your questions and clear up some myths first — and then explain your options.

Isn’t life insurance for older people? I’m young and healthy. I don’t need it.

The answer is a resounding no, and for obvious reasons: Even the young and healthy are at risk for the unexpected, from accidents to sudden illness. Life insurance can help you and your loved ones — whether that’s your children, parents or siblings — prepare for the unknown and make the right financial decisions. Laying the groundwork for that protection now, when you’re healthy and young, is an important step in building a sound financial future.

The good news is that there are different types of insurance policies that can best serve you and your family’s needs. Whole life insurance, which is what we often think of when we’re considering a life insurance policy, offers coverage you can’t outlive, with the cash value of the policy growing over time.

If you have big responsibilities right now and are still healthy, term life insurance, which can replace income and cover expenses in the unfortunate event of an early death, might be the better option. You can choose the timespan of the policy based on your family’s needs (for example, if you’re just starting your family, you may want to opt for a 20- to 30-year policy to make sure your children are covered until they’re adults). In an ideal world, your family will never need the policy, but it’s a strong safety net that can help you feel more secure, regardless of what the future holds.

But life insurance is expensive!

Life insurance costs can be high, yes — but that’s not a given. Understanding the amount and type of coverage you need keeps costs down. Being underinsured can be distressing in an emergency; being over-insured can eat away at your financial planning. Opting for a term life policy can help you solve these challenges. Their premiums are typically lower, and allow you to only cover the most likely scenarios for your age demographic.

This helps, but I’m still not sure which policy I need. And I’m too busy to keep searching.

This is where products like TruStage(R) come into play. You don’t need to spend hours assessing your risk and sorting through the clutter yourself; you have access to an online application as well as licensed agents that can help take the guesswork out of the process.

TruStage offers a simplified-issue term life insurance product that helps demystify the process for you through an online application process that takes about 10 minutes to complete.* After answering a few health questions, their automated process delivers a decision in minutes, offering coverage amounts of $5,000 to $300,000 to provide protection for home mortgages, children’s education, income replacement and final expenses. It also provides coverage options based on your budget, rather than making you estimate the amount of coverage you need.

In other words, in the time it takes you make a box of mac ’n’ cheese, you could help protect your family.

Where do I go to get started?

Visit www.trustage.com to fill out the online form. Include if you’re a credit union member, but even if you aren’t, you could still be eligible to apply for coverage.

Questions about TruStage? Call 1-855-309-2688.

*Source: TruStage.com Production WEB Policies Time reporting 2017.

TruStage(R) insurance products are made available through TruStage Insurance Agency, LLC. Life insurance, annuities, & accidental death & dismemberment insurance are issued by CMFG Life Insurance Company. The insurance offered is not a deposit, and is not federally insured, sold or guaranteed by your credit union.


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FICO Score: Why it matters and what you can do to change it

(BPT) – For anyone who has tried to borrow money to purchase a car, buy a home or open a revolving line of credit, you may be familiar with the term FICO Score. The vast majority of lenders use this scoring model, which essentially determines a person’s creditworthiness.

“The FICO Score may seem like a big, daunting mystery, especially since your score can have a huge impact on your ability to borrow money at a competitive rate,” said Jim Johnston, of Colorado-based Bellco Credit Union. “The truth is, however, you do have power over your credit score, and there are things you can do to improve it over time.”

First, it’s important to understand what makes up your total FICO score. (FICO was named for the data analytics company Fair Isaac Co., which created the first credit-scoring system.) In general, a credit score breaks down as follows:

* 35 percent is your payment history — Do you pay bills on time?

* 30 percent is the amounts you owe (on loans, credit cards, etc.) — Owing money on different credit accounts is not necessarily bad, especially if you’re paying your bills on time every month. FICO takes into account how many of your accounts have balances, if you’re using your entire credit line, and how much of any installment loan (like a car loan) you still owe.

* 15 percent is the length of your credit history — In general, having a long credit history is good, but even if you’re young and barely have any credit history (such as having credit cards and a new car loan), you can still have a high FICO score.

* 10 percent is your credit mix — What is your mix of credit, meaning credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, mortgage loans, etc.? A good mix of credit, especially with a history of on-time payments, is helpful to your score.

* 10 percent is any new credit — If you’ve opened numerous credit accounts in a short period of time, this can have a negative impact on your credit score. Although closing a credit account still shows up on your credit history, it has no impact on your score.

Repairing your credit takes time, so it’s important to be patient. Below are three immediate things you can do.

1. Check your credit report — The first thing you should do is get a free copy of your credit report and make sure there are no errors. If you find an error, you have the right to dispute it with the credit bureau.

2. Get organized — Don’t make any more late payments on your credit cards. The best way to do this is to get organized. Set up auto payments through your bank or credit union, or set reminders to make payments before they are due.

3. Pay down your debt — While this is no easy task, it will make a difference. Use your credit report to make a list of all your credit cards and the balances you owe. Pick the credit cards with the highest interest rates, and tackle those balances first. Most importantly, don’t add to your debt by continuing to use your credit cards.

Keep in mind, your FICO Score does not take into account your annual income, length of employment, or if you may be receiving other sources of financial support such as alimony or child support. However, these are things that your bank or credit union can take into consideration when you’re borrowing money, so it’s not all about the FICO Score.

Finally, knowledge is power. Understand what your FICO Score is, how a good or bad score can impact your life, and if a low FICO Score is holding you back from being able to buy your first home or car. There’s no better time than now to begin to make positive changes to improve your score.

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4 questions to ask your financial advisor right away

(BPT) – Let’s face it: Finances can be complicated. Whether opening a new investment account, saving for your child’s college fund or rolling over a 401(k), sometimes you need professional financial help.

But who to turn to? A financial advisor can be a great resource for professional guidance so that you’re not making critical investment decisions on your own, but did you know not all financial advisors are equal? Some financial advisors may be little more than salespeople trying to sell you investment products that may or may not be in your best interest, but earn them a hefty commission.

If you’re looking for an advisor who truly has your back, you need to work with what is called a “fiduciary.” As a fiduciary, your advisor is legally required to place your interests ahead of their own.

According to a recent survey from Financial Engines, America’s largest independent investment advisor, 53 percent of Americans mistakenly believe that financial advisors are already legally required to put their clients’ best interest first. Only 50 percent of investors who work with a financial advisor are certain that their advisor is a fiduciary, while 38 percent don’t know if their advisor is a fiduciary or not.

Some advisors may recommend clients invest in funds or services that provide the advisor with a commission. Sometimes doing so is mutually beneficial for both the investor and the advisor. But other times, the investor may end up with higher or unnecessary fees and it’s the advisor who comes out on top.

So how can you tell if a potential or current advisor is a fiduciary? Here are a few key questions to ask before making a decision to work with them:

* Are you a fiduciary? A direct question deserves a direct answer. Pay attention to how the advisor responds. If your advisor has told you that he or she is acting as a fiduciary, ask them to show that to you in writing.

* Do you receive any type of compensation in addition to what I’m paying you? Some advisors receive commissions or other product-based compensation when they steer clients into investment products (including mutual funds, annuities and variable annuities). This is a clear conflict of interest and can indicate the advisor is not, in fact, a fiduciary.

* Are you “dual-registered?” Some advisors are registered as both investment advisors and broker-dealers. Often, a broker-dealer is acting in the role of a salesperson. If your advisor is also a broker-dealer, make sure you understand which hat they are wearing when providing advice to you.

* Have you ever been cited by a professional or regulatory body for disciplinary reasons? To be extra sure, you can look up the advisor’s records on FINRA’s BrokerCheck to find out if they have any complaints — especially complaints related to providing financial and advisory services.

As your finances become more complex, you may consider getting help from a financial professional. By asking the right questions, you can confidently navigate the process and choose an advisor who is right for you.

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Time-saving tricks that save hours each week

(BPT) – When you look at your to-do list, does it seem a mile long? From running errands, returning emails and making hurried trips to the ATM, modern life has never been busier for Americans.

You can reclaim your day by using a few simple time-saving methods. By simplifying common tasks, you can open up hours each week plus reduce stress levels. The following are some strategies to consider if you want to make a big impact.

Handheld financial freedom

Need to pay the babysitter, split the lunch bill or send money to your sister for grandma’s birthday gift? No need to run to the ATM. Person-to-person (P2P) payment options make it safe and simple to send money instantly.

Gareth Gaston, executive vice president of Omnichannel for U.S. Bank, shared results from the U.S. Bank Cash Behavior survey, which shows that 47 percent of people prefer to use digital apps to make payments versus cash. What’s more, this desire crosses generations, so both boomers and millennials — and everyone in between — want to digitize personal payments.

A great, hassle-free option for P2P is Zelle, a payment network backed by leading financial institutions including U.S. Bank. Zelle works through your mobile banking app and allows you to quickly and securely send and receive payments. Plus, once you are registered, there is virtually no waiting period — accounts instantly reflect deposits and transfers. Imagine the time saved when you eliminate last-minute cash runs. Learn more at www.USbank.com/zelle.

Work smarter, not harder

Whether you’re a bi-coastal professional or a stay-at-home parent, you have a lot to get done and little time to do it. With some strategic planning, your days will be less hectic while maximizing productivity.

Being proactive and organized can save loads of time. For example, on Sunday, organize outfits for the entire week for you and the kids. Another smart tip is to pack lunches, backpacks and briefcases the night prior. Do these things and your mornings will be smooth sailing.

Another huge time-saver is how you communicate. Rather than responding to messages as they come, block specific times on your calendar — such as at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. — to respond to communication. When you return emails, calls and texts in batches, you save time over stringing out these activities throughout the day. Bonus tip: For smartphone addicts, make sure you program autofill words you commonly use to make finger typing lightning fast.

Shop savvy and eliminate errands

Running around town can eat up a lot of your valuable time. If you can automate deliveries of frequently used items, do it. Common household goods that are always on your list will no longer be a reason that drags you out the door.

Additionally, many retailers now offer online order and pickup options. This means you do all your shopping from the comfort of your home or office, and then just swing by the store and they load your bags into your car. No crammed aisles, no long lines, no stress.

From eliminating the need for cash on hand to easing email overload, these smart tips will save you time so you can spend your spare moments doing the things you really love. Reclaim your life by adopting these strategies today.

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Small businesses have struggled to find funding: Not anymore

(BPT) – In business, dreams are easy. Finding the money to make them happen, however, can be difficult.

Even established, successful businesses can get turned away for loans at banks. This was the case for Sole Bicycles, a popular maker of stylish, high-performance bikes based in Venice Beach, California.

With the busy summer season approaching, they sought a bank loan to expand inventory. The last thing they expected was to be rejected more than 20 times over the following two years.

“No bank was willing to work with us, and we missed opportunities as a result,” said Sole president Jimmy Standley.

His experience is all too common. According to the Federal Reserve’s latest Small Business Credit Survey, nearly one in two small businesses say they struggle to get the funding they need.

Fortunately, over the past few years a new option has grown to fill that gap. Online lending platforms connect businesses looking to borrow with investors looking to lend. It’s a fundamentally different business model than banks, said Sam Hodges, co-founder of one such platform, Funding Circle.

He explained that the lending platforms use technology to connect credit supply directly with demand, making it easier and faster for businesses to get affordable loans. Funds come from a community of individual and institutional investors.

“It’s not uncommon for businesses to wait weeks to hear back from banks after applying for a loan — just to be denied,” Hodges said. “Once we have everything we need, we’re able to make a decision in as little as 24 hours.”

When borrowing online, buyer beware

When considering an online lending platform, it’s important to look carefully at what you’re being offered, Hodges said.

He warned that borrowers should beware of lenders who promise approval virtually instantly, without taking the time to learn about how much each applicant can really afford. Loans from these lenders can come with murky terms and upwards of 70 percent annual percentage rates (APRs). Additionally, these lenders may take payments directly out of your sales daily or weekly until the debt is repaid — which could drastically reduce your cash flow.

“Term loans are the better option for established businesses looking to borrow a set amount of money for a specific purpose and pay it back over time,” Hodges said. “These are ordinary Main Street businesses across America simply looking to open a new location, hire more staff, stock up on inventory or refinance debt.”

This includes Standley at Sole Bicycles, who ended up applying for a second Funding Circle loan as his company continued to grow.

Thinking about applying for a loan? There are five things business lenders typically care about. Read more at www.Made2DoMore.com.

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Winter is coming: 3 reasons why you need to install winter tires

(BPT) – Winter brings unpredictable and dangerous road conditions, yet changing out all-season tires for winter tires isn’t high on our priority list. No matter the type of vehicle you drive, tires are the only connection between a vehicle and the road. Improper tires put drivers at a higher risk of mishandling, including reduced control when trying to stop or steer and the inability to effectively accelerate.

When many drivers rely solely on a vehicle’s drivetrain — four-, front- or rear-wheel drive — for traction control, do winter tires truly make a difference? Nokian Tyres, winter tire expert and the business that invented the winter tire, provided some insight on what every driver should know when it comes to seasonal tire care.

1) The difference between a winter tire and an all-season tire

Both are designed to handle the road for their season, and although both share similar technology, the differences allow them to master their conditions. All-season tires typically have large longitudinal grooves, rounder edges and smaller diagonal grooves for high-speed handling, whisking away rain and withstanding high temperatures.

Winter tires have dense, sharp edges throughout the tread pattern, tight grooves for maximum surface coverage and rigid walls for increased handling through ice and snow. Once temperatures are consistently at or less than 45 degrees, all-season tire compounds get hard, therefore hindering grip. Switch to winter tires before the temperatures drop to prevent rushing to change them during the first snowfall.

2) Winter tires’ effect on performance and gas mileage

In general, dry handling and braking will be affected only slightly when using winter tires, but the safety gain in snow, ice and other winter weather is significant. Winter tires are designed to handle all winter weather, not just snow and ice. If you are consistently driving in conditions less than 45 degrees, winter tires will provide a noticeable difference on cold, hard surfaces.

Drivers typically notice a decrease in fuel efficiency during the winter, but their tires are only a small factor. For example, winter gas has special additives that compromise engine performance and roof racks add aerodynamic drag. The vehicle is also working through snow and ice rather than a clear summer road.

Additionally, winter tires are known to be louder than summer tires, and in the past, they were. New technology, such as the air shock absorbers in Nokian Tyres’ Eco Stud System, have minimized the noise so there is less difference between studded, non-studded and traditional tires.

Driving with tires built for the worst weather will increase your driving performance and give you peace of mind that you’re prepared for what’s to come.

3) When and when not to use winter tires

Winter tires will wear quickly on hot driving surfaces compared to all-season tires due to their rubber compounds designed for colder temperatures. The tires might wear unevenly, not only causing poor summer performance, but also hindering their effectiveness in winter conditions. For these reasons you should not use winter tires year-round but use both all-season and winter tires.

Using winter tires will also prolong the life of your all-season tires. You will need to buy another set of tires for your car someday, but if you buy a set of winter tires, you will enjoy the benefit and safety of having appropriate tires for the weather conditions.

Winter is coming. Be prepared to get where you’re headed with the best equipment and the most confidence you can.

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