Power and confidence are a must in holiday traffic; good tires give you that plus a more comfortable ride, a quieter cabin for conversation and the confidence that you won’t spend your trip on the side of the road waiting for roadside assistance. And if the weather turns ugly, you’ll have the traction and capability you need to beat those wet, snowy roads. Here’s why you should ask Santa for a set of new tires.

Good Tires=Good Road Trips
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If you’d asked me just a few weeks ago what I wanted for Christmas, I never would have said new tires.

Until I got new tires, that is.

This year’s holiday road trip will be quieter, more confident and less stressful with good tires now on our Toyota Highlander.

Product Review disclosureI had the opportunity to test a set of Michelin Defenders, all season tires for light trucks, SUVs and minivans. With all the holiday travel we have planned, here are some of the things I won’t be sweating while listening to my teen’s playlist (Taylor Swift, Panic at the Disco), my husband snoring and my dog whining to get out of the car:

Good Tires = Feeling Secure on the Road

Not worrying that we might have a flat, blowout or worse because our tires are worn is a huge comfort on the road. When you’re hundreds of miles from home and have a damaged tire, you’re at the mercy of the nearest service station. But the security that our tires are in great shape is comforting; so is the fact that if we do have an issue, the tires are under warranty so we won’t have an expensive “surprise.” (Always get help to change a tire, especially if you are on a roadway.)

Better Handling on Long, Unfamiliar Drives

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Check the tread on your tire with the penny test: Insert a penny upside down into the tread. If Lincoln does not need a haircut, you’re good; if you can see the top of his head, it’s time for new tires; Photo: Scotty Reiss, Driving TravelingMom

New tires make road trips more comfortable for passengers, especially when you hit curvy roads, hills or potholes you weren’t expecting. Good tires also enhance your car’s driving performance; you should feel this with better cornering, a more even, less bumpy ride and smoother stopping.

Shorter Stopping Distances

With so many people out and about this time of year, roads are crowded and traffic is often heavy. Being able to stop quickly is important: You can avoid an accident or prevent being a part of someone else’s. Also, with a shorter stopping distance—you can hit the brakes closer to the intersection or more confidently in slowing traffic—you can drive more efficiently, saving time, gas and extend the life of your brake pads.

A Quieter Ride: Reduce Stress, Enhance Conversation

Having to listen to noisy tires on the road is invasive; it mutes conversation, distorts the the radio and makes hands-free calling difficult. It also adds stress to a long drive. A quieter cabin can be achieved by buying a new car, but you can also significantly reduce cabin noise with new tires. Not having noise invade your car on the road relaxes everyone.

More Confident Handling in Wet or Snowy Weather

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The tires we tested out were delivered to my house; I just put them in the back of the SUV and took them to my local tire store to be installed; Photo: Scotty Reiss, Driving TravelingMom

This is the big one: bad weather. If you don’t have good tires, the impact of rain, snow or slick roads is magnified, putting you and your family in danger. With winter weather approaching as you plan your holiday road trip), a tire check up should be at the top of your list to ensure you’re safe no matter the road conditions. Oh, and if it’s icy? Just get off the road. Even the really good tires can slip and slide on ice.

Better Fuel Economy

You’ve probably heard this a million times: tires that are in top condition and inflated at the proper PSI, or pounds per square inch, give your car the best opportunity to get its optimal MPG. Even with low gas prices these days, who wants to stop for gas more than you have to?

Confidence When Others Are Behind the Wheel

Holiday driving can mean a variety of drivers are behind the wheel of your car, drivers who may not be familiar with your car or with the roads they’re traveling. Knowing that your car and its tires are in great shape gives you the confidence that when your teenage nephew and your daughter run out to rent a movie, you won’t have to worry (about your car, anyway).

Old vs. New Tires: What I Noticed Most

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The Michelin Defenders we tested; notice under the name is the tire size–be sure you get the right size for your car; Photo: Scotty Reiss, Driving TravelingMom

Why special tires for an SUV? Getting rid of what I call the ‘marshmallow’ effect: An SUV can have a very cushy, soft drive experience, especially older SUVs that aren’t as precision-tuned as they are today. The Defender tires we tried out are designed to give a comfortable ride but also give a more precise feel when turning, stopping or starting. They are also designed to improve your fuel economy; in an SUV or minivan every bit counts, especially when it’s loaded with the whole family, luggage, skis and more. The difference in drive experience I noticed is:

  • Shorter stopping distances
  • Less need for braking when stopping
  • Less automatic braking system (ABS) kicking in when braking (the automatic pulsing the brakes make when the ABS system kicks in)
  • Better handling on curves and hills, letting us keep our speed on curves and more easily staying centered on the road
  • Better traction on wet roads
  • Much quieter ride
  • Less jarring on rough pavement or potholes
  • More confidence when my teen is driving; I just feel better that she’s not in danger of having a tire issue

What You Need to Know About New Tires

Here are the Michelin Defenders on my car. Yes, they look good, but also, you can't tell if you need new tires by looking; you need to look closely and observe your drive experience: Can you stop quickly? Does the car feel solid on the road? That's how you know you have good tires.

Here are the Michelin Defenders on my car. Yes, they look good, but also, you can’t tell if you need new tires by looking; you need to look closely and observe your drive experience: Can you stop quickly? Does the car feel solid on the road? Photo: Scotty Reiss, Driving TravelingMom

The Michelin Defenders are all season tires priced at about $100 per tire. Additionally, when we had them installed, we had our front end alignment and brakes checked (always do this). This was an additional $100. The Defenders get high ratings from customers on Tire Rack’s customer survey and carry a 90,000 mile warranty for tread wear and a lifetime warranty against defects in the workmanship or materials.

How Do You Know You Need New Tires?

  • You haven’t replaced your tires in several years; tread wears down, the rubber ages, dries and stiffens, giving you less traction on the road.
  • Test the tread: put a penny, Lincoln’s head down, into the tread; if you can see the top of his head, the tread on your tires is worn and they need to be replaced.
  • Look for tread bars in the tire surface or threads on the side of the tires; if you see either, it’s time for new tires.
  • You feel the ABS system kick in when braking (it’s that pulsing feeling under foot when you apply the brakes) or feel your car slide when stopping or rounding a curve (you should also have your brakes checked).

OK, maybe good tires aren’t the sexiest gift you could give or get, but that first time you stop short in heavy traffic or leave the mall to find an inch of snow on the ground, you’ll think it’s the most thoughtful gift you got this year.

Disclosure: The set of Michelin Defenders we tested were provided by Michelin and opinions are all my own; I was not compensated for this story.