As winter rolls in, so does studded snow tire work for Berkshire garages

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PITTSFIELD Thwack, thwack, thwack.

The sound can be repetitive but it's also familiar at this time of year. In a backroom located off a second-floor metal catwalk above the garage at Pittsfield Tire & Auto Services on West Street, an employee wielding what owner Lou Kuch refers to as a "stud machine" is methodically inserting small metal studs into a large winter tire.

"We can whip them off pretty quick with that," Kuch said.

Similar sounds are being heard in garages all over Berkshire County as the weather gets colder. On Nov. 2, the state of Massachusetts legally permitted studs to be inserted into tires to make driving in winter conditions safer for motorists.

No significant winter storms are currently forecast for the Berkshires, but county garage owners say business picks up significantly after the state's permitting date to use studs.

"It triples, quadruples," said Matt Buffoni, the manager of City Tire on Hubbard Avenue. "If you drove by our parking lot right now, (you'd see) you couldn't walk through it."

Metal studs were first introduced in the United States in 1960 to provide added traction on slippery roads, according to tiretrack.com. They are designed to use a vehicle's weight and centrifugal forces to provide additional traction on icy road surfaces when they repeatedly chip into a roadway's surface.

They contain a tungsten carbide pin that protrudes beyond the tire tread and comes in contact with the driving surface. The outside part of the stud consists of a cylindrical metal jacket or body that is held inside the tire tread rubber by a flange at the base, according to tiretrack.com. The holes into which studs are put are located in the tire's tread. Studs come in different lengths because tires have different tread depths.The tires are manufactured with the stud holes embedded in their treads.

Studded tires tend to be used by people who regularly need extra traction in wintry conditions — those who have long driveways for instance, or contractors who plow, Kuch said. Each tire can hold between 80 and 100 studs.

"They're out in the worst of weather," said Kuch, who has been using his machine to stud tires since 1982. "The problem with studs is they're noisy. They make a racket. Some people don't like it. I have people get them and the next year they don't want them."

Metal studs aren't available everywhere. They can be hard on roadways, and are currently banned in 11 states, although only four of those areas, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, have significant yearly snowfall. Some of these states permit tires with rubber studs. Only six states, including New Hampshire, allow studded tires with no restrictions; most of the others, including Massachusetts, have date restrictions, according to tirebuyer.com. Massachusetts requires studs to be removed from tires by April 30.

"The mad rush is to get them on, not get them off," Buffoni said.

Winter tires are also sold without studs. According to tirebuyer.com, studies conducted by Pemco Insurance have shown that studded tires perform best on clear ice when temperatures are around the freezing mark, while winter tires are better at handling and braking when the temperature is below freezing and when the road surface is either wet or dry.

"They're good for ice," said Buffoni, referring to studded tires. "That's all they're good for."

City Tire sells a lot of studded tires, and Buffoni believes it has to do with the garage's location near the Pittsfield-Dalton town line.

"Because we're on this side of town, a lot of our customers are in the hilltowns," he said, where winter travel "depends on their morning or afternoon commute."

At Vianor Tire in North Adams, sales of studded tires outnumber winter tires by about 45 percent, said store manager Darin Harvey.

"You plan for the worst, and prepare for the worst and hope you don't need them," Harvey said.

At City Tire, Buffoni said selling and installing snow tires makes up 80 percent of the garage's business during the winter months.

"Service and alignment, we cut that down to a bare minimum," he said, "because we get so overwhelmingly busy. But it's only for a couple of months, unfortunately."

Contact Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or at 413 496-6224.


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