Is 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake the Ultimate in Winter Tire Certification?

March 16, 2023

Many tire dealers refer to the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMS) designation when selling winter tires — and even all-season products — to customers.  

While 3PMS certification might help close the sale, is it the ultimate validation of winter tire performance? Or can tire dealers — and buyers — expect to see a classification that goes beyond 3PMS?  

MTD recently posed that question to tire manufacturers, importers and marketers, whose answers varied widely. (Several tire manufacturers and marketers declined to participate.)  

Brandon Stotsenburg, vice president, automotive, American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd.: Tires stamped with 3PMS have different criteria to achieve the certification based on the United States/ Canadian standard versus the European Union (EU) standard. It is self-certified by the tire manufacturer to meet the minimum performance designated for 3PMS, which provides upgraded performance in colder temperatures with better medium-packed snow acceleration in the U.S. and braking in the EU.  

Although end users want to also have better performance on ice, slushy conditions and potentially deeper snow, the current criteria do not account for those conditions. Many tires stamped with 3PMS will perform better in these conditions, but actual performance will vary. We believe that creating more criteria to provide better-certified winter performance will (enable) the consumer to have more confidence with the tire industry and its products. Additionally, providing stronger oversight to assure that tires self-certified by manufacturers will consistently meet the established standards will provide the end user better confidence, as well. 

J Downey, senior manager, product and pricing, Apollo Tyres Ltd.: Based on performance, winter tires can be (divided) into two categories — performance winter tires and ice/snow winter tires. Performance winter tires are designed to deliver a high level of snow traction with a minimum trade-off in other performance and they can satisfy the needs of drivers who will face cold, wet and snowy conditions. For this category, 3PMS is the ultimate certification, which indicates the tire is suitable for severe snow conditions.  

Ian McKenney, senior product manager, consumer product strategy, Bridgestone Americas Inc.: A 3PMS rating requires achieving a targeted degree of acceleration in medium pack snow conditions beyond that of an all-season tire before it can be marked on the sidewall and it currently represents the highest level of winter tire performance certification. However, 3PMS-rated tires do not necessarily represent peak snow or winter performance. There is still a differentiation in winter performance from an all-season tire with a 3-peak rating and a dedicated winter tire. At this time, there are no imminent regulations that would further differentiate these winter characteristics. 

Phillip Schrader, product manager, touring and U.S. winter tires, PLT replacement business unit, Continental Tire the Americas LLC: The 3PMS is the minimum standard for winter performance, which our winter products typically outperform by a wide margin. All-weather tires, on the other hand, perform much closer to this minimum standard, which highlights the differences in winter performance between true winter and all-weather tires. The 3PMS (designation) is a good measure for acceleration traction on medium-packed snow. However, it leaves out other important winter driving performance attributes, such as braking and turning on snow-covered surfaces, as well as ice traction. 

To measure ice traction specifically, a new test certification that measures ice grip performance will accompany most of our new winter tire lines in the future. Passenger tires designed for use in ice conditions that meet or exceed the ice grip index of 1.18 as compared to the 16-inch standard reference test tire will qualify for the ice grip symbol, in addition to the M+S and 3PMS.  

Lou Monico, vice president of sales, Giti Tire Canada: 3PMS refers to a symbol on a winter tire that indicates it has been tested and meets certain performance criteria for use in severe snow conditions. Tires with the 3PMS symbol are designed to provide better traction and handling in winter conditions and they are often required by law in areas with severe winter weather. A new category of winter tires is the ice tire or ice performance tire, which has both the 3PMS symbol and an additional ice designation marking. This designation indicates that the tire has passed specific tests for braking and handling on ice, in addition to meeting the winter performance criteria for snow. Ice tires are designed with special tread patterns and rubber compounds that can provide improved grip and handling on icy surfaces. If your customers frequently drive in areas with icy conditions, an ice tire may provide additional safety and peace of mind during the winter months. 

Michiel Kramer, director, product marketing, consumer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.: The 3PMS designation is an indicator that a tire has a strong level of winter performance, per the U.S. Department of Transportation’s requirements. Several tiremakers, including Goodyear, are developing all-season tires with 3PMS designation. These are tires that carry the 3PMS symbol, but can be used year-round. These products offer more snow traction than a traditional all-season tire, and they are a great alternative for customers. However, for someone who drives in harsh and unpredictable winter conditions, such as during a winter travel advisory, Goodyear would still highly encourage motorists to consider a dedicated set of winter tires. To designate a tire with the 3PMS symbol, the tire must maintain standards, including a certain level of grip on a surface covered in medium-packed snow.  

Moonki Cho, product manager, Hankook Tire America Corp.: 3PMS is the industry standard when it comes to grading a tire’s performance in severe snow conditions. Through a grading process known as the ASTM F1805-20 testing method, this procedure enables the accurate measurement of the driving traction of a tire while traveling in a straight line on snow- or ice covered surfaces. In order to obtain a 3PMS symbol and meet U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) requirements, a tire must achieve a traction performance index of 110 or higher. At Hankook Tire, we conduct the test through an authorized external assessment authority.  

Chris Jenkins, programs and marketing manager, automotive division, Maxxis International-USA: 3PMS is a winter tire performance certification that measures a tire’s acceleration traction on medium-packed snow. It is expected to provide improved snow traction beyond a standard M+S-branded all-season tire, but it is not a replacement for dedicated winter tires. 3PMS-branded all-season and all-terrain tires cannot match the traction of dedicated winter/snow tires in all winter weather conditions.  

While 3PMS-certified tires are good at low-temperature braking and cornering and clearing slushy muck or mixed-condition snow at higher speeds, they cannot match the winter performance of traditional winter tires — studless or studdable. It is not clear if there will be something beyond that in terms of industry-recognized winter tire performance verification or certification in the future. However, it is possible that advances in tire technology and testing methods could lead to new certifications or performance standards.  

Farell Scott, product category manager, Michelin passenger and winter tires, Michelin North America Inc.: The 3PMS certifies a tire on snow traction. The 3PMS symbol indicates tires meet or exceed the minimum snow traction requirements needed to determine if a tire is fit for use in severe snow. However, we know dedicated winter tires must perform well beyond minimum traction levels and for more than just snow conditions, because winter conditions are more than just snow. So understanding how a tire performs on ice conditions is equally important, as well as considering the tire’s performance in wet (conditions and) slush and overall handling.  

As tire technology continues to improve, all-season tires that meet the 3PMS requirement offer customers an additional tire choice to handle their specific winter climates. These tires do not replace true, dedicated winter tires that typically offer better cold weather, snow and ice performances. To help differentiate between all-season tires that have 3PMS and dedicated winter tires that have 3PMS, a recent, industry-established ice grip symbol has been adopted. Passenger tires that meet or exceed the ice performance criteria qualify for M+S, 3PMS and an ice grip symbol, identified by a pictograph of a mountain with ice. The new ice grip symbol has been introduced in Europe and is expected to roll out in North America in the future.  

Aaron Neumann, product development manager, Nexen Tire America Inc.: A 3PMS marking does not represent maximum winter performance. It is more a minimum. A tire that just meets the 3PMS level is a good step up in winter performance from most all-season tires, but has nowhere near the traction and control of a dedicated winter tire.  

There are many sub-categories of winter tires that qualify for the 3PMS marking, which I will list here, from best to worst: studded arctic winter tires for Scandinavian countries and far north regions; non-studded Arctic tires for those same regions where studs are banned; ice tires with semi-porous treads; alpine winter tires, which sacrifice a little snow and ice performance for more wet and dry performance for those who venture into the snow only on weekends; and finally, all-season and four-season tires that meet minimum winter performance levels but can be used year-round.  

An all-season tire that meets 3PMS is still a remarkable tire in the balance of performance it can deliver and for that reason, they represent the top 10% of the all-season tire market. But the best dedicated winter tires out there can deliver up to 50% more traction and control on snow and ice. The downside, of course, is that dedicated winter tires do not perform well outside of winter conditions and need to be taken off in the summer.  

Steve Bourassa, director of products, Nokian Tyres Inc.: The 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake is not the ultimate indicator of winter tire performance. It’s a helpful tool, but an additional tool is now available — an ice grip marking that signifies strong braking on ice, too. Nokian Tyres has recently adopted a new ice grip standard and the ice grip marking indicates that superior level of winter performance. The 3PMS (designation) signifies a tire has met certain performance conditions in winter weather, but it’s a starting point — a helpful way to know a tire is an option for areas that experience winter conditions.  

However, (3PMS) does not capture all aspects of a tire’s winter performance, including braking and cornering. As a result, tires with the symbol may still vary in quality and we encourage consumers to research other factors before buying a tire with 3PMS.  

Jayden Lee, head of product marketing, U.S./Canada, Pirelli Tire North America Inc.: Currently, there are two tire markings signifying snow performance — the M+S marking and the 3PMS marking. The 3PMS marking represents more rigorous winter tire performance certification, as it is awarded to tires that have passed specific performance tests in winter weather conditions compared to M+S, which is a more generic indicator which does not have any specific performance tests it has to pass. The 3PMS symbol identifies that the tire has passed a minimum traction rating in the snow, but the certification doesn’t cover braking or other performance attributes. Right now, there are no industry standards beyond (the) 3PMS marking and no plans in the future for introducing something beyond that level of certification for winter performance.  

James McIntyre, vice president of sales, Canada, Sailun Tire Americas: At this time, 3PMS is the certification that most would look to (in order to) ensure the safety of drivers in extreme weather conditions. The mountain snowflake symbol is an easy way for a consumer to know the tire will perform at an increased level of traction. There are generally three types of tires that would carry the 3PMS symbol — all-weather, all-terrain and winter products — with winter tires having the best traction in winter/snow conditions, based on their tread design and compounding. 

Nick Gutierrez, sales director, Sentury Tire USA: When you are at altitude, the weather can change fast. These changes can happen more quickly than the Department of Transportation can send out warnings or implement mandatory chains. For this reason, it is important to recommend the right snow tire for your customers. When a tire carries the 3PMS symbol, it communicates to the consumer that it has improved traction over the standard M+S rating. Today, the industry does not offer a higher rating than 3PMS. However, drivers can attain performance beyond this certification by purchasing tires that also have a nano-silica compound, in addition to the 3PMS (designation.) When you combine these two features, drivers can rest assured that they have maximized performance, stability and safety in the snow. Until the USTMA identifies a higher certification, combining these two features is the best recommendation for drivers.  

Tsuyoshi Johnson, product manager, PCR tires, Falken Tires, Sumitomo Rubber North America Inc.: Just because a tire has earned the 3PMS certification does not mean it’s fully capable of handling the harshest winter conditions. For a tire to earn the industry’s severe snow rating, it must perform at a rate of 112% when compared to the standard reference test tire (SRTT). We’re seeing more and more all-weather tires starting to earn this certification by performing at a level above this mark. However, this does not mean all-weather tires deliver the same winter traction expected from a dedicated winter tire. Winter tires typically perform somewhere between 130% and 150% above the SRTT.  

Andrew Hoit, executive vice president, brand division, Tireco: Although 3PMS proves the tire has passed an industry standard traction test, it’s not enough to be named the ultimate in winter tire performance certification because the standard testing is not comprehensive and does not demonstrate the tire has a well-rounded winter performance. It would be great to see additional testing requirements to indicate the performance levels.  

Joaquin Gonzalez Jr., president, Tire Group International LLC: When it comes to weather-specific applications in tires, compounding is paramount. Specific to snow, dedicated winter tires will provide the most balanced performance across the different road conditions. When it comes to severe conditions, the 3PMS certification ensures the compounding used will maintain its qualities even at below-freezing temperatures — making it the highest-level certification you can currently get on a winter tire.  

Chris Tolbert, director of sales, Trimax Tire: Retailers and consumers have an understanding that 3PMS represents a tire technology for winter weather conditions and safety confidence. I’m sure as vehicles keep evolving with technology and electric vehicles, there will be an even more superior advancement. With global warming in North America, the four seasons have shifted and changed. All-weather product lines with advances in technology should continue to grow. 

About the Author

Mike Manges | Editor

Mike Manges is Modern Tire Dealer’s editor. A 25-year tire industry veteran, he is a three-time International Automotive Media Association award winner and holds a Gold Award from the Association of Automotive Publication Editors. Mike has traveled the world in pursuit of stories that will help independent tire dealers move their businesses forward. Before rejoining MTD in September 2019, he held corporate communications positions at two Fortune 500 companies and served as MTD’s senior editor from 2000 to 2010.

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