What Is the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake Symbol on Tires?

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Driving through snow and ice this winter? You'll be safer if your tires display this small (but important) symbol.

Along with all of the numbers printed on your tires, if you see a snowflake on a mountain, your tires are good to go for serious winter driving conditions. Here is the history and meaning behind that curious symbol.

What Is the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake Symbol?

The 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake Symbol (3PMS for short) is a six-pointed snowflake inside a three-peak mountain, found on tires that meet specific standards. They signify the tire has been tested for acceleration on medium-packed snow. Braking and turning don’t factor into the testing.

Tires with the 3PMS symbol have scored at least 110 on the traction index. This means they accelerate at least 10 percent faster than a typical all-season tire that isn’t 3PMS rated. (There are all-season tires that have the 3PMS designation.)

The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association and the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada developed the 3PMS symbol in 1999. Tire manufacturers are required to meet the standards for the 3PMS symbol in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Tires with the 3PMS are typically made of a softer rubber that won’t harden in sub-freezing temperatures. These tires also have a particular type of tiny cut across their surface called siping. This improves traction on snow and ice.

Paul Ulibari, general manager of Colorado Tire and Service in Denver, says there’s no substitute for 3PMS tires during a winter storm in the Rockies. “They just don’t compare,” he says.

Where Is This Symbol Found?

“The symbol is on the sidewall, and it’s very distinct,” Ulibari says.

He also notes customers often confuse mud and snow tires with 3PMS tires, because of the former’s size and knobby design. Mud and snow tires will have an “MS” symbol on their sidewall. “People think the bigger and badder the tire looks, the better it’ll do in snow,” Ulibari says. “But that’s not actually the case.”

Are Some Cars Required To Have 3PMS Tires?

In British Columbia and Quebec, drivers must have 3PMS tires on their cars from December to March. Colorado also enforces a traction law during winter storms that requires drivers to use tires with a tread depth of at least 3-1/16-in. and the 3PMS symbol.

Who Makes Tires With the 3PMS Symbol?

Manufacturers that make 3PMS tires include Goodyear, Michelin, Hankook, Cooper, Nokian, Toyo, BF Goodrich, Yokohama, Kumho, Nitto and Vredestein.

Best Tires With the 3PMS Symbol

Cooper Discover ATS 4S

Cooper Discover Ats 4svia coopertire.com

These 3PMS-rated all-season tires for trucks and SUVs are the ones Ulibari has on his truck. “I don’t want to be taking them on and off,” he says. The performance on snow is also second to none. “You won’t go back to winter without one,” he says. “The stopping ability, the handling ability is night and day.”

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Michelin X-Ice Snow Tires

Michelin X Ice Snow Tiresvia mechelinman.com

These 3PMS-rated Michelin snow tires are made for passenger cars, SUV crossovers and luxury performance vehicles. They’re also Ulibari’s budget-friendly pick, with an estimated 40,000 mile life. “As it starts wearing, it creates an almost rough texture on the tread that literally helps get that additional traction for stopping, handling, acceleration,” he says.

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Toyo Celsius All-Season Tire

Toyo Celsius All Season Tirevia toyotires.com

This 3PMS-rated Toyo all-season tire also gets Ulibari’s vote for its year-round ability and winter-weather performance. It comes in passenger car, SUV/crossover SUV and commercial grades.

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Veronica Graham
Veronica Graham is a freelance writer in Arlington, Mass. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post and SheKnows. She's covered health, politics, high school football and everything in between. Graham enjoys learning about the world through a variety of lenses as a reporter.