All season vs. winter tires: What's the difference?
November 2, 2017
On the surface, the concept of car tires seems pretty simple. After all,
What could be so complicated about the kind of rubber you put on the wheels of your car?
The fact is, your tires are more than just rubber. They may even be the most meticulously engineered piece of equipment on your vehicle, comprising of different components like beads, sidewalls, ribs, belts, and up to 30 different ingredients that need to be blended, milled, constructed, and cured before it’ll ever make it into a shop.
Fall is here and winter is coming, so here's some basic info you should know about both all-season and winter tires:
First things first: despite their name, all-season tires are not optimal for all four seasons. In fact, many in the automotive industry have started calling these tires “3-season tires” because they’re really only best for the spring, summer, and fall. In other words, all-season tires are not suitable alternatives for winter tires, mainly because they begin to harden and lose their grip as soon as temperatures fall below 50 degrees F.
Don’t recycle your all-seasons just yet. The loss of traction in colder weather isn’t the result of sloppy craftsmanship, but because all-seasons are made with a tread compound designed to deliver good traction under most driving conditions, like dry, muddy, rainy, or even snowy streets, as long as the temperature doesn’t dip too low.
All-seasons are essentially meant to offer you most of the benefits of summer and winter tires rolled into one. They also tend to be quiet, durable, and fuel-efficient, which is probably why most new vehicles leave the factory with them. Unfortunately, the process of creating a tire that works adequately in most conditions requires compromise, and all-seasons can’t provide the grip and tight handling of summer tires or the superior traction and safety provided by winter tires during heavy snowfall, ice, or sub-zero temperatures.
The Bottom Line: All-seasons are versatile tires that are great for use in moderate temperatures. Depending on your driving style and vehicle, you can probably use all-seasons during the summer, but if you live somewhere that gets a lot of snow and cold weather, all-seasons can’t replace winter tires.
If you live in a state that gets battered by wintry conditions every year, The value of winter tires can’t be overstated. They’re designed with deeper treads and grooves and come with specific tire patterns that bite into ice and snow to grip the road.
Unlike all-season tires that start to degrade at temperatures below 50 degrees F, winter tires maintain their traction in temperatures as low as -31 degrees F, thanks to being constructed with rubber that was designed specifically for cold weather.
If you’re still not sold, check out the statistics. One study conducted found that a vehicle’s stopping distance during winter conditions with winter tires was 25% better than with all-season tires, while another study by Edmunds.com found the stopping distance 30-40% better.
Better stopping distance means better collision prevention.
You shouldn’t keep your winter tires on all year though. The same rubber that’s designed to be efficient in cold weather will wear out quickly in warm weather, so you should switch to all-season tires or summer tires when your winter tires are no longer needed.
The Bottom Line: Nothing beats the performance of winter tires on snow and ice, so if you live in a cold climate, they’re an absolute must, even if you drive an SUV or truck with AWD. If you live in a moderate climate that experiences only the occasional snowfall and mildly cold temperatures, you should be okay using all-season tires.
If you're still unsure about what type of tires you use, visit a trusted mechanic!