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.
Though buying more than one set of tires can be costly, the benefits, including your comfort and safety, are worth it, especially when you buy the right kind of tires for the conditions. If you’re not sure what kind of tires you should be going for, read on to learn about the difference between all-season, winter, and summer tires and why you may or may not need them.
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 10 degrees C.
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 country that gets battered by wintry conditions every year (like Canada!) the value of winter tires can’t be overstated. In fact, provinces like Quebec and British Columbia have
passed laws that make it illegal to drive without winter tires during the snowy and icy months of the year.
Winter tires give drivers better traction, braking, and handling in most or all winter conditions. 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 10 degrees C, winter tires maintain their traction in temperatures as low as -35 degrees C, 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 by the Quebec Ministry of Transport 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.
When you live in a country like Canada that gives you, if you’re lucky, a maximum of three hot months in the year, you’re probably asking yourself: Do I really need summer tires?
The answer to that question depends largely on your vehicle and driving style. If you take a look at a summer tire’s treads compared to all-season or winter tires, they’ll almost look bald. It’s apparent just by looking at them that these tires aren’t appropriate for any kind of winter conditions.
Though clearly not good for winter driving, those same flat-looking treads are perfect in the summer because they give your tires more contact with the road. This contact, together with the soft rubber used to make the tires, give you excellent grip and agility, even when the roads are wet. Summer tires are sometimes called “performance tires” because they do actually boost performance, giving you higher speeds, traction, and handling under the correct road conditions. On the other hand, they tend to be a little more costly and noisy than the others.
Having a set of summer tires in Canada means you’ll probably have to have three sets of tires instead of two: summer for the warmer months, winter for the colder months, and all-seasons for the in-between months. If you don’t drive a performance vehicle, you live in a region that tends to get cold and snowy throughout much of the year, or you want to save money, you’re probably better off alternating between all-season and winter tires.
The Bottom Line: You should get yourself summer tires if you enjoy the grip, performance, and agility they provide in the summer months, you drive a performance vehicle, or you live in a generally warm climate. These tires should never be used in the winter, but if you want to save money and avoid changing out your tires three times a year instead of two, and you’re looking for something functional and safe during the non-winter periods of the year, you’re better off sticking with all-season tires.