All-Season vs. Summer vs. Winter Tires

While researching tires, you have likely come across all-season tires, summer tires, and winter tires.

The question is, does it really make a difference which of these tire types you drive on? It really does. Your tires are the only point of contact between your vehicle and the road, and differences in tread design and rubber compound make these tire types very distinct from each other, making a huge difference not only in how they feel, but how they perform.

All-Season Tires

It is a common belief that all-season tires are ideal for year round driving, in all weather conditions. The truth is that all-season tires are designed to be reliable in a variety of conditions, but excellent in none. In order to achieve moderate traction in ice and snow, all-season tires sacrifice some wet weather traction. In order to provide long-lasting tread life, all-season tires sacrifice flexibility and grip in cold weather.

All-season tires do not typically perform as well as summer or winter tires in wet conditions. In dry conditions, all-season tires generally perform better than winter tires, but still do not perform as well as summer tires. All-season tires do perform better than summer tires in winter conditions, but are significantly less useful in winter conditions than winter tires.

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Summer Tires

Many drivers are under the false impression that summer tires are designed only for dry weather performance, but summer tires actually deliver excellent traction in wet conditions as well. Summer tires feature wider tread and softer rubber compounds, allowing for responsive handling in dry and wet conditions. They also have deep circumferential grooves to provide wet traction and hydroplaning resistance.

Summer tires generally perform better than both winter and all-season tires in wet and dry conditions. In fact, summer tires generally outperform winter and all-season tires in all conditions except winter. Summer tires should not be used for winter driving conditions.

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Winter Tires

Winter tires, previously referred to as “snow tires,” are specialized exclusively for cold weather driving. Unlike snow tires of the past, winter tires feature rubber compounds that remain flexible in temperatures below 45 degrees and have more aggressive tread patterns for grip in snow and ice, without a need for studding. Winter tires also feature siping patterns for extra biting edges on ice. All of these features combine to make a soft tire that has excellent winter traction, giving drivers the confidence to take to the roads in winter weather.

Winter tires are far superior to all-season tires when it comes to driving in dry, wet, snow, sleet, and icy winter conditions. Summer tires excel in both dry and wet warm weather conditions, but become too stiff in cold weather to be able to provide reliable performance. Regardless of road conditions, once temperatures drop below 45 degrees, winter tires provide the most reliable performance over any all-season or summer tire. Winter tires are so specialized for winter that they do not perform as well in warm, dry conditions, and will likely wear very rapidly. It is recommended that you install summer or all-season tires as soon as the weather is consistently above 45 degrees.

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Which tire is the best choice for me?

The answer is not simple. The truth is, the tires you choose should be based on the climate you live in and the road conditions you typically drive on. If you live in an environment that experiences harsh winter conditions, changing over to a dedicated set of winter tires is not overly cautious; it is a safety necessity. If you live in a climate zone that is typically warm and has a very mild winter season, a set of summer tires may do the trick. If you live in a climate zone that sees a wide array of weather conditions, an all-season tire may be the best choice for you.