Winter tires vs all-season tires — which one should I use?
This could be the question you’re asking when the chill of the winter season begins.
However, not every winter is the same, and not all cold weather conditions need winter tires.
We invite you to explore a little further.
This Article Contains
- Winter Tires vs All-Season Tires: Performance in Snow, Ice, and Wet
- Choosing the Right Tire for Your Winter
- 5 FAQs Related to Winter and All-Season Tires
Let’s begin with a look at performance.
Winter Tires vs All-Season Tires: Performance in Snow, Ice, and Wet
Winter weather ushers in the presence of snow, ice, and general dampness. Tires that can safely handle these conditions are paramount — after all, they’re the only thing connecting you to the road when you drive.
So, how do all-season tires stack up against winter tires in these conditions?
1. Snowy Conditions: Winter Tires Bite into the White
It might be the obvious conclusion, but winter tires will outperform all-season tires in the snow.
All-season tires are meant for year-round use and will work on light snow-covered roads. However, they sacrifice the specific needs of true snowy climates to perform year-round, so don’t expect them to offer great traction in heavy snow.
Ever had your wheels spin in the snow, but your car barely moved?
That’s when traction isn’t great.
Good traction improves acceleration and reduces stopping distance in snow.
Winter tires have unique tread patterns to channel snow, slush, and expel water. Their deeper and wider treads reduce snow buildup, creating better traction in winter conditions.
However, tread depth reduces with use, so always check yours when the winter season comes around.
How to Check Your Tire’s Tread Depth
A tread depth gauge is the easiest way (but a small ruler can work in a pinch.) Push the gauge into a tire groove until the shoulders are flush with the tire. Do this in different sections of the tire. Here’s what measurements mean:
- At 6/32 of an inch, the tire is considered “half tread.” This tread depth and anything above it should be fine for winter use. However, at half-tread, you’ll likely already see some decline in snow traction.
- At 4/32 of an inch, you should consider getting new tires.
- At 2/32 of an inch, your tires are worn out. Change them immediately.
2. Icy Conditions: Winter Tires Won’t Dance on Ice
Winter tires have the stopping power on ice that all-seasons don’t.
At cold temperatures (below 45ºF), all-season tires will harden and lose grip, making braking and handling a slippery, unpredictable experience.
On the other hand, winter tires have a softer tread compound that stays flexible under 45ºF. Combined with a tread design that helps remove water from ice, the experience translates to a firmer grip on icy surfaces.
Notice thousands of tiny grooves on your winter tires?
They’re called sipes. Sipes provide that extra biting edge for digging into slippery, icy roads. All-season tires have them, too, but not as many as winter tires.
3. Wet Conditions: All-Season Tires May Have a Slight Edge
Winter and all-season tires can perform adequately on water-slicked surfaces, but winter tires aren’t meant for full-on wet weather use.
Winter tires wear out faster in warmer temperatures as their treads are designed for snow and ice, not longevity. While they can handle a wet road, you won’t get the same performance as all-season tires in warmer, wet weather conditions.
All-season tires do well in rain and bare pavement, offering balanced performance in a broader temperature range. Their tread rubber compounds perform best above 45ºF, and their uniform tread pattern lasts longer.
However, there’s a better option for warmer, wet weather — the summer tire.
This tire type provides excellent grip on wet roads and will outperform all-season tires in wet conditions.
We’ve covered winter and all-season tire performance in inclement weather.
But there’s more to making a choice for the winter months than just performance.
Choosing the Right Tire for Your Winter
When it comes to winter driving, there’s some give and take between winter and all-season tires:
A. When to Choose Winter Tires
If you drive in a cold weather region that sees harsh winters punctuated by frequent, heavy snow and icy roads, you must switch to winter tires. Safety is paramount. You may also want to check if your state requires tire chains or studded snow tires for winter conditions.
B. When to Choose All-Season Tires
If you’re in a locale that experiences low temperatures that generally don’t drop under 45ºF, then the all-season tire might be for you. They’re a practical choice where the road condition is usually clear, with infrequent snowfall. They’ll also cater to less predictable weather where you can expect freezing rain or light snow.
All-season tires can stay on year-round, so they’re convenient for drivers who prefer not to switch tires with the changing seasons — saving time, money, and effort. But again, this is provided the climate remains temperate.
One additional note:
If you’re in a temperate region that doesn’t see winter weather at all, then summer tires might be a better year-round choice over all-season tires to contend with wetter, warmer conditions.
Ultimately, it’s advisable to prioritize safety over convenience or cost. Also, where safety is concerned, don’t forget to check if you need tire rotation and if your tire pressure is optimum.
Have more questions?
5 FAQs Related to Winter and All-Season Tires
Let’s get to know winter tire and all-season tire family more:
1. Are Snow Tires the Same as Winter Tires?
Yes and no.
“Snow tires” is an older name for tires designed for use in snow. The snow tire typically had an aggressive tread pattern and was often a studded tire style. It didn’t have the pliability of the modern winter tire.
Technology has advanced since then. Tread rubber compounds that remain flexible below freezing — and tire manufacturers now market snow tires as winter tires.
2. Should I Install a Full Set of Winter Tires?
Yes. Always install a full set of winter tires.
If you only put winter tires on the rear axle, you’ll have trouble steering as your front tires won’t have the same traction. And if you only switch out the front tires to winters, your rear tires will skate.
3. Are All-Weather Tires and All-Season Tires the Same?
All-weather and all-season tires are similar but not the same.
The all-weather tire has all-season performance with some extra winter driving capabilities. You’ll likely see the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMSF) designation on them to mark their abilities in freezing temperatures.
An all-weather tire usually has a more aggressive tread pattern than an all-season tire, allowing better traction in snow and ice, but still not as good as a dedicated winter tire. Also, it’s not as quiet as the all-season tire and might not last as long.
4. Are All-Terrain Tires and All-Season Tires the Same?
All-terrain tires are intended for on-road and off-road use — think light trucks and SUVs that frequent highways and gravel paths in equal measure. Most all-terrain tires offer all-season performance with reliable traction in low temperatures and light snow conditions.
However, this tire type may increase gas mileage as its aggressive treads create more rolling resistance when your engine tries to stay at the same speed (for fuel economy) on a highway.
5. How Do Summer Tires Compare to All-Season Tires?
The summer tire is designed to withstand heat and deal with frequent rainfalls. This tire offers better steering, stopping, and cornering response than all-season tires in warm weather.
No one wants to slide on a wet road, right?
With summer tires, you’ll benefit from excellent wet traction to resist hydroplaning.
However, summer tires might not last as long as all-season tires due to their shallower grooves and specialized tread compound. Also, never use summer tires in winter. The rubber will stiffen when the temperature drops below 45ºF, and you’ll have zero traction.
Safety First for Winter Driving
Climate plays a prominent role in tire choice. Winter tires may be an extra expense, but they’re necessary for freezing temperatures with lots of snow and ice. All-season tires are practical for regions with less predictable weather but minimal snow in the winter months.
Ultimately, allow safety to drive your selection.
Speaking of safety, servicing your vehicle to keep it winter-ready is also advisable.
If you need help, reach out to AutoNation Mobile Service. We’re a mobile auto repair and maintenance solution available 7 days a week.
Contact us for any automotive repair needs, and our expert mechanics will drop by to help you out.