Winter Tires vs. All Season Tires

We touched on the differences between various types of tires in Tires – Everything You Need to Know but now we are going to dig further into some details. As always in Canada, winter is coming. Now is as good a time as any to examine the differences between Winter tires and All Season tires so that you can be prepared for the incoming harsh driving conditions.

“ALL SEASON” IS A MISLEADING NAME

The first thing to understand when discussing All Season and Winter tires is that All Season tires are sometimes not good enough for all seasons. This depends on where you live and drive of course. In many parts of the world, All Season tires are sufficient for driving year round thanks to moderate climates. In more extreme winter climates, like we experience in much of Canada, All Seasons struggle to perform. Driving your vehicle in winter climates requires traction on snow, ice, and in cold temperatures. If you live in a place where these conditions exists it is time to accept that All Season tires may not be good enough all year round.

WHAT “ALL SEASON” ACTUALLY MEANS

When you buy a new vehicle, it will most likely come fitted with a set of All Season tires. This is an easy choice for manufacturers as All Season tires are the most versatile option by far. They are the ultimate compromise, offering decent performance in a wide variety of conditions, while offering a relatively quiet and smooth ride and reasonable tread life. All Season tires are designed to handle light winter driving conditions. But the snow, ice, and extreme cold of many Canadian climates are far beyond light winter conditions for much of the year.

COMBATING WINTER CONDITIONS

While All Season tires are designed with versatility in mind they do not have answers for the three main issues that winter conditions bring. Snow, ice, and cold temperatures. All Season tires struggle with traction in snow and on ice, and this is made worse by cold temperatures that cause the tires to harden, reducing their traction further. Winter tires address each of these problems with unique design features.

Snow – As mentioned, All Season tires can handle very light snow, but driving in anything more than a thin layer of snow becomes a challenge. Winter tires address this problem with more aggressive tread patterns and deeper tread depths. This helps the tires bite into the snow, channelling snow and water through the deep treads.

Ice – The tread channels mentioned above are easy to pick out on any set of tires. If we look a little bit closer we can find smaller slits in the surface of the tread. These little slits are called “sipes” and they are typically found in great numbers on Winter tires. The reason for this is that they improve traction on ice and hardened snow.

Cold Temperatures – A less obvious feature of Winter tires is that they are made with different rubber compounds than All Season tires. This allows Winter tires to remain softer and more flexible at colder temperatures, which allows the tread features mentioned above to do their jobs properly and provide improved traction.

WINTER TIRE COMPROMISES

As always, for increased specialized performance, there are sacrifices to be made elsewhere. Winter tires excel in snow, ice, and/or colder temperatures, but outside of these conditions, they are not the best option. On dry pavement and warmer temperatures, it is important to remember that Winter tires do not offer the same performance that you may be used to with All Season tires. They may feel a bit softer, and less predictable at times. You may also noticed increased tire noise compared to All Seasons. There will be warmer, dry days that you will need to drive on your Winter tires which is okay in most cases, but under intense braking or steering the tires may not provide All Season like traction. When Winter is completely over, it is best to get your All Season tires back on as soon as possible. Due to their softer compounds Winter tires wear faster than All Season tires, so the sooner you get them off, the more tread you will have for next winter!