All Season vs. Winter Tires – What’s the Difference?

October 14th, 2018 by


Are All Season or Winter Tires The Right Choice For You?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions we receive from our customers looking to make the best choice possible when purchasing their next set of tires. They are concerned about the best kind of tire types to use on their car in the wintertime. Are all-season tires okay or should they switch over to special winter or snow tires, and if so, why?


All-Season Tires


The real answer to this question depends more on what the weather is like when you’re driving than the specific season of the year. All-season tires are designed to work in almost all kinds of weather year-round throughout the year. The specific tread configurations on all-season tires can handle rain, light snow, and hot or cold weather. However, they are not specialized tires for any specific condition and generally perform well in virtually all driving conditions.


All-season tires help provide your car with stable handling and reduced tread wear in both wet and dry conditions. They usually have a lower rolling resistance which results in your car getting better gas mileage. And the tires are often quieter, so your car is more comfortable to ride in.



Winter Tires


If all-season tires are capable of handling ice and light snow conditions, then why should you spend the extra money to equip your car with winter tires? The answer is that even though all-season tires work satisfactorily in winter, they aren’t always the best option for area’s that get a heavy snowfall or great for every wintery weather condition.


Properly inflated winter tires are specially designed to manage winter conditions and give your car more traction when driving in the snow. Their special rubber compound stays flexible when the temperature drops and the tread pattern is designed to give you a better grip on snow, ice, and mixed conditions, so there’s no reason to reduce tire pressure for added traction. Whether the road is wet or dry, the design and construction of these tires are a direct reflection of the specific intended use of the tire during winter driving conditions.


Your car will also have better braking performance in icy and snowy conditions using a winter tire. The aggressive tread reduces snow build-up, and the tread design has biting edges for greater traction. Most drivers find that winter tires provide them with a higher sense of confidence and control during challenging wintery weather.


Winter tires, however, are meant for icy roads and snow and have deep treads for greater grip. The tread compound is softer than regular tires, and the tires will wear out faster on warm or dry pavement resulting in more frequent replacement. So once the road becomes dry again, winter tires wear out quicker and don’t provide as much traction as regular tires, so the handling and responsiveness of your car will be diminished and the ride will be noisier.


Despite the downsides, many drivers choose winter tires simply because they have enhanced winter performance and are better in the snow, especially deep snow where their better grip and softer compound give them an advantage.



Studded Winter Tires


Winter tires are usually sold with pen-tip sized holes that are placed there too so that steel studs can be inserted to contribute an extra level of winter traction, especially in icy conditions. If Studded tires are used in non winter seasons they can damage the roads which are why studded tires are not legal in some part Canada or the United States, and there are limitations for their use in some provinces and territories regarding which months they can be used, and the size, composition, and the number of studs. British Columbia even has laws in place that unless you have studded tires, you cannot drive on certain roadways in the wintertime.



All-Terrain Tires


Modern technology being what it is, tire manufacturers have come up with a modernized version of all-season tires called “Snow-rated All-terrain” tires. These new variations of all-season tires are distinguished by a three-peak mountain snowflake symbol on the sidewall which denotes “severe snow service.” This severe snow rating is a prominent feature that specifies that it is different from regular all-terrain tires because of its excellent severe snow service rating.


Tire manufacturers commonly test their all-terrain tires for performance in the snow before bringing them to market. This continued testing makes certain that all-terrain tires are “snow-worthy” and safe to drive in the wintertime.


However, the “snow-worthy” specification only applies to performance in the snow, specifically packed snow. When winter brings not only heavy snow but also ice, rain, freezing rain, slippery frosted pavements, heavy wet snow and a combination of any of these, the performance of the most useful winter tires requires much more capability than simply making it through the packed snow on the highway.


With weather conditions varying considerably during the winter, the performance merits of a singular purpose winter tire can sometimes be questionable. While some all-terrain tires have the traction capability to be reasonably good driving in a straight-line through snow, they are compromised during most other driving conditions compared to true winter tires.


The reason for this has to do with their design and engineering purpose. All-terrain tires are designed to work in wet and dry road conditions, both on-road and off-road when the temperature is between 20° F and 100° F. They also are made with a strong puncture resistance for durable off-roading which makes them somewhat less capable of wintertime traction.



The Basic Differences


Using a winter tire that has compounds specifically designed to function better in temperatures near or below freezing is your best choice during winter weather in most northern climates. The tread compound will remain pliable despite the cold allowing adequate traction with the road surface.


In contrast, a dedicated summer tire will harden drastically when the temperature goes to freezing or below. This prevents adequate road surface interaction and can be dangerous while driving. All-terrain tires which are snow-rated do a much better job than summer tires of staying pliable during cold weather and generally provide fairly good traction in packed snow. However, the softer rubber compounds of dedicated winter tires when temperatures drop to near freezing is superior to any of the other types of new tires.


Most drivers find that winter tires will provide a much higher sense of confidence and better traction control during challenging wintry weather conditions. Their tread has biting edges for much greater traction on wet roads and icy, and their tread compound is soft in the cold weather which leads to better grip while driving.


It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to purchase tires in Winnipeg or for another area of Manitoba or Canada, contact our specialists at Viking Motors. We are specially trained and experienced to care for everything about your car correctly. Once you’ve worked with our team to select the perfect tires for your needs, our certified technicians can handle all of your tire needs at your next scheduled service appointment.