All-Season Tires vs. Winter Tires – A Detailed Comparison

As the seasons start to change, so do driving conditions. When fall slips into winter, the roads become slick and icy. If you don’t get the right tires, these conditions can end in unwanted outcomes. Are you prepared for winter? Depending on where you live, you might need some seasonal adjustments for your vehicle, including the tires. In this article, we’re going over all the differences you’ll find between all-season and winter tires and the situations where you’ll want each. Keep reading to find out more about keeping your car road-ready year round!

The Importance of Getting the Right Tires for the Season

Arguably, tires are one of the most critical parts of your car. They’re what keeps you and your vehicle between the road. They’re the method of movement, and without them, you’d do nothing but spin your wheels. Tires are responsible for fuel economy, handling, and overall safety. Handling and safety are the two most affected areas by seasonal tires, making them an essential part to swap when seasons change.

How Do Tires Affect Handling and Safety?

There are several contributing factors that tires have when it comes to handling. The hardness of the rubber and the tread depth are two areas that make a big difference when it comes to your tires.

Hard tires are going to affect the way that your ride feels while you travel. Hard tires feel everything on the road, while soft tires tend to absorb any imperfections they encounter. You’ll also find that the hardness of the rubber affects braking. When tires are hard, they increase the braking distance needed while also reducing the control you have while braking. The opposite is true of soft tires. They stop much more quickly when the brakes are applied and allow for much better braking control while coming to a stop.

Tread depth changes how grippy or slippery a tire is, especially when combined with high pressure or hard rubber. However, tread depth plays a significant part when it comes to traction during bad weather. Deeper traction helps a tire perform better during storms or in situations when mud or slush is present. A shallow tread is best for ideal conditions, like on a controlled course. As seasons change and weather becomes inclement, you may need a tire with a deeper tread.

All-Season Tires

All-season tires, sometimes referred to as all-weather or year-round tires, are ideal for three seasons of the year – spring, summer, and fall. While they’re called all-season tires, they’re truly only suitable for three seasons, especially if the area that you live in gets harsh weather. All-season tires are much different from winter tires, as you’ll find from the overview below.

Characteristics

All-season tires are made for three seasons of the year, as described above. They can also be used for year-round driving if you live in an area with mild winters. They were initially introduced in the 1970s and were an answer to consumers that no longer wanted the hassle of swapping tires out when the seasons changed. Since then, they’ve come a long way in their design, being able to handle most weather, including light snows.

Design

When looking at the design of all-season tires, you’ll typically find a variety of tread patterns that push water and debris away from the center of the tire. This makes an all-season tire ideal for seasons that see rain or seasons that are typically dry. Most tread patterns can handle light snow, but that’s about the extent of it. They’ll also see a drop in performance when heavy rainfall occurs, but that’s true of most tires.

The tread of an all-season tire is deeper than a summer tire and designed to last longer. Some all-season options last up to 80,000 miles, with a replacement only necessary when depth is less than 1/32 of an inch. This makes them ideal for people who do a lot of driving year-round but face no snow. After all, the tread of an all-season tire isn’t deep enough to handle much more than a light snowfall.

Material

For the most part, all-season tires are made from advanced rubber compounds that allow for traction in most scenarios. They’re harder than a winter tire, making them less pliable. With a harder rubber, it can be expected for it to behave differently in colder weather. Because these tires are designed to work in various conditions, the compound itself changes as those conditions change.

I should also mention that the rubber compound is what lends itself to the longer lifespan of the tire, as well. A harder tire shows less wear as long as it isn’t damaged.

Temperature

Temperature is one of the most significant factors that affects all-season tires. Because the rubber compound they’re made from is flexible in its nature, it allows the tire to be used effectively in a wider range of temperatures. For the most part, the performance of all-season tires is acceptable at temperatures of 45º F and above. As temperatures dip below 45º F, the tire becomes stiffer, and the rubber takes on a harder profile. This means that stopping power is reduced, and so is traction.

Winter Tires

Winter calls for several changes when it comes to your vehicle. It means that parts like wiper blades need to be changed, as well as fluids like washer fluid. The changes that take place are for safety purposes, and winter tires are no exception to that. To maintain safe driving, changing your summer tires to winter tires may be necessary. While all-season tires have advanced since their introduction, winter tires are specifically designed for winter.

Characteristics

Winter tires are different from all-season tires in many ways. They’re typically more aggressive in their tread pattern, as well as the overall design. Their purpose is to help drivers navigate winter conditions, like slush, snow, and ice. Winter tires are very easy to identify, as the sidewall of winter tires has a snowflake on them. Ultimately, you can’t mistake winter tires for any other kind of tire.

Design

When you take a closer look at the design of a winter tire, you’re going to find a number of differences from that of an all-season tire. The most noticeable difference is in the tread pattern. When comparing a winter tire to an all-season tire, you’ll find that the tread is much deeper, and that the edges are different.

Most winter tires have sharp edges, and some may be irregular, looking like they don’t belong. These designs are intentional, and they help the tire achieve traction in conditions where they’d otherwise slip. Snow and slush reduce traction immensely, something you probably know if you’ve ever tried walking in it. Like a well-designed boot, winter tires reduce slipping and sliding.

When the tread pattern won’t do on its own, there are also studded winter tires available. The studs in winter tires are small and almost screw-like in design. These are the winter tires that offer the most traction, and they’ll even handle surfaces that are covered in ice. If you live in an area with harsh winters, studded winter tires may be the best tire you can find.

Material

As temperatures drop, many rubber compounds will stiffen and harden. This is not ideal because a harder tire reduces the braking power that your vehicle has. Winter tires are made from specialized rubber compounds designed to maintain flexibility when temperatures drop during the winter. By maintaining a soft profile, the tires can grip better, and they offer a bit more comfort while driving. If they aren’t used in icy conditions, winter tires with studs may cause an unwanted feel, like steering wheel vibration.

Temperature

Winter tires are what you need for colder temperatures. These tires can be used in conditions at or below 45º F. As previously stated, the rubber they’re made from performs exceptionally at these temperatures. As temperatures rise, however, they become too soft to be used. A tire that’s too soft can experience accelerated wear or get severely damaged. This is a result of the rubber breaking down more easily. If you’re using winter tires, they need to be changed as things start to heat up.

All-Season Tires vs. Winter Tires – Which One Should I Get?

When it comes to your tire needs, it’s going to come down to a few things specifically. The criteria that should drive your decision come down to the unique factors that each tire brings with it.

Comparing All-Season and Winter Tires

Driving safety is the most important thing to consider when you’re looking at a new pair of tires. The objective is to maintain safe driving conditions when you’re behind the wheel, regardless of what that will require. Tires are safest when they’re used correctly, after all.

All-season tires are at their safest when used in the proper conditions. Generally speaking, all-season tires are best for temperatures above 45º F. They can handle wet conditions, like rain, because their treads are designed to push water away from the center of the tire. They offer good braking power when used in these conditions. If the temperature is lower than 45º F or if there’s heavy rain, the tires won’t do their job, reducing traction and braking power.

Alternatively, we have winter tires. Winter tires are designed for temperatures at or below 45º F. Anything warmer than that, and the tire will wear quickly, or be damaged, meaning that it can fail. If a tire fails, it means that you’ve lost all braking power and traction. However, when used at the right temperature, winter tires provide excellent traction and control in just about any weather. They’ve got tread that’s deep enough to ignore water and designed to break down ice and snow, creating traction. If you’re in icy conditions, winter tires with studs can be obtained, increasing control even further.

When You Should Buy All-Season Tires

All-season tires are the best choice for people who live in moderate environments. Much of the Southern United States can get by comfortably with all-season tires. The temperatures in that region of the United States don’t get much lower than the optimal temperature range. When it does happen, it’s rare and only lasts for a few days or weeks at most. All-season tires are designed to handle the rain seen by this area of the country, as well. With an all-season tire, you can feel confident no matter what time of the year it is.

When You Should Buy Winter Tires

If you live in an area where temperatures drop below 45ºF for extended periods, you should buy winter tires. This is true, regardless of the weather, though we’ll talk about that, too. When you have all-season tires, temperatures below 45º F lead to a harder tire. This can be damaging to your vehicle’s safety on the road as it reduces handling, as well as braking power. A softer tire is needed for lower temperatures.

Additionally, winter tires offer better control during inclement weather. Snow, sleet, and ice are all threats to the handling of your vehicle. Winter tires are designed to handle these conditions, and some are designed to handle them at their extremes with studs installed in them. While it seems like a hassle to change tires for the season, it’s a must. Extra maintenance, like snow covers, is needed when you live in a harsh winter climate. Just like wiper blades need to be changed, so does your rubber.

It should be noted though, that the tires aren’t the only thing that keeps you safe while driving in snow. Knowing how to properly drive in snow is necessary, as well. Without the proper knowledge, the right tires will help, but they won’t save you from all of the possible driving conditions. Be sure to have both on your side. If you’re living anywhere facing cold winters with lousy weather, get a set of winter tires.

Summer Tires

You might be asking if there are specific tires for winter, are there any specific tires for summer? The answer to that question is yes. Some tires are specifically designed for summer. They’re also known as performance tires, and they’re different from all-season tires and winter tires.

Summer tires are suitable for hot weather, no matter whether it’s dry or wet. They provide improved handling, and are used for precision. The tire itself features a tread pattern that’s asymmetrical or directional, meaning that it can only be installed one way. That means that tire rotations become a bit more specific, as well as necessary. The grooves on summer tires are shallow, and the tire’s center portion is usually solid rubber. This increases traction with the road, resulting in better handling and performance.

The material that summer tires are made from is a tread compound composed of rubbers and fillers. The fillers tend to be sticky additives, making the tire perform well in wet road conditions. Without them, the tire would slip in wet conditions. The compound material also results in a harder set of tires. Harder tires are desirable during warmer conditions because they maintain better rigidity as they continue to heat up. They also allow the tire to retain shape as they heat up. Both of these combine to keep rolling resistance to a minimum, meaning you can go faster with less effort.

So who are summer tires for? They’re for performance enthusiasts and people who live in hot environments. You’re more likely to see summer tires on sports cars or cars that spend a lot of time on the road. For the most part, you won’t see them on your average sedan. Summer tires are meant for people chasing thrills. They should, under no circumstances, be used in cold weather. The hard rubber that they’re made from provides little to no traction when temperatures reach 45º F. In fact, they really shouldn’t be used at temperatures that low, either.

Conclusion

When you own a car, several items require periodic maintenance. Tires are definitely on that list. If you’re living somewhere where the winters get cold or come with inclement weather, you’ll need to invest in a set of winter tires. While all-season tires can handle cooler weather and even the occasional light snow, they really shouldn’t be used consistently if temperatures are near freezing or if you see a lot of snow. Doing so results in reduced handling and safety and can put your life at stake. Be sure to use the right tires during the right time of year. It’s essential for your vehicle and your safety.

Best Selling Winter Tires

SaleBestseller No. 1
Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2 Winter/Snow SUV Tire P275/65R18 114 R
Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2 Winter/Snow SUV Tire P275/65R18 114 R
Confident Stopping Power On Snow And Ice; Reliable Handling In Winter Conditions; Bite Particles For...
$199.99
SaleBestseller No. 2
Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2 Winter/Snow SUV Tire 255/50R20 109 T Extra Load
Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V2 Winter/Snow SUV Tire 255/50R20 109 T Extra Load
Confident Stopping Power On Snow And Ice; Reliable Handling In Winter Conditions; Bite Particles For...
$201.99
SaleBestseller No. 3
Firestone Winterforce 2 UV Winter/Snow SUV Tire 265/70R17 115 S
Firestone Winterforce 2 UV Winter/Snow SUV Tire 265/70R17 115 S
Full depth tread features provide long-lasting performance; Fit type: Vehicle Specific
$135.99
Bestseller No. 4
Premiorri ViaMaggiore Z Plus Winter Touring Radial Tire-205/60R16 205/60/16 205/60-16 92H Load Range SL 4-Ply BSW Black Side Wall
Premiorri ViaMaggiore Z Plus Winter Touring Radial Tire-205/60R16 205/60/16 205/60-16 92H Load Range SL 4-Ply BSW Black Side Wall
Treadlife: N/A; Season: Winter; Performance: Touring; Car Type: Passenger; Load Range SL, 4-Ply Rated, 4-PR
$75.93
Bestseller No. 5
Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT Winter Radial Tire - 215/60R16 95T
Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT Winter Radial Tire - 215/60R16 95T
Ice over winter silica tread compound; Enhanced pitch sequence and block shift; Stiff tread base platform
$88.00

Last update on 2022-07-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API