When you get a new car, or when you have to replace those worn-out tires, you’ve probably heard the terms “winter tires,” “all-season tires,” and “all-weather tires.” Many people think these are all the same thing, but in truth there’s major differences between the three kinds of tires, and choosing the wrong one can not only interfere with your traction, it can put you in danger.
So, what is the difference, and how can you know which tires you should use at any given time? Discover the important differences between all-season tires, winter tires, and all-weather tires so you get the best traction on the roads any time of year.
Snow or Winter Tires
Snow or winter tires are exactly what they claim to be: tires that are designed for use in snowy conditions. They’re made of softer rubber with deep traction to help you get by in severe inclement weather. In general, you only need snow tires on your car if the temperature where you live is going to dip below 45 degrees (Fahrenheit), and you get a decent amount of snow.
The problem with snow tires is that because they are softer rubber, in warmer weather and on pavement they tend to wear down a lot faster than other tires and will need to be replaced more frequently. For this reason, many people keep a set of snow tires that they use only between November and March, replacing them in the warmer seasons.
Always remember, though: no tire is going to help you on ice. Snow tires provide a lot of extra traction in snow, but on ice there’s nothing to grab. They’re not a magic fix for going anywhere, any time.
All-season tires are designed with a balance of road conditions in mind. They’re built to handle dry pavement, wet roads, and light snowy conditions.
All-season tires generally have a very straight tread pattern that’s shallower than what you see on snow tires. This allows them balanced performance in many variant road conditions. These days, many (though not all) new vehicles that you buy come with this kind of tires.
The big difference between all-season and winter tires is that all-season tires are constructed of harder rubber, which hardens further in cold, which means they don’t have the same level of traction and grip in the snow.
All-weather tires seek to present a perfect balance between all-season and snow tires. While winter tires will always outperform other varieties in heavy snow and cold, all-weather tires offer a blockier tread than all-season, with part of the tire featuring the straight all-season tread, with other parts featuring a deeper, crisscross tread pattern like you might see on winter tires.
These tires are also built from materials that allow them to maintain their grip in cold weather, while providing ideal traction in other seasons and conditions as well. They are, in many ways, the best of all worlds. However, that composition leads to their largest downside: while providing superior traction in a wide range of weather and seasonal conditions, they wear out faster than any other kind of tire. You’ll probably spend a bit more if you use all-weather tires exclusively as they will need to be replaced more frequently.
4WD and Tire Choice
Many people assume that because they have a four-wheel drive vehicle like an SUV or pickup truck that they don’t need to worry about special tires. This is a critical error that can contribute to accidents.
Just because you have 4-wheel drive on your vehicle, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose your tires wisely. 4WD is a great option for getting where you need to go by driving power to all four wheels instead of just two; however, if none of the four wheels can grip the ground, it won’t do you much good. Further, 4WD helps you to go, but doesn’t unto itself help you stop. For that, you need traction.
It’s important to make the right choice of all-weather, all-season, or snow and winter tires so that you’ve always got the traction you need for your conditions. What are your thoughts about the best tires?
Chuck Krause is Wheelfire Blog’s managing editor. Since the early 2000’s, he has managed and owned a number of internet retail stores in the automotive parts industry. He is an especially enthusiastic owner of his off-road “monsterized” Jeep Wrangler. A fixture in every summer’s Jeep jamboree, (where his reputation for extreme mudding and trail riding are legendary) Chuck is well known for his infectious passion and knowledge about all things automotive.