If you live in a place that has four seasons, winter tires might be the best choice for you. Winter tires have been designed to maintain traction on snow and ice while all-season tires are not. In this blog post, we will discuss five reasons why it is worth investing in winter tires instead of all-season ones.
Most folks simply accept whatever tires come with their car by default and don't bother to switch them seasonally. Frankly speaking, this is "good enough" in most cases and the car manufacturers do a great job of providing consumers with a good reliable tire that works great in the typical environments that the car is designed to operate in. This is generally an all-season tire for most cars, crossovers, and smaller SUVs. Some vehicles though are sold with all-weather tires that are better on wet surfaces and road surfaces that will experience mild winter conditions.
For most consumers though the difference in terminology between all-weather and all-season is virtually negligible and it simply comes down a a tire salesperson's recommendation on what tires are best for what year-round driving conditions you will be experiencing.
To further complicate things, some all-season tires will be marked with M+S or referred to as mud and snow tires. While these would generally offer superior traction on snowy surfaces, the underlying tire is still structurally an all-season tire.
How To Know If You Need Winter Tires vs All-Season Tires?
Winter tires on the other hand are a different subject and are considerably different than all-season tires and they are also much different from all-terrain tires that are sometimes sold as being best for snow and ice because visually they look aggressive with plenty of knobs to grip surfaces. Those all terrain tires though are best on above-freezing terrain and better on mud, dirt, and gravel than ice and snow. However, all terrain tires would still be better on snow than all-season tires.
If you live in a climate where harsh winters with sustained below freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and sleet are normal then it is worth investing in winter tires. Not only will they handle better when driving on ice and snow but the rubber is formulated to withstand cold winter conditions better than a normal tire.
Winter tires are specifically designed with grooves and channels that are designed to grip snow and slush and move those frozen bits away from the middle of the tire where it makes contact with the road. This dramatically improves the traction that you will experience while driving in winter conditions.
While all season tires have a similar design, it's tread pattern is designed to evacuate liquid water from the center and so the grooves are narrower and there are fewer gripping edges.
The smoother tread pattern found on all season tires is important for maximizing fuel economy but the wider grooves and bigger gripping areas found on winter tires make it the superior choice for driving over snow and slushy roads.
Studs & Lugs On Winter Tires
In addition to the tread pattern differences, some winter tires may have sidewall lugs that allow for better traction in deeper snow. These lugs will help push the car through snow that is on the sides of the tire so that you have improved traction. Additionally, some winter tires will also have small studs and sometimes ribs built into the rubber surface that offer even more grip on slick surfaces.
Just as with the tread pattern differences discussed above, these winter tire enhancements come at a significant decrease in fuel efficiency and they also will wear far more quickly than standard all season tires.
Winter Tires Are Materially Different Than All Season
While mud and snow tires do a good job at making all season tires look the part, winter tires biggest advantage is that they are structurally and materially superior for cold winter conditions compared to all season ones.
Specifically, the rubber compound and layers of the tire are designed to stay soft and flexible even in the most harsh winter conditions. While there are clearly parts of the world that are very extreme, most Americans (except some of our friends in Alaska) will never experience those conditions. If they do though - there are winter tires designed for extreme cold as well!
While most people will never be able to see their tires flex to bumps in the road surface, this ability to match the texture of the road is what gives winter tires superior traction. While all weather and all season tires would potentially get hard and plastic like during these conditions - leading to loss of control, longer braking distances, and a less comfortable drive - winter tires will perform well during winter driving.
While the tread patterns and other enhancements such as lugs and studs can be visually emulated to work on snow, the purpose of winter tires is temperature not just the snow you'll be traveling over.
How To Get Winter Tires
In the past, it was somewhat confusing when it came to getting a good pair of winter tires because you'd see tire shops playing with the pricing of installation and cost of the tires. Today though, you can buy from an online retailer and take those tires to your local mechanic to have them installed. Then simply store your old tires in the garage till spring.
Make Sure To Change Your Winter Tires Before Summer
Just as it is important to have the right tires for winter, you'll want to make sure to change your tires back to the all weather or all terrain tires once the cold weather is over. Not only will the winter tires not be as safe to drive on warm dry surfaces but it will actually cost you money in terms of wearing faster.
That softer rubber designed to stay flexible in below freezing temperatures simply is not made for warm roads during the summer heat. Not only will it wear faster but this will negatively impact all aspects of handling from stopping to cornering and acceleration, making your vehicle less safe to drive.
Additionally, as we mentioned above, all season tires are far more efficient when it comes to fuel economy and so you'll want to take note of that to safe some money on those summer road trips.
Winter Tires Are Important Investment If You Live In A Cold Weather Area
Winter tires are designed to offer improved traction on ice and snow but they also will wear out more quickly than all season tires. The best way to get these is to buy them online, install them yourself or have a mechanic do it for you then store your old winter tire in the garage until next year. Winter driving can be difficult with less than optimal traction so make sure that if you're looking for new ones, you consider getting some of the right stuff!