Winter tires or all-season tires?

Blizzak winter tires from Bridgestone Tire. Credit: Bridgestone Tire

Winter tires or all-season tires?

As the weather starts to turn wintery, conditions on the road can become unpredictable and sometimes downright dangerous. When you’re preparing your vehicle for the winter months, think about the road conditions you’re likely to experience in your area. If you get winter storms, snowfall or ice, you’re likely to want to change your tires. The question then becomes whether all-season tires or winter tires are best for you. Safety is paramount in this decision, so make sure you inform yourself and your clients of all the options.

Aren’t all tires all-season tires?

Your customers might not realize that the tires the manufacturer installs are usually summer tires. Summer tires tend to grip the road better in wet and dry conditions. They’re also perfect for sporty driving with sharp turns. However, winter tires are made from a compound that stays flexible as it gets colder. This means they grip the road better when the temperature dips below 50 degrees farenheit. Winter tires also have a different tread pattern of wider grooves and narrow slits at the edges of the tread area, which combine to give better grip on snow and ice.

The pros and cons of winter tires

Winter tires are specifically designed to improve traction and handling in the snow and ice. Those that meet this requirement are marked with a snowflake and mountain symbol. If you intend to switch to winter rubber, you might be inclined to have two sets of wheels so you can change over when the weather hits. This creates not only a cost but also a storage issue. Changing to winter tires permanently is an option but is inadvisable as winter tires have less grip once the weather warms up and will wear out more quickly. The car also will use more fuel.

The pros and cons of all-season tires

All-season tires are the compromise solution for drivers who want extra grip during winter without having to deal with an extra set of wheels. As a result of the rubber compound used and the tread, they can be used year-round as the name implies. However, they tend to be a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” which is to say they aren’t as good as normal tires in summer or winter tires when it gets cold.

They have some of the deep grooves that winter tires have and a softer compound to deal with cold, but they also share similar groove patterns to summer tires. Because they use the same rubber compound as winter tires, they should have the snowflake or mountain symbol, but may also have a sun symbol or be marked “M+S” (Mud and Snow).

Do I choose winter tires or all-season tires?

All-season tires are a halfway house between summer and winter tires. As such, they’re probably not the best choice if you expect winter to be a harsh one with plenty of snow. At best, all-season tires that are brand new might work in cities like Atlantic City, Memphis and Seattle, right at the edges of the snowbelt. They’re better suited for drivers who spend more time on plowed roads.

However, if you’re deeper into the snowbelt you’ll probably want to invest in winter tires. The all-season tire tread designs and compounds engineered to provide extended mileages and durability under the summer sun are less effective in winter’s freezing temperatures, through snow and on ice. Specific winter tires deliver much better snow and ice performance because that’s what they’re specifically engineered to master.

Do I need four winter tires? Can I get away with just two?

The problem with only using two snow tires is you’re introducing another variable in how your car handles. Just changing out the front tires increases the likelihood that the rear tires will skid. Likewise, just putting snow tires on the rear wheels could cause the front tires to lose traction and make it impossible to steer your vehicle. Ultimately you’re considering winter tires to improve safety and handling, which is important to get right.

What about front wheel drive, anti-lock brakes or traction control?

These are car features that may improve safety and handling in different conditions. However, they’re not going to improve the traction your tires have on the road – they might just help your car adapt. For example, traction control will prevent you from overpowering your tires, ABS will prevent you from locking up your wheels, but neither will improve the traction your tires have against the pavement. Ultimately the only thing that will improve that traction is the actual tire you’re using.

So what kind of tires do I need?

This comes down to the area you live in and the kind of road conditions you’re likely to face. If you feel conditions in your area are snowy or icy enough to need that extra traction, it might indicate you should invest in winter tires. Finally, most drivers find that winter tires provide a sense of confidence and control in challenging winter weather conditions.

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