Winter Tires VS All Season Tires

By: Discount Tire

It’s a debate that has been raging for decades, and may continue for years to come. What’s the better move: Winter tires vs. all-season tires?

As winter gets closer, you might be wondering: do I need snow tires or can my all season tires get me through winter?

At the end of the day it really depends on where and how you drive. And the weather. And the type of vehicle you drive. (And a ton of other factors!)

But the real test is this: how often do you and your tires have to drive in conditions below 45 degrees? This is the temperature most all-season tires start to lose their elasticity. What does that mean for you? It means those all-season tires don’t grip, stop, or even ride as comfortably as they would normally—even if there isn’t any snow on the ground yet.

It’s worth noting that there are a handful of modern all-season tires that are truly optimized to provide dependable performance even in harsh winter weather. 

The Goodyear Assurance WeatherReady and the Michelin CrossClimate 2 are both cutting-edge all season tires that earned the coveted Three Peak Mountain Snowflake rating. This means they’re approved for use in extreme winter conditions, a rarity for all-season tires.

However, if you live somewhere that gets constant winter weather, including whiteout conditions, heavy snow and ice-covered roads, you’ll still want to change over to a set of dedicated winter tires.

Here’s why...

The Argument for All Season Tires

All season tires are designed for long-lasting comfort, capable handling and grip that you can depend on year-round. There’s a reason most new vehicles come off the lot with all-season tires, and it’s because they perform well in a wide range of conditions. 

But all-season tires are by their very nature a compromise. (Don’t worry, this is by design.)

When a manufacturer prioritizes one area of performance, they tend to sacrifice in other areas. For a tire to provide a long-lasting tread life, it may have to reduce comfort attributes and even performance in colder weather.

On the other hand, to stick to snow-covered streets, the tire may have to give up some of that longevity in favor of flexibility. All-season tires are the masters of marrying supposedly differing areas of performance without sacrificing everything.

They’re designed to handle just about any weather condition out there (hence the name all-season), while also providing quick steering response and a long-lasting tread life. To manage all of that in a single product, they’re not as dependable as a winter tire in heavy snow or slick ice. 

Similarly, an all-season tire won’t have the nimble, immediate steering response of an ultra-high performance summer tire. 

But, if you’re facing infrequent moderate winter and need dependable performance for a wide range of driving situations (and you want as many miles as you can get out of your tires), then a set of all-season tires may just be the way to go.

In a nutshell, if snow and ice is rare but not unheard-of and you live in a region where your local department of transportation keeps the roads clear on the rare occasion snow does stick, your all-season tires should be able to get you through it.

The Argument for Winter Tires

On the other hand, winter tires are highly specialized for one thing: safe winter performance, whether you’re facing dry, freezing roads, a full blizzard or black ice. 

One of the biggest difference makers in winter tires is their highly-specialized tread compound. Manufacturers design snow tires with heavy silica-enhanced rubber mixtures, which helps the tread stay flexible when the cold hits and ensures your vehicle will still be able to grip the road when most all-season tires are too stiff to be effective.

Some manufacturers go even further and infuse their winter tires with special oil compounds, including everything from canola oil to rapeseed oil.

Others utilize bite particles in the tread compound, which act like microscopic studs, helping your winter tires dig into icy surfaces and provide glue-like grip when roads are at their most dangerous. 

And if icy roads are a more regular issue for you, there are always studded winter tires. Armed for maximum traction, studded snow tires are built with rugged metal pins that hold fast to icy roads. Many winter tires that don’t come with studs feature pin holes that allow you to add studs if ice becomes a problem in your area.

It’s not common knowledge, but the average winter tire has hundreds of more sipes than an all-season tire, not to mention more grooves. This can mean as much as a 50% increase in what’s referred to as a tire’s “biting edge,” which can be the edge you need to stay in control on ice and in snow.

We don’t want to harp on it too much, but it’s pretty clear winter tires feature a lot of enhancements that all-season tires don’t come built with. Check out our winter tire info to learn more about all of the things that go into making winter tires such rock stars in inclement weather.

Snow Tires vs All Season Tires: The Final Decision

In the end, the debate of snow tires vs. all season tires for use in wintertime is pretty much entirely dependent on your needs.

Do you regularly face icy roads, deep snow and consistently freezing temps? A dedicated set of winter tires is absolutely the way to go.

But if you live in an area that usually gets dusted with light snow that only occasionally sticks, little ice, and a wide range of temperatures come wintertime, then your dependable all-season tires may well work out for you.

No matter what kind of tires you’re considering this winter, you can narrow your options to the best tires for your needs, by using Treadwell, our proprietary tire decision guide.

And if you want to reduce downtime and changeover costs, you can always make your own winter tire and wheel package. Whether you’re ready to have your new snow tires installed or you want to have your current all-season tires serviced or inspected, feel free to drop by your nearest store or schedule an appointment today!