Snow Tires vs. All Season Tires – What’s the Difference?
Your tires connect your car to the road. They play a critical role in keeping you safe when you’re behind the wheel. Unfortunately, road conditions change not just from season to season but from day to day. Is your vehicle equipped with the right kind of tires?
Many people are confused about the difference between snow tires and all-season tires. But while the differences are important, they’re also easy to understand. Here’s your complete look at everything you need to know about snow tires and all-season tires.
What are All-Season Tires?
When the car was first invented, drivers had no choice but to switch between winter and summer tires with each season. This changed in 1977, with the introduction of the Goodyear Tiempo, the first all-season tire. As the name implies, all-season tires are designed to be used throughout the entire year.
Today, almost every vehicle in the U.S. leaves the factory equipped with all-season tires. Generally, all-season tires provide a smooth ride with good gas mileage and plenty of durability. They usually have no problem handling uneven surfaces, rain and even mild to moderate snow.
What are Winter Tires?
Winter tires are designed specifically for snowy and icy conditions. They have a unique construction designed to provide increased tread on wet, snowy surfaces. They can even handle black ice. Specifically, winter tires differ from all-season tires in the type of rubber used, the depth and patterns of the tread, and the design of the biting edges.
The rubber tread on all-season tires will stiffen in extremely cold temperatures. When the tire rubber loses flexibility, the ability to provide sufficient traction becomes impaired. Winter tires are designed to remain flexible even in freezing temps, which lets the tire grip the road securely.
Winter tires have unique tread patterns which channel snow and water away from the vehicle. Plus, the treads are deeper than those on all-season tires. Deeper treads provide better traction because snow is unable to build-up on the tire’s surface.
Finally, winter tires have more biting edges. These are thousands of tiny slits in the tread. They provide traction on icy surfaces, including black ice.
Do I Need Winter Tires?
All-season tires are pretty good at handling many different conditions, but they’re not going to be the best choice in harsh winter conditions. They won’t provide much traction or handling when driving through tall snow or across icy surfaces.
Think of all-season tires as tennis shoes for your car. You can wear tennis shoes when the weather is warm and when it’s cold. But you can’t wear them when walking for miles in heavy snow. Instead, you’ll want to put on a snow boot.
So, do you need snow tires? The answer depends on the annual weather patterns where you live and drive. You can skip winter tires if you live in an area which never gets snow. Winter tires aren’t very common in many Southern and West Coast areas. Generally, if the temperature in your area is almost always above 45 degrees, you probably don’t need winter tires.
But snow tires are necessary for areas where winters are severe – and even in areas where winters are moderate. You don’t need a lot of snow to need winter tires. Instead, you’re mainly concerned with how long the snow stays on the ground. In a cold climate, ice and snow can stay on the streets for days after a snowstorm has finished.
When considering whether or not to buy snow tires, don’t just consider how much snowfall you get in a year. Also consider how long that snow sticks around. Even a half-inch of slick, compacted snow is far safer to drive on when you have snow tires.
When Should I Use Snow Tires?
The specifics will vary depending on where you live, but generally you’ll put winter tires on around Thanksgiving and remove them around Easter. The softer rubber compounds in winter tires will wear down fairly quickly on dry, warm roads. Not only will that ruin your winter tires, but it can also create a safety hazard.
Storing your winter tires properly during the off-season helps keep them in great shape for a long time. Keep them in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight. Basements, attics or cooler garages are all often great storage spaces. Additionally, wrapping the tires in black plastic bags helps reduce oxidation.
If you have a large off-road vehicle, storing four large snow tires can be complicated. Check with nearby auto body shops and tire shops. Many offer seasonal storage for a fee. Aside from saving you space at home, professional tire storage also keeps your winter tires at the proper temperature throughout the summer.
Instead of switching your winter tires to all-season tires, consider switching them to summer tires. They provide a smooth, quiet ride with improved handling for warm summer roads.
Are Snow Tires Expensive?
People are naturally reluctant to buy a second set of tires, especially if you’re not really sure how much they’ll be needed. However, remember that two sets of tires reduce the annual wear by half. While you do have to buy two sets, each set will last twice as long.
Only install a full set of winter tires. If a vehicle only has winter tires in the front, the rear of the car will skid. If winter tires are only on the rear of the vehicle, the front tires won’t be able to maintain traction. Plus, only equipping one axel with winter tires provides extremely minimal benefits when driving on ice and snow.
Many people don’t want to expose their expensive alloy wheels to the snow and road salt found on winter roads. An effective solution is to buy a no-frills, inexpensive set of steel wheels to use only with your snow tires. Any wheels with the same diameter and bolt pattern as your vehicle’s original wheels will work – you don’t need anything fancy.
Plus, when you have two sets of wheels, you don’t have to remount your tires twice a year. Practically any auto body shop will be able to change your wheels quickly and inexpensively. Many do-it-yourselfers simply change their wheels in their home garage.
Will Snow Tires Make You Safer on the Road?
Absolutely! All-season tires are fine for an occasional snow flurry or mild wet weather. But they won’t provide enough traction and control in deep snow or icy conditions. Snow tires are the single most effective way to prepare your car for safe winter driving.
Of course, you always want to drive safely in snowy conditions. Slow down and allow for plenty of space between you and the other cars. Always give yourself extra time when driving during the winter. Keep a kit of emergency supplies in your trunk in case you ever do get stuck.
Snow tires require an initial investment up front but often make the most economic sense in the long run. Using the right tire for the season results in less wear overall. Using snow tires in the winter actually increases the lifespan of your all-season tires by many years.
Beyond being the smart financial move, snow tires are also the safest option. Many people become so accustomed to winter driving that they tend to overlook many of the risks. But snow and ice dramatically increase the chances of a serious accident on the road. One of the safest steps you can take is to install a full set of snow tires on your car or truck.