Winter Tires vs. All-Season Tires: The Drive’s Garage Guide
Deceptively, all-season tires may not actually be the best for all seasons.
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
No matter what you may have learned from the antics on Top Gear, tires are the only part of your vehicle that are actually intended to touch the road. That makes them important to understand, especially in relation to the difference between all-season and winter tires.
There’s a great chance that your vehicle came from the factory with all-season tires, which are suitable for a wide range of conditions, temperatures, and driving styles. All of that is good news for most of us, but there are times that all-season tires fall short, especially in cold temperatures.
That’s where winter tires come in. They’re designed to handle cold weather, light snow, and even ice in some cases, and are a much better choice for people that live in the snow belt (cries in Maine). You might still be wondering what makes snow tires different from all-season tires, so The Drive’s elite squad of researchers and journalists have put together information to help you make the best tire buying decisions.
What Are All-Season Tires?
All-season tires have been around since the late 1970s when Goodyear introduced a tire designed for year-round use. They’re capable of handling wet or dry roads, and can even perform safely in light snow. All-season tires are designed to operate in a wide temperature band, but not at the extremes in either direction.
What Are Winter Tires?
Winter tires are made from special rubber compounds that are designed to stay pliable and provide grip even when the thermometer dips below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. They typically feature deep tread patterns and several small grooves called sipes, which “bite” and grip in snow. Even without snow, winter tires provide better traction in cold weather.
Can I Use Winter Tires All Year?
It’s possible to run winter tires all year, but it’s not a good idea. It might also be illegal, depending on the type of winter tire you have and where you live. The rubber compounds in winter tires are designed to perform best in colder temperatures, which means they can become very soft and wear down quickly when the mercury rises. It’s also important to remember that some areas have laws against running winter tires year-round, especially if they’re studded.
Are Winter Tires More Expensive Than All-season?
This really depends on the brand and spec of the tires you’re shopping for, but in most cases pricing for winter rubber is similar to that of all season tires.
Are All-Season Tires Good for Winter?
We can thank the marketing wizards at major tire companies for the all-season moniker, but as you might imagine, marketing wizards are not necessarily engineering wizards. All-season tires are designed to work well in most weather conditions and in most areas. They’re not the best for extreme temperatures in either direction. That said, all-season tires will serve many people well, especially those that live in temperate climates.
I Have Four-wheel Drive, Do I Really Need Winter Tires?
YES! No matter how many wheels are being driven, your vehicle won’t be able to stop any faster in snowy conditions without the proper tires. Winter tires are designed with special tread patterns that “bite” into the snow and help slow the vehicle safely, and the same is true for acceleration. Winter tires are one of the best ways to ensure that a vehicle will accelerate and stop in slick conditions as safely as possible.
I Can’t Find Winter Tires to Fit My Aftermarket Wheels. What Should I Do?
First, you’re right. There aren’t many winter tire options for today’s enormous wheel sizes, and the ones that are available can be prohibitively expensive. Second, if your wheels are aftermarket, there’s a chance that they cost an arm and a leg to replace or repair, so it’s probably best to avoid running them in winter regardless of the tire. In these cases, it might be a good idea to purchase a set of smaller dedicated winter wheels. As long as the winter wheel and tire diameter together are the same as those of your summer wheels and tires, you’ll have no problems with your speedometer readings or with vehicle safety.
Are My Tires Worn Out?
Here at The Drive, we’ve come up with a handy-dandy tire health checklist that you can easily follow. Below is everything you’ll need to make sure your tires are safe to use.
Tire Health Checklist
A lot can go wrong with a tire, so it’s important to constantly check that it’s up to snuff. Look for and be aware of these factors when examining the health of your tires:
- Pressure: Measured in pounds per square inch (PSI), this refers to the air pressure inside the tires.
- Tread depth: This refers to how deep the exterior ridges of the tire are.
- Punctures: Check for anything that has penetrated the tire that could cause air to leak out.
- Cracks/dry-rotting: Look for cracks or splits in the tire. If found, the tire is not safe for driving and should be replaced immediately.
- Over/under inflation: Inflating a tire with too much or too little air will cause uneven tread wear and will detract from its full performance capabilities.
- Balance: The mass distribution of tires needs to be even and balanced in order to function properly.
Find the Right Tires With Tire Rack
Listen, we know how hard it can be to pick the right tire. Between the word-jumble that are tire specifications, as well as the tire manufacturer's names for tires that never just say what they are, it can be a pain and you might end up with the wrong shoes for your ride. That's why we've partnered up with our friends at Tire Rack. They'll take the headache out of tire shopping. All you have to do is click here.
Pro Tips To Choose The Right Tires For Your Car
You’ve got questions, The Drive’s informational team has answers!
- Just because you found a tire that fits the same wheel diameter as the ones on your car, it doesn’t mean that you can slap them on and hit the road. Tires have very specific sizes. For example, one of the 2020 Ford F-150’s trims comes with 18-inch wheels, with tires sized P275/65R18:
- “P” indicates that the tire is a P-Metric tire, which means that it meets certain standards in the U.S.
- 275 is the tire’s width in millimeters from sidewall to sidewall
- 65 is the tire’s aspect ratio. Here, it means that the tire’s height is equal to 65 percent of the tire’s width
- “R” indicates that this is a radial tire
- 18 refers to the wheel’s diameter, which in this case is 18 inches
- You might trust Jim-Bob’s tire shop with your life, but they might not be able to get you the best price. Shop online to find specials, rebates, and discounts on the tires you want. In many cases, they can be shipped right to your favorite shop for installation
- Pay attention to what you’re buying. If you’re looking for all-season tires or winter tires, avoid anything that says “high performance,” as it’s likely rated for warmer temperatures.
- Tires have treadwear ratings and sometimes carry mileage guarantees. Make sure you understand how long your tires are supposed to last and know if there are warranties involved.
- Some tires have a special focus on fuel economy, which can save you major money at the pump. Be aware of any special features that your prospective tire choice may have
- Unless you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with no other choices, it’s best to avoid used tires. Even the most reputable used tire shops can miss defects that can shorten the life of your tires and lead to blowouts or flats.
Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: email@example.com