Winter Tires vs. All Season: Where the Rubber Meets the Road


Why do you need to know the difference between winter tires vs all season? Winter tires and all season tires each have different capabilities and serve different purposes. Nowhere is that more apparent than during the winter, when snow and ice make even short drives potential disasters.

Too many drivers opt for the wrong tires during the winter. They assume that because all season tires are rated for “all seasons” that they’re just as capable as winter tires. They’re not. Here’s what should you know about winter tires vs all season tires.

What Are All Season Tires?

Take a look at the average vehicle’s tires and chances are very good that you’ll see a set of all season tires. This is particularly true for vehicles running stock tires from the automaker (what your car comes with from the dealer).

All season tires provide good handling across the widest range of possible driving conditions. This includes everything from sun-baked asphalt to rain, sleet and snow. That sounds great, right? It can be, but only if you live in a region where snow and ice aren’t really much of a challenge. If you’re farther north, you’ll find that those all season tires just aren’t up to the task. They’re sort of a jack-of-all-trades, but the master of none.

The most obvious difference between winter tires vs all season tires and other options is the tread. The tread pattern must be aggressive enough for wet conditions, but unobtrusive enough that it doesn’t get in the way while driving in warmer conditions. Medium sized tread blocks dominate, with a little bit of lateral stiffness.

And there aren’t that many sipes compared to winter tires. Sipes are nothing more than thin, lateral cuts that run across the tread from shoulder to shoulder. They cut across tread blocks and divide them into smaller blocks. This provides more edges per square inch of tread, which is a vital consideration for better grip on snowy roadways.

Even the rubber compound that comprises the tread and sidewalls is middle of the road – it’s generally designed to handle a wide range of temperatures relatively well.

What Are Snow Tires?

Snow tires are very different from all season tires. It starts with the type of rubber. Snow tires are designed to provide excellent grip at low temperatures. All season tires can become stiff in severe cold, which means they can’t grip the road as well. It goes beyond the type of rubber, though. You’ll find that the tread is completely different as well.

One of the most notable differences is the number of sipes in the tread pattern. Winter tires have a lot more of them. The tread is also deeper on winter tires than on all season tires, providing better grip.

However, because of the rubber compound used and the additional sipes in the tread, winter tires don’t perform well in warmer driving conditions. The tread is less stable, and the rubber doesn’t hold up well in heat, which reduces tire life by a considerable amount.

Winter Tires vs All Season: Which Are Best for You?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. For some drivers, winter tires should definitely be installed before the first snowfall. However, other drivers can get away with using all season tires all year long. It really depends on where you live. If you live in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, or even most of the American Southeast, you won’t need winter tires.

However, if you live in more northerly climes, you’ll definitely want to consider having snow tires installed before the snow starts to fly. If you live anywhere where you traditionally get snow every winter, even just once, then you’ll want to have a set of snow tires. They will provide important protection during the colder months of the year.

Winter Tire Tips

If you decide that winter tires are the way to go for at least a few months out of the year, make sure you follow a few simple rules.

  • Full Set: Always mount a full set of snow tires. Never run two snow tires and two all season tires, as this can wreak havoc on your transmission, and it can also compromise your safety. It actually makes you more likely to skid on snow and ice.
  • Change Them as Soon as Possible: Once the weather warms up and snow and ice disappear, make sure you change your tires quickly. The rubber isn’t designed to handle warm weather, and it will wear quickly. Have a full set of all season tires installed once winter’s grip loosens.
  • Not a Cure All: Snow tires are designed to provide better grip and performance driving in snow and icy conditions. However, they’re not a cure all. Consider having a set of tire chains in your car at all times in case you encounter conditions that are just too harsh for your tires.
  • Store Them Properly: When your winter tires are removed, make sure you store them properly. They should be stored somewhere away from direct sunlight and heat. Your garage is a perfect place. Don’t store them outside, as exposure to heat and sunlight can degrade the rubber. Keep them in good condition for next winter’s driving.

Winter tires and all season tires are very different, but both provide important advantages during different times of year. You’ll definitely benefit from having a set of all season tires, but depending on where you live, it might be wise to invest in a set of winter tires as well. Just don’t drive on them year round.