Should You Be Driving On All-Season Tires or Summer Tires?

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A look at the difference between all-season and summer tires with tips on which will serve you better in the long run.

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There are so many types of tires out there, so it can be pretty easy to get mixed up in all the confusion of definitions and recommendations. Summer tires are for driving in summer and winter tires for driving in winter, right? If all-season tires are best for all seasons, as it seems to say on the tin, would this mean that all-season tires are for snow as well? In terms of all-weather tires vs all-season tires, are these just synonyms for the same tires, and if not, which tires are best, and why? These are all common questions, just like which tires go best with AWD or off-roading? The answers to each are more nuanced than you may think, so taking a closer look is definitely advisable.

Summer Tires unsplash.com

Summer Tires vs All-Weather Tires vs All-Season Tires

But first, let's get a few definitions out of the way:

  • Summer tires. What are summer tires? Also referred to as performance tires, these are made for top performance, braking, and traction during the warmer months. They are the best tires for rain, wet roads, and dry, sunny conditions alike - all common factors in the summer. A summer tire's temperature range is typically above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, hence their name and why you should not use summer tires in winter. They are not meant for freezing temperatures or snowy surfaces. They usually also have a relatively shallow groove pattern, a solid rib, and the highest speed ratings of all tires. These are the tires on which performance cars are rated to reach their true top speeds, whereas a vehicle's speed may be restricted on other types. A fast new sports car such as a Porsche 911 Turbo will have the best summer performance tires fitted as standard from a top-end brand like Michelin. Many performance summer tires are directional, giving you limited tire rotation options. Lastly, remember that summer tires in snow offer almost no grip, despite them being touted as the best wet-weather tires. These are actually completely different road conditions.
  • All-season tires. So what are all-season tires? They are among the best high-mileage tires, though they have poorer traction when compared to summer tires. Theoretically, they should be able to get you through the entire year if you only experience light snow conditions, hence their name. They do not provide the dry-road traction of summer tires, but have a deep groove pattern, maintaining flexibility down to around freezing - but not lower - to give a fair compromise in light snow. They are also quite affordable.
  • All-weather tires. This is a fairly new category that is characterized by it's slightly better winter capabilities in comparison to all-season tires. Although not marketed as winter tires, all-weather tires usually have the little icon on them showing a three-peak mountain with a snowflake - indicating that it is made up of rubber compounds that work better in cold weather than all-season tires. They're a compromise between all-season and winter tires.
  • Winter/snow tires. The difference between winter and summer tires is night and day. True winter or snow tires are specially designed for use on ice and snow and are not made for dry roads or summer conditions. They also have the three-mountain-peak symbol, but their tread design has bigger gaps than all-weather tires and they are specifically designed and formulated to work best at temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Some may even feature studs to aid snow traction. If you use snow tires in summer, they will wear far more quickly and not function effectively.
All Season Tires Pexels.com
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Are All-Season Tires Really ‘All-Season’?

Following on from all these tires' differences, one has to ask the question of whether the seemingly magical 'all-season tires' are false marketing, because winter is a season - and they're not meant for winter and snow. However, if your area only gets sporadic snowfall and you rarely have to drive in snow, then an all-season tire might indeed be 'all-season' to you. If you suspect you're on the borderline, with temperatures regularly dropping below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, all-weather tires are probably the best.

To summarize, their main advantages over summer tires are:

  • Longer service life
  • Good traction on light snow
  • Flexibility in cold weather
  • Symmetrical design means they can usually be rotated

2WD on Winter Tires or 4WD on Summer Tires

Some people who live where snow is rare think that they can get away with summer tires all-year round, as long as they drive an AWD or 4WD car. In fact, many independent tests over the years have shown this to be untrue and that a 2WD car with winter tires has better traction and safer handling in snow than an AWD car with summer tires. Don't take chances with your safety in bad weather, rather ensure you have the right tires. If you get light snowfall and you don't want to change tires, rather opt for good tires of the all-season variety. They don't grip quite as well in dry summer heat as summer tires do, but they last longer. Read our guide for driving safely on icy roads for more information.

Difference Between Winter And Summer Tires freepik.com

Conclusion - Which Tires are Best?

It really depends on what weather you experience. If you get deep snow in winter and you experience dry, warm summers, there is no way you can get away with one set of tires all year around. For the other weather combinations, have a chat with your tire specialist and look at what other people in your region fit to their cars. If you're undecided and it comes down to a choice between summer tires vs all-season tires, you're better off with the latter for light snow in winter. Combined with all-wheel drive, you should be happy and safe all year round if you never want to change tires. But don't skimp just to save money; protect yourself on the road with good-quality tires.

Summer Tires vs All Season BMW

FAQs

What is the most common type of tire for sale in the USA?

The all-season tire is the most common in use in America and is available for virtually every type of vehicle and in every size imaginable. It can be used on everything from the best luxury car model and SUV, such as the Genesis G80 or Ford Explorer, to a truck like the RAM 1500 or a modern-day e-car like the Tesla Model S.

Can all-season tires also be divided into subcategories?

Yes, all-season tires are available in various derivatives. High-performance versions are available for sports cars: 'highway' versions provide excellent on-road comfort, stability, and a quiet ride, while 'touring' versions are the most numerous and regularly used do-it-all options, typically fitted to normal family vehicles such as minivans and sedans.

Is the three-peak-mountain symbol with the snowflake a temperature indicator only?

While tires with this symbol are usually meant to perform well below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the symbol is actually an indication of straight-line acceleration grip and traction on snow. Other factors, such as cornering ability and traction on ice are not part of this qualification, so just because a tire has this symbol, it does not mean it will perform well in such scenarios. Read our guide on what the numbers on tires mean here.

How do I tell if tires are all-season tires?

Check whether your tires' sidewalls have the M+S marking on them anywhere. This means 'mud and snow' and is used to indicate that an all-season tire meets certain traction criteria in snow and mud conditions.

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