Winter Tires vs All-Season Tires: The Definitive Guide
As the cold season approaches, you might be wondering if winter tires even make a difference. They do now, but this wasn’t always true. For a long time, they were only good on snow - hence the name snow tires - and if you didn’t live somewhere with heavy snowfall, it was hard to reconcile the cost of a new set of tires for such a specific, often ineffective product. An emergency stop on anything other than snow-covered road meant a near-complete loss of tread and a hole in your pocket.
Nowadays, the story is a little different. It’s hard to differentiate between the handling of modern all-season and winter tires, and a good set of winter tires will keep traction in everything from dry to icy conditions.
In some places, it’s even illegal not to switch your tires over from all-season to winter, so make sure you know the law in your area before making the decision.
It might seem like a paradox, but all-season tires really shouldn’t be considered all-season at all. They’re great if the temperatures stay above 40 degrees, but as soon as it dips the tires get stiff and lose their elasticity. Stiff tires mean decreased traction, and on winter roads you need all of the traction you can get. Winter tires are made with the kind of rubber that not only retains its elasticity in cold temperatures but can bounce back quickly once they start to rise again.
Since regular tires lose traction in the cold, it’s important to invest in a set of winter tires regardless of where you live. You might think that a lack of snowfall means you don’t need a set of your own, but that’s not the case!
Even on dry roads, using all-season tires in cold temperatures could detrimentally affect the performance of your car. The tread on winter tires is designed specifically to prevent sliding and the chances of slippery roads are higher in the winter, whether or not your region experiences snowfall. Unless you live somewhere that stays above 40 degrees year-round, investing in a good set of winter tires could mean the difference between a safe drive and a scary situation.
You may also think that having an all-wheel or four-wheel drive may be enough to get you through the winter, but while it’s good for acceleration it isn’t as good at bringing your car to a controlled stop. For a car with all-wheel drive, winter tires provide the kind of traction you need to stop without sliding or swerving - especially in an emergency.
The tread on winter tires has two different kinds of grooves: narrow, to handle water, and large, to collect the snow and help your tires stick to the road. You never know what you might encounter on the road. Less might be more in many aspects of life, but with road safety the opposite is true.
That being said, make sure you know exactly when to install and, more importantly, when to retire your winter tires. Wearing out the tread on your winter tires in the summer doesn’t help anyone, especially your wallet.
Winter tires also need to be permanently replaced well before you might consider replacing your all-season tires. They start with a tread at a depth of 11/32. By the time the tread wears to 6/32, they’re hardly useful anymore. The difference won’t be as noticeable as it might be on your all-season tires, so you may want to consider buying a tread-depth gauge just in case. If you’re not interested in purchasing a gauge for yourself, most tire shops will gladly check the depth of your tread for you!
There are plenty of options for winter tires that won’t break the bank. Mastercraft, General Tire, and Firestone all offer winter tires that range between $75 and $100 per tire. Quality goes a long way with winter tires, though, and if you have the money to invest in them, it’s advisable to do so.
Nokian, Bridgestone, and Continental all offer some of the best quality winter tires in the industry. They range anywhere from $130 to $190 per tire, which may seem steep, but when it comes to road safety it’s always cheaper to pay more upfront than what you might be paying down the line if an accident happens.
Always look for the three-peak mountain snowflake, otherwise known as the 3PMSF, on the side of your winter tires. This symbol lets you know that the tires meet the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association’s standards.
Whether you’re new to the process or a long-time enthusiast, the experts at Jack Williams Tire can help you figure out exactly what you need for your car and environment. Every Jack Williams location offers complete car service, as well, so you can leave the service center knowing you’re perfectly prepared for what the winter might offer.