In Canada, there are two distinct driving seasons – summer and winter – with fall and spring serving as unpredictable extensions of each, especially regarding temperature and weather. This means that when it comes to tires, there are some serious choices to make in order to stay safe on the road and maximize performance when rubber meets the road.
In some provinces, you have no choice as to whether you use winter tires on your vehicle: the law requires you to have them on between certain dates. Other jurisdictions are more hands-off, which means it’s left up to you to decide if you’ll mount dedicated winter tires, or stick with a single set of all-season tires.
What if there was a third option?
The All-Season Compromise
Summer tires – also known as high performance tires – use special rubber compounds and tread patterns designed to stick to the road like glue during warm weather. Winter tires are designed with traction-grabbing tread patterns and sipes, and they are made with a rubber compound that stays supple even when the mercury drops.
All-season tires, however, are a peculiar beast. Intended to offer average handling and braking in the summer driving and when there’s an occasional dusting of snow, they aren’t specialized enough to excel in any one area. They also don’t offer the same cold weather grip as a winter tire. When the temperature plummets, the rubber in an all-season design stiffens, reducing traction and performance across the board.
The All-Weather Option
All-weather tires attempt to add some of the special cold weather ability offered by winter tires into a design that can still be used in the summer without damaging the rubber compound, or compromising safety. Tread blocks are both straight and angled, in order to adequately channel water while still gripping snow. The rubber that they are made out of is also capable of retaining its hold on the road even in the depths of January or February. They aren’t quite at the same level of a dedicated winter tire when dealing with snow and ice, but they definitely surpass all-season designs.
Are They Right For You?
Generally speaking, all-weather tires will outperform all-season tires in the winter, but they will also wear faster due to the design of the rubber compound that is used. This said, the best and safest tire strategy is to drive on summer tires in the summer, and winter tires in the winter. While it might seem like a big investment to make up front, two sets of tires will last you longer than a single set because wear will be distributed across both.