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Winter Tires vs. All Season Tires

Winter Tires vs All Season Tires
Tire technology has come a long way in the last 20 or so years, and the big heavy-treaded “snow tires” (aka “mud grips”) of years past are pretty much gone. Newer winter tires offer great traction and handling in a tire that also has low noise and civilized road manners. But what’s the difference between a winter tire and an all-season tire?

All-season tires, on the other hand, are built with different tread compounds and tread patterns, and are usually quieter and better-riding than most winter tires. All-season tires and winter tires both now are designed with sipes, rows of tiny grooves cut into the tread. As the tire rotates through water or snow, the sipes provide thousands of biting edges to dig in and provide traction.

It’s important to remember that winter tires are not designed to be driven at temperatures above about 40 degrees – dry pavement and warmer temperatures will scrub off the tread and cause them to wear out prematurely.

If you’re trying to decide whether you need winter tires or not, the first question to ask yourself is how much snow and ice do you normally see over the winter? If you only get occasional light snow and cold temps, you can probably get by just fine with all-weather tires through the winter months. 

  • Winter tire formulations are designed to stay flexible at sub-freezing temperatures. Flexibility is important for traction, and all-season tires tend to stiffen up at extremely low temperatures.
  • Some winter tires can be fitted with rows of metallic studs for traction in extreme conditions (although studs are outlawed in many states).
  • Winter tires tend to have a more aggressive tread pattern, or sometimes several distinct sections to the tread that each serve a different function for different road conditions.
  • Winter tires often have circumferential grooves that are designed to channel snow, water and slush away from the tire’s contact patch; sometimes these grooves are polished to move the water more efficiently and prevent hydroplaning.