All Season vs Summer Tires

Last updated 6/09/2023 - Originally published 6/09/2023
Written by SimpleTire

For most drivers, all-season tires are the way to go. Premium all-season tires are designed to get the job done whether it’s hot or cold, wet or dry, with dependable traction in rain or light snow. They’ll deliver handling, cornering, and steering response that’s precise and predictable, along with good straight-line stability and road manners on the highway, a supple ride, superb braking traction, and low noise thanks to a tread pitch that’s computer-tuned to cancel certain frequencies and resonances and keep droning road noise to a minimum. Most premium all-season tires also are covered by a generous treadwear warranty; with today’s tread compounds, that can be as long as 80,000 or 90,000 miles (far more than tires from a generation ago). For a lot of drivers, that checks all the boxes and meets their expectations – wet or dry performance, braking traction, handling, ride, noise levels, tread life.

But then there are drivers of sporty sedans, coupes and crossovers who want that little extra edge in performance, and all-season tires just don’t quite fit the bill for them. That’s where summer/ultra-high-performance tires come in.

The difference between summer and all-season tires

Here are a few of the big differences between summer and all-season tire designs.

Summer tires:

  • Softer, “stickier” tread formulation that adheres to pavement better on warmer days for improved cornering, braking, and steering response
  • Wider, flatter footprint for improved handling and braking (in some cases)
  • Shallower tread depth and different tread design (this can vary a lot from one make/model of summer tire to another)
  • Higher speed ratings (in some cases)
  • Good resistance to hydroplaning, but performance on dry pavement is prioritized
  • More responsive steering, cornering, and overall handling performance
  • Shorter sidewall profile and more rigid sidewall for sharper cornering

All-season tires:

  • Deeper tread grooves and more complex groove patterns
  • Solid center rib enhances steering response, straight-line stability and road manners on the highway
  • Good warm-weather performance, but maybe not as “sticky” as summer/UHP tires on the corners
  • Good performance in winter weather, at least in light snow or slush

When you take all these bullet points into account, you see that all-season tires are designed as a compromise and a jack-of-all-trades. Their tread compound might not be as sticky as summer tires, but it’s also designed for cold-weather traction and longer service life. These are trade-offs that are usually acceptable to most drivers, but maybe not for drivers who like to carve the corners and push the envelope on highway offramps or twisty roads.

Summer vs all-season tires fuel economy

This is a very loose, general rule-of-thumb, but unless you’re talking about super-sticky and soft track tires, summer tires create less friction and rolling resistance. That means your engine and drivetrain don’t have to work as hard to keep your vehicle headed down the road, which means a bump in fuel economy.

That said, there are also plenty of all-season tires that are designed with internal structures, tread compounds and tread patterns that deliver low rolling resistance and improved fuel economy. Shop carefully and read the fine print on the tires you’re looking for!

Summer vs all-season tires in rain

All-season tires are designed with circumferential tread grooves to channel water away from the tire’s contact patch to resist hydroplaning and boost wet-weather traction. Summer tires are generally designed with shallower tread grooves and a different pattern of sipes (the hair-thin slits in a tire’s tread that add hundreds of extra biting edges to up the game on wet traction). However, the stickier tread formulation also helps improve traction on wet pavement. In some cases, summer tires actually can deliver better performance on wet days than all-season tires do.

Summer vs all-season tires tread life

There’s a pretty big difference when it comes to tread life for summer tires vs. all-season tires. All-season tires are designed for longer tread life, and their deeper grooves mean you can get more miles out of a tire before it wears down to the minimum 2/32” depth that’s prescribed by law as a cutoff point. Summer tires, with their shallower grooves and softer rubber, are going to wear down faster – in most cases, summer/UHP tires aren’t even covered by a tread life warranty. In addition, some tire makers advise replacing summer tires when tread depth hits 4/32” rather than 2/32”, just to be on the safe side.

A set of all-season tires can deliver tread life anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 miles or more, while summer tires might only last 30,000 to 40,000 miles before they’re due for replacement.

When to use each

Here’s a hard-and-fast rule. Throughout this blog, we’ve talked about how summer/UHP tires have a soft, pliable tread compound. In some cases, that can mean something as soft as a pencil eraser – soft enough that you can press your thumbnail into the sidewall and it will leave an indentation. That’s great for traction on hot days, but when it gets colder that rubber is going to stiffen up and lose its grip (think the traction of the sole of a rubber boot vs that of a hard rubber hockey puck). Tire manufacturers advise that summer/UHP tires should NOT be used if temperatures are consistently below 45 degrees Fahrenheit because performance can get pretty inconsistent or downright treacherous.

All-season tires don’t present that problem. They’re designed to keep their flexibility and keep their shape through extremes of hot and cold temperatures, which is part of their appeal for most drivers. If you live in a place that’s hot year-round, you can probably get by with summer tires 12 months out of the year, but most of us don’t live in places that are that hot all through the year.

Which one should you choose?

This takes us back to where we started. If you’re the kind of driver who relies on your sedan, coupe, minivan, or crossover for everyday commutes, errands, grocery runs, and road trips (with the occasional bout of spirited driving), chances are all-season tires are the perfect choice for you. They’re comfortable, capable, dependable and a great all-around value for all months out of the year, with the exception of deep snow or ice where only dedicated winter tires will get the job done.

But, if you’ve got a sporty vehicle (or at least sporty aspirations) and you like to legally push the envelope whenever you have a chance, maybe you should think about summer/UHP tires for the extra edge they can give you in cornering, steering response, and braking performance. Just be aware of their limitations – shorter tread life and a rubber compound that’s only suitable for warmer months.

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