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Winter Tire and All Season Tire installation in Holliston, MA.
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BDR Automotive

The Ultimate Guide to Winter Tires vs All Season Tires

You may not be aware that when you buy a new car, your vehicle may be fitted with all-season tires when it leaves the factory. All-season tires offer versatile year-round performance, a relatively quiet ride, and good tread life. They are designed to perform on wet roads and in light winter driving. They are a combination of summer tires and winter tires and blend the benefits of both. 

A compromise of capabilities

All-season tires inevitably must compromise some maximum performance proficiencies in order to provide good performance in a variety of driving conditions. This means that an all-season tire is not designed to handle extreme winter conditions like driving through snow or driving on ice. Think of it like this: if you select one type of shoe to wear all year long, you might choose a pair of sneakers. You can wear sneakers in all types of weather, but they are not ideal.  You would be better off in flip-flops in the summer and boots in the winter.

If you live in a moderate climate without snow, cold, and ice in the winter months, an all-season set of tires may offer great year-round performance. However, if you live in the Northeast or in a region that frequently sees temperatures dip below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, you would be better served with a set of winter or snow tires.

Engineered for dangerous winter conditions

Winter roads are extremely unpredictable. From heavy snowfall to black ice, winter conditions challenge tires to provide maximum traction. Cold temperatures combine with ice and snow to make driving dangerous without the right tires. Winter (snow) tires are specially designed to perform in these winter conditions.

The following special features make winter tires unique and ideal for winter driving:

The tread rubber: In extreme cold temperatures, the tread rubber of an all season or summer tire stiffens and becomes less able to provide sufficient traction. Tread rubber compounds of winter tires are designed to remain flexible, allowing the tire to grip the road better.

Biting edges: Winter tires have an increased number of biting edges and thousands of tiny slits (sipe densities) in the tread that provide traction on ice.

Tread patterns and depth: Winter tires have unique tread patterns designed to channel snow and slush and to expel water. Deeper tread depths reduce snow buildup and provide better traction in snow.

Some high-end winter tires feature a proprietary multi-cell compound that acts as a sponge to help remove the thin layer of water that resides on ice and causes slippage. This feature also improves traction in icy conditions.

Testing winter tires vs all-season tires

Tire Rack, a national tire distributor headquartered in Indiana, recently conducted a head-to-head test of all-season tires vs winter tires, installed on a 2006 BMW E90 325i Sedans.

Performed during winter driving conditions on their test track, the test focused on original equipment all-season tires and aftermarket winter/snow tires. They used a rear-wheel drive BMW sedan equipped with new, full tread depth tires mounted on 16×7.5” wheels.

Before the test, they plowed, packed, and groomed the snow to provide a consistent surface to minimize the variables associated with driving in snow. They tested each pair of vehicles simultaneously and re-groomed the track repeatedly throughout the tests.

Acceleration comparison

This test measured the tires’ ability to provide traction when accelerating as quickly as possible in a straight line with the vehicle’s traction control working. The two cars were subject to a countdown to start and compared the time it took for their cars to accelerate 200 feet.  The winter tire crossed the finish line in just over 8 seconds, while the all-season tire needed 11 seconds.

It is not recommended that drivers accelerate as quickly as possible in snow when driving on the street, but this test demonstrated how much more traction the winter/snow tires provided when accelerating from a stop.

Braking comparison

Driving the two cars side-by-side at a speed of 30 mph, drivers were given a braking signal and then the distances it took to come to a complete stop were compared. The car with winter tires stopped at about 59 feet, while the all-season-equipped car took an additional 30 feet to stop.

Cornering comparison

This test measured the tires’ ability to provide traction during a 90-degree left-hand turn. The two cars were driven one behind the other at 15 mph and then increased their speeds on successive runs. At 25 mph, only the tire equipped with winter tires was able to complete the turn. The car with all-season tires slid off the road. 

The test’s conclusions

All-season tires may provide enough wintertime traction for the areas of the country that receive an occasional light snow. Winter/snow tires are the better alternative if nature is expected to provide slush, snow, ice, or deep and frequent snow.

Many of today’s vehicles are equipped with anti-lock brakes, traction control, and dynamic stability systems. None of these driving aids generate traction. They help to limit the vehicle’s acceleration, braking and cornering capabilities to the traction provided by the tires. They only help prevent drivers from over braking or overpowering the available traction of their tires. Sometimes that’s not enough. 

The only thing drivers can do to increase traction – to get more grip and control – is to install better tires.

Guidelines for winter tires

Winter/snow tires come in all different shapes and sizes. There are passenger car winter tires, high-performance winter tires, SUV winter tires, and truck tires. 

It is advised to only fit winter tires on your vehicle in sets of four. Just installing them on the front tires increases the likelihood that the rear tires will skid. If you install them only on the rear wheels, it could cause the front tires to lose traction and make steering impossible. 

Mounting them on a separate set of steel or alloy wheels is convenient as they are ready to be put on when winter arrives suddenly. Remember that winter tires are better in extreme winter conditions, but they will wear down faster on warm, dry pavement. Don’t forget to switch them to all-season tires when winter makes its exit and spring arrives.

If you have questions about what tires are best for your vehicle’s make and model, ask the professionals at BDR Automotive. Call us at 508-928-9065 or schedule an appointment with our service department to ensure winter driving safety for you and your family.

Jarred McGee
Jarred is not only an amazingly competent and capable technician, he is a confident leader and source of incredible knowledge. Known for being a tireless and dedicated technician, he is always friendly and professional, always willing to go the extra mile to ensure BDR customers leave with peace of mind about their vehicle. Jarred attended Mass Bay Community College where he earned his Associates Degree in Automotive Technology. He went on to receive a Toyota T-TEN Certificate while working in Toyota’s dealership system. Jarred has also worked at an auto-body repair shop that specialized in complex high-end vehicles such as the Tesla.

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