Winter, all-weather and all-season tires perform in different ways

The first time you drive on freshly fallen, calf-high snow with winter tires is pretty satisfying. While the car next to you is slip-sliding, your tires grasp the road with a vice-like grip.

It’s like your treads have teeth and they’re chomp, chomp, chomping through snow and slush to gain traction. Suddenly, you are much more connected to the road and a whole lot safer.

How the rubber hits the road

The right tire is literally a matter of how the rubber hits a cold, snowy road:

  • Winter tires have softer rubber, which means they grip better on snow.
  • All-weather tires are designed to grip at temperatures above and below 7° C––they have excellent grip on all kinds of road conditions: bare and wet asphalt, slush, ice and snow.
  • All-season tires, which many argue are only three-season tires, are made from a harder rubber compound that loses traction around 7° C. That’s right: seven degrees above freezing.

Tire Talk - What's the Difference?

Tread counts too. Winter and all-weather tires have what the tire industry calls ‘aggressive tread design and siping.’

Aggressive tread design translates to a deep and pronounced tread and siping is fine slits in the tread. Together, these bite into snow and push out water and slush.

For more information, see the Alberta Motor Association’s story The Cold Truth About Winter Tires.

An unnecessary risk

You could call the tread in all-season tires passive. It’s lower in profile and designed to reduce noise and give you a low rolling resistance ride during warm temperatures.

In cool and cold temperatures, the tread can become clogged with snow and slush and when that happens it’s a slippery ride. And slippery can be downright dangerous, especially when turning and braking.

“Too many people put themselves––and others––at unnecessary risk because they think their all-season tires will have enough grip,” says Rick Walters, the fleet safety program manager for British Columbia’s Road Safety at Work program.

“Some believe that because they have all-wheel drive and all-season tires, they’re good to go in winter. But without winter or all-weather tires, they just don’t have the traction.”

And traction and performance are what you want in winter.

Performance ratings for tires

On its website, Kal Tire compares all-weather, all-season and winter tires. Here are the top-performing tires for a variety of winter conditions:

  • Wet ice (temp below 7° C): studded winter tires.
  • Rough ice (temp below 7° C): studded winter tires.
  • Soft snow (temp below 7° C): unstudded winter tires.
  • Wet asphalt (temp above and below 7° C): all-weather tires.
  • Stability on asphalt (temp above and below 7° C): all-weather tires.
  • Stability on asphalt (temp above 7° C): all-season tire.

A small price for safety

If the cost of winter and all-weather tires is holding you back from slapping on a set of four this winter, Walters offers this advice: they’re a small price to pay compared to losing control, damaging your vehicle or injuring yourself or someone else.

And then there’s the thrill of your first time driving on good snow tires.