Winter tires are specifically designed to handle cold weather and ice. They have less tread depth, but compensate with grooves that are specifically shaped to squeeze out as much traction as possible in wintry conditions. Not only that, but the special rubber compound these tires are made from stays supple at low temperatures—while all-season tires stiffen up and don’t grip the road well.
While winter tires may help you stop on a dime in the snow, all-season and summer tires offer better handling and braking performance for other seasons because of their shallow treads and limited amount of rubber: both of these features reduce friction and therefore make it easier for your car to accelerate quickly or smoothly turn corners. In snowy conditions, however, this lack of tire texture makes it more difficult for your car to slow down without sliding or skidding.
Understanding Tread Direction and Compound
Tread direction is an important aspect of tire performance, but it’s not the only factor to consider. Tread compound is also integral when picking the right tire for you. Compound refers to a blend of rubber, additives and other ingredients that are molded into a tire when it is manufactured. Different compounds are used in the manufacturing of different kinds of tires. For example, winter tires have softer compounds designed to retain flexibility even at freezing temperatures, while all-season tires have harder compounds so they wear longer and provide better dry handling.
Even within a certain type of tire—say one intended for winter use—tires can be made from different compounds optimized for driving on different surfaces, be it snow or ice or slush or hard-packed snow. The tread pattern plays a large role in how your tires interact with these types of surfaces—and so does tread compound.
When to Use Winter Tires and Why You Shouldn’t Use Them in the Summer
Winter tires are designed to be used in the winter. When you see snow, ice, or temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius on your commute to work, it’s time to put them on.
What makes winter tires unique is the rubber compound they use. In the summer months, the rubber is too soft and would wear down very quickly if you were to drive on a dry road for an extended period of time at normal speeds. On top of that, If you were to drive above 80km/h for any length of time with winter tires on, you’d risk having them disintegrate as well!
Even though all-season tires have an M+S (Mud and Snow) designation from the RMA (Rubber Manufacturer Association), they don’t compare with winter tire performance even in mild winter conditions.
The Science of Winter Tires
Winter tires are made of a soft rubber compound that remains pliable in cold temperatures, giving it better grip on the road. This is the key difference between winter tires and all-season tires, which have a harder compound that loses traction in cold temperatures.
Using these would be like eating ice cream with chopsticks. It’s just not going to work out well.
Why Should I Buy Winter Tires?
- Winter tires are safer.
A traction compound called polymeric tire rubber provides a flexible grip on cold roads. The polymers in winter tires remain soft and pliable, even at temperatures of -40C, compared to all-season tires that harden as the temperature drops.
- Winter tires provide better traction.
The polymeric tire rubber used in winter tires allows for improved traction and grip on snow, ice, slush and wet surfaces, resulting in better handling and braking performance than all-season or summer tires. As the temperature dips into the negatives, your vehicle will experience a substantial decrease in grip if you’re not driving with winter or all-weather tires.
- Winter tires provide increased safety.
With a shorter stopping distance from winter conditions, your ability to control steering is also important when driving with winter tires at high speeds over potentially slippery roads (like highways). Because of the enhanced steering performance of winter tires over all-season or summer ones, these types of tires keep you safer during your journey so you can drive fearlessly knowing that even if there is some unexpected ice on the road ahead of you, your car will be able to handle it like a champ!
Can I Use Winter Tires During the Summer?
Absolutely not. While summer tires and winter tires are both designed to optimize their respective seasons, all-season tires are designed for safe driving in any season. Winter tires are not designed for summer conditions. They will give you a less stable ride, and they will wear out faster than an all-season tire would.
Winter tires have specific features that make them useful in cold weather, but those same features make them dangerous in warm weather. For example, winter tires are softer than summer or all-season tires due to the rubber compound used to make them. And even though that softness gives you greater grip on snow or ice, it means your winter tire won’t wear as long as an all-season tire would if you use it in the summer (or vice versa).
Winter tires also have a unique tread design that is not suited to warm weather driving at higher speeds. The tread is formulated specifically with snow and ice traction in mind and includes sipes—tiny grooves cut into the tread blocks—to help grip slushy roads. But while these grooves can improve traction on snow by channeling moisture away from the tire so it stays in contact with the road beneath, they can actually cause hydroplaning when driving on wet roads because water can’t be channeled away fast enough from your tire’s contact patch at higher speeds.
Winter tires are specialized and not to be used year round.
BEST PRACTICE: Winter tires have a specialized tread design that’s designed to grab snow and icy surfaces. They will wear out much faster at higher temperatures. All-season tires are your best bet if you’re going to drive in the warm weather, but they may not be able to handle the extreme cold of winter as well as winter-specific tires.