All-Season, All-Weather, or Winter Tires – What’s the Difference?!
Now that we are well into Fall, Thanksgiving 2016 is all but a distant memory and Halloween has now arrived. While these dates on the calendar give us plenty of reasons to celebrate the onslaught of fall, they also make it all too easy for us to avoid the looming task of switching to our winter tires before the weather truly turns nasty.
There’s some confusion surrounding the topic of winter tires and whether or not they are mandatory, or even necessary, in some areas of British Columbia, which is another reason a lot of drivers avoid the issue until they see the season’s first snow flake.
A part of the confusion lies with the many options and price points out there at any given time of year. Car and truck drivers can now choose between all-season, all-weather, and winter tires.
At Searles we figured this to be the perfect time of year to take a deep dive into the subject of winter tires in Victoria (and the rest of BC), and whether or not you need them.
Types of Tires: The Differences
There are many ways tires differ. Aside from the obvious size element, tires range significantly in the material they are made of as well as their tread design. There is a misconception amongst drivers that tread design and thickness is the only thing that makes a winter tire a winter tire, but there is more to this equation. The material the tire is made of also heavily influences how it stacks up against the elements.
For example, winter tires are made of a softer rubber compound than their all-weather counterparts. This softer rubber compound is designed to perform best when temperatures fall below 7°C, regardless of how much snow is on the ground.
This factor of temperature is the biggest reason why it’s recommended to use winter tires in Victoria BC and many parts of BC starting in October. To some drivers, especially us on Vancouver Island, the date seems quite far away from the snow and icy weather, but it’s actually the ambient temperatures that affect a tire’s performance the most.
Here’s a brief rundown on the common types of tires auto mechanics end up discussing with car owners:
All-season tires, or just simply “all seasons” refer to your daily-use, run-of-the-mill tires—they are perfect for everyday driving during the spring, summer, and fall. Designed to provide a comfortable ride and be the longest-lasting option, all-season tires are great for the pocketbook but aren’t reliable whatsoever for winter driving.
Since they aren’t suitable for winter, some manufacturers have begun referring to all-season tires as “three-season” tires in an attempt to not miss-lead consumers.
All-season tires do not bear the severe service winter tire designation—a three-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol set by the Rubber Association of Canada—and many budget brands also lack the newer M+S symbol for mud and snow. If a tire lacks both symbols on their sidewalls, they do not qualify as allowable for BC’s mountainous passes where road signs mandating the use of winter tires are posted.
Within the all-season tire category, there are dozens of options for drivers, depending on their type of vehicle, geographic location, personal preference, and budget. But in general all-season tires:
- Are ideal for warm, dry and (mild) wet conditions. They are not to be used when temperatures drop below 7°C.
- Are made of a harder rubber compound that leads to longer life, but doesn’t adhere to slick roads as well as all-weather or winter tires.
- Have a simple tread pattern that is relatively straight with minimal siping (thin, horizontal slats on each tread).
All-weather tires bridge the gap between all-season tires and winter tires. They are perfect for many Canadian drivers who live in relatively mild climates and within city limits. They are also great for people in Victoria who can make alternate plans when the roads really start to ice over and the snow starts falling for those few days a year!
The all-weather tire’s superiority over all-season tires mean they qualify drivers to drive on mountainous passes in the wintertime without getting stopped or turned around by authorities, but they still aren’t the best option for commuters when the weather gets rough.
All-weather tires bear the M+S symbol for mud and snow, and often the three-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol, so they absolutely qualify drivers for BC’s mountainous passes where road signs are posted.
All-weather tires also:
- Are better at handling mild winter driving conditions like light snowfall, light rainfall, and slush. They are suitable for use even when temperatures drop below 7°C.
- Are made of a softer rubber compound that is better at gripping wet, cold roads.
- Have a smart tread pattern that is a bit more complex that treading on all-season tires, as well as more numerous siping on each tread that helps limit snow buildup on the tires.
If you’re not planning on leaving the Greater Victoria area any time soon, you’ll likely be able to get by on all-weather tires for the duration of the wet weather upon us, but any trip north of the Malahat is going to require the use of winter tires between October 1 and March 31.
Winter tires provide enhanced braking performance in snowy and icy conditions, making them the top choice for driving on icy roads and on snow-packed back roads. Studded winter tires elevate a vehicle’s performance even further, as do chains if you find yourself having to drive some precarious conditions every winter.
Winter tires bear the M+S symbol for mud and snow, and the three-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol, so they absolutely qualify drivers for BC’s mountainous passes where road signs are posted. In summary, winter tires:
- Are best at handling the most hazardous winter driving conditions such as freezing rain, heavy snowfall, and black ice. They excel when temperatures are below 7°C.
- Are made of a softer, more flexible rubber compound that helps conform to and grip the roads.
- Have specialized tread and siping patterns that help wick away water when needed, and splay and grip snow and ice as necessary. Note that the Province of BC mandates that tires must have 3.5 mm of tread remaining to be considered winter tires.
Although having winter tires requires a driver to switch their all-weather/all-season tires out every year, many drivers find that winter tires provide them with a stronger sense of confidence and control on the roads when the winter weather conditions hit. In our opinion, this boost in confidence makes winter tires a great investment for any driver who is considering them.
For more information on winter tires and why they are worth it, check out the Globe and Mail’s 14 Reasons to Ditch Your All-season Tires for the Winter. This engaging article by national driving columnist Peter Cheney is a convincing read.
Additional Winter Tire Tips
- For best performance, make sure you have at least two matching winter tires on the primary drive axle.
- Better yet, have four matching tires on the four outside corners of the vehicle.
- Don’t drive on tires that have different tread patterns, as this can compromise stability.
- Remember to maintain proper air pressure, which extends tread life and improves safety. Check the tire pressure least once a month, when the tires are cold.
- Always store your second set of tires properly to protect your investment and maintain the integrity of the tires.
If you end up going the route of investing in a set of winter tires, check out our post, Seasonal Storage Tips For Your Tires, which highlights a new service at Searles: affordable storage for your seasonal spare tires.
Pricing for this new service at Searles starts at $25.00 for four tires and rims. This rate guarantees you climate-controlled tire storage for up to six months. Call us today to learn more!
Optimizing your experience on the roads is what we do best here at Searles. A large part of this involves making sure your vehicle has the best tires for the weather and road conditions in Victoria, BC. Give us a call at 1-250-475-2000 or book an appointment online for your next inspection or service, where we take a good look at the current state of your tires.