Winter Tires vs Summer Tires

For a long time now there have been debates regarding the effectiveness of winter tires - Is it worth your hard earned money to change from your all-seasons to use winter tires when the snow falls? Since they say "all season", doesn't that mean that the tires are good for summer and winter?

We can say for certain that it is worth your money and time to replace your tires with winter ones before the snow hits. All season tires may be adequate in other places in North America, but not here in Alberta.The rubber used to make all season tires are designed to handle temperatures above zero. Once the temperature reaches zero the tread on the all season tires begin to harden, this results in the loss of its grip. Winter tires typically have at least 20% to 25% better grip than all seasons - resulting in on average, a 45 feet difference in stopping distance when driving on ice at 60 Km/h.

There are three main types of winter tires

All three are designed to meet the demanding nature of cold conditions, ice, and snow. They do however differ in performance in snow and ice and comfort. It is always best to choose a good mix of both to provide you with a comfortable drive all winter.
  • Performance winter tires
    Performance winter tires are designed to give drivers extra grip and handling on dry and icy roads. They will handle winter conditions well in comparison to all season tires, however they do not provide as much traction as stud-less or studded tires. Performance winter tires are best used on dry roads, they can handle a little snow and ice on the road. This is usually alright during most of the winter but during winter storms with lots of snowfall and black ice appearing on bridges you may find yourself in a dangerous situation.

  • Stud-able winter tires These usually contain anywhere from 80 - 100 metal studs protruding out of the tire about 1.5 millimetres. The studs are usually made out of a hard metal such as tungsten. This type of winter tire performs the best out of all the winter tire types, however due to the metal studs this tire has its disadvantages as well. The noise that comes from these tires can be incredibly loud. The ride is also affected; metal is not as flexible as rubber and thus cannot absorb the shock of the bumps on the road. Stud-able winter tires make for a noisy and uncomfortable ride but more than makes up for it on icy roads with its superior traction. In many places, studded tires are illegal. Here in Alberta its uses along with tire chains are permitted but are reserved for extreme winter driving conditions.

  • Stud-less winter tires Rather new and quite popular is the stud-less winter tire. It's composed of a very soft rubber. At a microscopic level this rubber is actually porous. The effect is that the tires grip the ground providing traction that is close to that of studded tires. Stud-less tires use the entire contact pitch to grip the ground and provide traction, many also have clever tread designs that dig and claw through snow. These types of tires work very well in winter conditions, almost as well as studded tires, however they are much less noisy and will also provide a nice and smooth ride.

So when should I change my tires?

As we mentioned before all seasons and summer tires will lose their traction at about 0 degrees. Using the temperature can be the best way to judge when to change your tires. In Calgary we could have snow in September but then its right back to plus 20 in the same week. Wait until the temperatures at night get down to about minus 5 consistently, at this point make sure you book an appointment with your mechanic as soon as possible to replace your tires with winter ones.

Another aspect to consider is the fact that winter tires are designed for colder temperatures. This means that winter tires do not handle warm weather well. When the temperature rises to about 15 or so degrees the rubber will wear faster on the asphalt. Make sure you take care to change your tires at the appropriate time. The perfect time is different from year to year. Remember to use the temperature as a guide changing your tires. The temperature is always a sure way to tell when it is the right time.

Tips and Tricks

  • Many people will wait until the last minute before changing their tires. Make sure you change your tires before the big storm.
  • Book with your mechanic ahead of time; try to get them when they are not yet busy.
  • If you have an extra set of rims for your car you can save time and money by having a winter set and summer set. That way all you have to do is change the actual wheel, this can be done at home.
  • During severe weather conditions that last for a long time even winter tires themselves can be sold out. Make sure you check your tires every season and inspect for wear and tear. Purchase new ones and store them in your garage for when your old tires bald (wear out).
  • Some vehicles have a lock nut. Unless you have this part your will not be able to take off your tires.