Summer vs All-Season vs Winter Tires

Summer vs All-Season vs Winter Tires

Last Updated August 8, 2023 | Alison Smith

Most new cars from the factory come fitted with all-season tires. All-season tires are versatile, but summer or winter tires may be more appropriate depending on the season and where you live.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, 24% of weather-related accidents each year happen on slushy, snowy, or icy roads. Knowing the difference between summer, all-season, and winter tires can prevent the chances of an accident and even save your life. But there are some cases where a set of winter tires might just be overkill.

Difference Between All-Season, Summer, & Winter Tires

The main difference between all-season, summer, and winter tires is how they perform in different driving conditions.

All-Season Tires

All-season tires are good year-round in many climates, combining aspects of both summer and winter tires. They use a firm rubber that stiffens at lower temperatures but doesn’t soften when it starts to warm up.

The treads have shallow grooves that function well on both wet and dry pavement. They’re best used in areas where it normally stays above freezing and where snow melts quickly. While they can handle ice and snow, they aren’t really designed for extensive winter driving.

Summer Tires

Summer tires are designed for warm weather. They can be used in the summer months or all year long in warmer climates. A hard rubber construction with shallow grooves and treads makes for a smooth, quiet ride.

Summer tires handle well on both wet and dry roads as long as the temperature is above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the temperature dips below that, the hard rubber loses traction. They won’t get much traction in snow or ice, which is why they should only be used in warmer temperatures.

Winter Tires

While summer tires are more suited for the warmer months, winter tires work best at temperatures below 45 degrees. They handle well in dry and wet conditions, including snow and ice. The treads are designed to push slush and snow away from the tire while it’s moving down the road.

Winter tires don’t last as long as summer or all-season tires because the rubber is softer. But on the plus side, they’re only needed for a few months out of the year in most cases.

Chart comparing handling, longevity, cost, and other features of winter, all-season, and summer tires

Stopping Distance

The stopping distance of each tire depends on the road conditions and varies for each type and brand.

Winter tires stop relatively well in both dry or wet conditions, having the best stopping distance in the snow. Summer tires stop the best on both dry and wet roads above 45 degrees, but they’re easily the worst on snowy roads. All-season tires have the least stopping power on wet roads but are much better in snow compared to summer tires.

Average Stopping Distance: All-Season vs Summer vs Winter Tires
Road Conditions All-Season Tires Summer Tires Winter Tires
Dry (60 mph) 131 feet 120 feet 155 feet
Wet (60 mph) 215 feet 157 feet 181 feet
Snowy (40 mph) 184 feet 351 feet 156 feet

Chart comparing all-season, winter, and summer tire stopping distances on wet, dry, and snowy pavement

Do You Need Winter Tires?

Whether you need winter tires or not really depends on the climate where you live.

If you live in an area where sub-45-degree weather and snow is common, then winter tires might be a good investment. If it’s cold but doesn’t snow very often, a set of all-season tires may be more suitable.

For areas that get heavy snow, winter tires are going to offer the best traction possible. In cold or icy conditions, winter tires are the clear winner when it comes to driving in the snow.

Illustration of three cars with all-season, summer, and winter tires showing cornering performance

Tire Usage by Location

Southern states like Florida, Georgia, and parts of Texas and California can mostly use summer or all-season tires year-round. As you go up north, you’ll start to see more and more states where all-season or winter tires are the norm in colder months.

The northernmost parts of the country, as well as a good chunk of the Midwest, rely on winter tires to make it through the snowy season. Alaskans, of course, rely on winter tires for a large part of the year, while Hawaiians enjoy warm weather and only use summer or all-season tires.

Map of the United States showing where all-season, winter, and summer tires are used

Can You Use Winter Tires in Summer?

Technically, you can use winter tires in the summer although it’s not recommended. Because the rubber in winter tires are designed for colder temperatures, heat can wear the tread out faster. That means you may not have great traction when winter rolls around again. Handling won’t be as good, either.

Can You Use Summer Tires in Winter?

Just as winter tires aren’t recommended for summer usage, the same can be said for summer tires in winter. When the temperature starts dipping below 45 degrees, the rubber is going to stiffen and lose traction. It’s also possible for the tire to chip or crack due to the cold.

Summer tires also don’t have the deep treads or sipes like winter tires, which makes it hard to get traction in snowy or icy conditions. Summer tires have a lower rolling resistance, which helps keep them quiet and easy to handle. But in winter weather, it will make it harder to accelerate and brake.

When Should Tires Be Replaced?

The traditional recommendation is to replace tires when the treads reach 2/32” deep. If you can tuck a penny in the tread and see the top of Abe Lincoln’s head, it’s time to change the tires. When they wear to that point, there isn’t enough tread left to stop the car effectively, especially at higher speeds.

To easily measure 4/32”, just swap out the penny for a quarter. There is about 4/32” between the edge of the coin and the top of George Washington’s head.

One stopping test compared two sets of tires: one worn to 2/32 of an inch and the other to 4/32 of an inch. Not surprisingly, the stopping distance of the 2/32” tires took 100 more feet and over a second longer to come to a stop than the 4/32” tires. Tires can be expensive to replace, but changing them sooner rather than later is the safest bet.

Winter tires need a bit more tread and should be changed when they wear down to 6/32” of tread. The softer rubber of winter tires needs more tread to work effectively in snowy and icy conditions.

Close up of tire treads worn at different amounts to show when tires need to be replaced

How Can You Make Tires Last Longer?

Buying new tires every year can get expensive. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to extend the life of your tires and mitigate the risk of tire punctures and patching:

  • If you do use summer or winter tires, don’t drive on them year-round. Winter tires aren’t designed to be used when the average temperature is above 45 degrees as the rubber will become too soft. Likewise, summer tires will start to lose traction under 45 degrees.
  • Always use the same type of tire on all four wheels. Don’t mix-and-match winter with all-season tires. You’ll only end up compromising traction, and the tires will wear unevenly.

Graphic detailing how to extend the life of your tires, such as not using winter tires year-round

Which Tires are Best for You?

It all boils down to where you live, the average temperature, and levels of wintry precipitation. You may find yourself needing a set of summer and winter tires or decide to use all-season tires all year long. Almost all cars in the U.S. come with all-season tires from the factory, and the replacement tires are the same 97.5% of the time. If you end up purchasing white letter tires, check out our guide on how to remove the blue coloring from your new tires.

If you'd like to share the images above, we've combined them into this full Tire Comparison Infographic.

Sources: Winter/Snow Tires vs. All-Season Tires: How They Compare, Consumer Reports | Tires, NHTSA | Summer Tires vs All-Season Tires: Which Are Best for You?, Les Schwab | Tire Test: All-Season vs Snow vs Summer, Edmunds | What Happens When You Use Winter Tires Year Round, KalTire | Tire Test Results, Tire Rack | Differences in Types of Seasonal Tires | Know Your Tires: All-Season vs Summer, Popular Mechanics

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