Most new cars from the factory come fitted with all-season tires. All-season tires are versatile, but summer or
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,
icy roads. Knowing the difference between summer, all-season, and winter tires can prevent the chances of an
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 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 are designed for warm weather. They can be used in the summer months or all year long in warmer
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
temperature dips below that, the hard rubber loses traction. They won’t get much traction in snow or ice, which is
they should only be used in warmer temperatures.
While summer tires are more suited for the warmer months, winter tires work best at temperatures below 45 degrees.
handle well in dry and wet conditions, including snow and ice. The treads are designed to push slush and snow away
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.
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.
tires stop the best on both dry and wet roads above 45 degrees, but they’re easily the worst on snowy roads.
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
|Dry (60 mph)
|Wet (60 mph)
|Snowy (40 mph)
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.
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
winter tires are the clear winner when it comes to cornering.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
- If you do use summer or winter tires, don’t drive on them year-round. Winter tires aren’t designed to be used
average temperature is above 45 degrees as the rubber will become too soft. Likewise, summer tires will start to
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
up compromising traction, and the tires will wear unevenly.
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
needing a set of summer and winter tires or decide to use all-season tires all year long. Almost all cars in the
come with all-season tires from the factory, and the replacement tires are the same 97.5% of the time.
If you'd like to share the images above, we've combined them into this full Tire Comparison Infographic.
Sources: Consumer Reports, U.S. Department of Transportation, Les Schwab, Edmunds, Kal Tire, Tire Rack, Michelin, Federal Highway
Administration, Popular Mechanics