All-season vs. winter tires

Local automotive retailers have been running ads promoting winter versus all-season tires. My mechanic has always said all-seasons are fine.

In Quebec, drivers have to install winter tires, but what about elsewhere? Can I get by with all seasons?


1. All-season tires are primarily made of a rubber compound that is hard in order to promote long tread life. Try the squeeze test the next time you walk by a store’s rack of tires -snows are considerably softer. When outside temperatures drop to -7 to -10 C, these harder compounds lose traction, even on dry, clear pavement. In the case of panic stops, the results can be disastrous.

2. All-season tires, for the most part, have tight-closed tread face designs that are very poor at providing traction in snow or slush and can easily become packed with snow reducing their grip to almost nothing.

3. Snow tires are designed with a softer rubber formula to remain flexible in sub-zero temps, providing superior traction and grip over a variety of road surfaces. They have more aggressive and open tread designs to improve power transfer and to clear snow and slush from the tread grooves.

4. Our neighbours in Quebec have just analysed the results of the first full winter season of mandatory snow tire use (for those vehicles registered in that province) and have recorded an 18-per-cent drop in collisions.


1. We walk on two feet, most creatures on four, and our daily drivers roll on four wheels. Putting only two snows on a front-wheel drive will create a motorized skate that will spin out on the slightest turn or swerve, and putting two on the back of a rear-wheel drive will give great acceleration, but minimal steering and braking performance. And four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles stop and steer like every other car on the road; without winter tires, they don’t.

2. If you have 18-inch or larger tires on a passenger car, consider downsizing with a smaller tire and rim package. If it’s possible on your car, it can actually save money with lower rubber acquisition costs, and much lower service fees for seasonal installations.

3. Installing four, already mounted tires usually costs about 25 per cent of the charges for dismounting, remounting, and rebalancing a complete set. Check with your dealership or tire retailer for advice.

4. Stay away from multi-fit rims designed for more than one make or model. These seldom provide the correct offset for proper steering geometry, and few have the all-important “hub-centric” feature that automatically centres the wheel correctly on the vehicle’s wheel hubs even before the wheel nuts are tightened.

5. If the original tire size for your vehicle has a limited or expensive choice, consider optional sizing. By changing the width and sidewall height specs, you may come up with a less expensive yet better snow performer (narrower tires generally grip better in snow). Again, check with your retailer or service provider, as selecting a size that has too much variance from the original equipment in terms of total circumference can play havoc with electronic transmission, anti-lock brakes, or stability control systems, not to mention speedometer accuracy.

6. Check the want-ads for deals on used snow tires. Almost every new car buyer discovers their old snows won’t fit and they never seem to remember to include them with the trade-in.

Brian Turner is an automotive parts and service manager with more than 30 years experience.

Photograph by: Montreal Gazette