Goodyear changed the tire industry for the better in 1977 when it introduced the world’s first all-season tire. The all-new design quickly captured market share – drivers loved the idea of one set of tires that could work throughout the year.
Today, cars in North America predominantly ride on all-season tires. There are several reasons for that, but it all boils down to cost. All-season tires are cheap and very durable, thus very easy on the budget in the long run. They are also marketed as a solution for every season – spring, summer, fall, and winter.
However, there is an issue with how manufacturers market all-season tires. Tiremakers will tell you that they work on snowy and icy surfaces, but in reality, most all-season tires suffer. Even the best premium models suffer in deeper snow and over ice. Thus, in places with harsh wintry conditions, you’ll still need a set of winter tires to tackle those conditions. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of all-season tires? Of course!
Fortunately, Nokian, the winter tire expert, thought of another category called all-weather tires. You’ll find these tires mostly marketed as all-season tires since, in their core, they really are – they work throughout the year.
However, they aren’t exactly the same. As a matter of fact, there are some important differences between all-season and all-weather tires, which I’ll discuss in more detail below.
Fasten your seatbelts – this will be the most detailed comparison between the tire categories, where I’ll also list some tire samples. So, without further ado, let’s dig into the matter!
What are the Main Differences Between All-Season and All-Weather Tires?
In general, all-season and all-weather tires aim to serve the same purpose – provide the driver with year-round traction. However, they don’t function similarly in every season.
1. Different Tread Compounds
Notably, regular all-season tires are designed for warmer conditions and work best down to 44 °F (7 °C). Some modern all-season tires work greatly even below that temperature, but only on dry surfaces. Push them harder on wet pavement or over snow, and they will begin to suffer.
Meanwhile, all-weather tires are designed to work at slightly lower temperatures, below 44 °F (7 °C). Some all-weather tires even work well below the freezing point, or at 32 °F (0 °C). That’s still higher than winter tires, which work excellently way below the freezing point, but it’s still much better than regular all-season tires.
Why is that then? Well, it’s all in the tread compound. Ordinary all-season tires feature tread compounds that stay pliable at lower temperatures but still function best at higher temperatures. Remember, an overly soft and pliable rubber means that the tire will lose stability and traction in warmer conditions. So, all-season rubber is pliable, but only down to 44 °F (7 °C).
All-weather tires, on the other hand, feature a softer rubber that stays pliable at even lower temperatures. As a result, you get more traction at freezing temperatures, especially over wet pavement, snow, or slush. However, this also means that traction and grip in warmer conditions suffer, and the tires feel less responsive. In other words, the driving experience won’t be up to snuff.
2. Distinct Tread Patterns
There is a simple yet effective rule in tire design – the more surface area, the better the traction and grip. On dry roads, tires with completely flat (slick) tread will perform the best since they have the highest possible surface area that is in contact with the road. For that reason, most high-performance tires feature minimal to zero tread pattern.
However, you won’t get the highest possible surface area with slick tires in rainy conditions. That’s because, with tread grooves, you actually gain more area that’s in contact with the road and the water. Moreover, the tread grooves take care of channeling water out of the surface area, helping the tire remain glued to the road.
The same is true with snow but to an even higher level. In this case, the grooves and blocks create more biting edges, which further increase the contact area with the snowy surface. As a result, the traction is much higher than on tires with less tread.
Accordingly, summer tires have the least amount of tread pattern, while winter tires have the most. So, where do all-season and all-weather tires fall into?
Let’s start with all-season tires since they are still the most popular type on the market. These models have deeper and wider grooves than summer tires, which provide additional traction in wet and snowy conditions. All-season tires also have small sipes, which increase the number of biting edges over snow or slush. Hence, the all-season moniker of these tires.
However, all-weather tires take it up a notch. These models have even deeper and wider tread grooves, giving them better traction on snow, slush, and ice. All-weather tires also work better in rainy conditions, but only when the pavement is very cold. In warmer conditions, it’s usually the other way around.
So, what’s the main takeaway here? Well, all-season tires are really only good in spring, summer, and fall. Meanwhile, all-weather tires also work well in somewhat harsher wintry conditions, but at the expense of slightly worse summer handling and braking.
Pros and Cons of All-Season and All-Weather Tires
The thing is, though, there are other qualities that make or break a tire. To revisit each one of them, let’s have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of all-season and all-weather tires.
1. All-Season Tires Pros
The most important feature of all-season tires is cost. In this case, I’m not talking only about the purchasing price, which varies greatly across different brands, but also the long-term cost.
Namely, all-season tires are by far the most durable of any other type, and it’s not even close. Some touring and grand-touring all-season tires come with up to 90,000-miles treadwear warranty, meaning you will replace them less often, cutting on the cost.
Furthermore, all-season tires are usually more comfortable than most tire types. These models have specifically designed sidewalls that absorb impacts and vibrations, making the riding experience much more luxurious. On top of that, all-season tires are usually the quietest of any other type, which further improves the experience.
Ultimately, you can also find ultra-high-performance all-season tires, which are an excellent option for drivers of sports cars that want a solution for the whole year. Meanwhile, there is still no real high-performance all-weather tire on the market. That’s because the all-season tread compound sticks to the road better than the all-weather tread compound in warm conditions, something enthusiast drivers’ value.
2. All-Weather Tires Pros
All-season tires have many advantages, but all-weather tires have a few of their own. For instance, they work much better over snow. Your vehicle will accelerate more quickly, especially in deep snow, and stop sooner. The handling will be much safer, meaning you can place your car where you want on the road.
Furthermore, thanks to the soft and pliable rubber, all-weather tires offer a very comfortable and plush ride, even in freezing conditions. In this case, they are almost equal to all-season tires in most scenarios but might be more comfortable in the winter.
Ultimately, all-weather tires last longer than winter tires and come with up to 60,000-mile treadwear warranties.
3. All-Season Tires Cons
All-season tires are the best option for most people, but they still suffer from some glaring disadvantages. Notably, all-season tires aren’t the best option for harsh wintry conditions, like deep snow, slush, and ice. In these conditions, traction is usable only if you drive very slowly, but even then, a panic stop might completely destabilize your vehicle.
4. All-Weather Tires Cons
All-weather tires simply won’t provide you with the best possible grip on dry roads, which is why I don’t recommend them for sports cars. Moreover, you won’t have much fun while driving – all-weather tires aren’t very responsive and don’t provide an outstanding steering feel. There are some notable exceptions here, namely the Michelin CrossClimate 2, but even then, you can find better all-season tires.
All-weather tires are also usually noisier than all-season tires, especially at higher speeds. Nonetheless, the biggest differentiation that pushes buyers away is treadlife. All-season tires simply last longer, up to 50%, making them a more cost-effective solution in the long run.
I hope this article helped you learn the differences between all-season and all-weather tires. Like with most products, though, there is no clear winner here, so I’ll not announce one.
What I will recommend you is to choose tires according to your needs. If your daily drive consists of mainly warmer weather and some light snow here and there, a set of high-quality all-season tires will do the job just fine.
However, if you encounter more snow in the winter but still want a dependable tire for the warmer months, go for a set of high-quality all-weather tires.