Choosing the Ideal Tire to Keep you Safe as you Drive
Car tire selection and maintenance are crucial to keeping you safe year-round. But it’s not just a matter of getting those tires rotated or replacing them when the tread gets low: you also have to consider what kind of car tire is right for you. It may change depending on the time of year, where you live, how often you drive, and other factors.
One popular option is the all-season car tire. But how does this tire option differ from others, and is it right for you? Here’s a quick guide to help commuters make the most informed decision about all-season car tires.
What are all-season car tires?
All-season car tires, as their name suggests, are designed to work under a wide variety of circumstances, locations, and most importantly, weather. However, the name creates room for myth and misunderstanding.
It’s important to remember that all-season tires are not a replacement for specialized tires in extreme temperatures or conditions. To be useful under most circumstances, they necessarily lose some of the abilities that specialized tires have.
All-season tires are a happy medium between summer and winter tires, which tend not to have the same versatility. summer tires are designed with hard rubber and low, wide tread, which keeps more rubber in contact with the road. But this hard rubber is prone to freezing and can become dangerous in cold temperatures. Meanwhile, winter tires use a wide, jagged tread and a softer rubber that stays flexible in cold temperatures, preventing cracking.
Right in the middle are all-season tires, which use a medium-flexibility rubber and mid-depth tread. This means they don’t get the benefits of specialized tires in extreme conditions but are functional through a much wider range of conditions than either summer or winter tires.
Pros and Cons of all-season car tires
One of the strongest selling points for all-season tires is versatility. While they can’t handle extreme conditions like specialized tires, they are designed to function in a variety of climates and conditions. They are also designed for longevity, and usually aren't replaced as often as other tires. Moreover, with all-season tires, you won’t have to swap out your summer tires for winter tires as soon as it gets chilly.
However, there are some downsides to these tires as well. For one, they are not equipped to handle extreme temperatures on either side. Below 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit, the safety and efficacy of all-season car tires begin to fall off. Below 15-20 degrees, these tires may lose much of their gripping ability and become a hazard.
Likewise, all-season tires are not specialized for heat or rain. Since they are designed for versatility, the differences in tread mean that all-season tires have somewhat less grip in these conditions. However, summer tires become extremely dangerous in below-freezing temperatures, while all-season tires continue to be useful in many conditions.
Who should get all-season car tires?
All-season tires are a great option for those who live in moderate climates and those who don’t want the hassle of changing from winter to summer tires every six months.
In general, all-season car tires are an excellent choice for drivers who mainly drive a regular, on-road commute in relatively moderate climates. For these drivers, all-season tires will often offer the longest tire life and least hassle. Though you should still get your tires rotated and check the tread regularly, it may not be necessary to swap them out entirely when the weather turns colder.
If you do a lot of off-road driving, other options, like all-terrain tires, might be better. But for regular commuters in moderate climates, there’s a lot to be said for all-season tires.
How to shop for all-season car tires
It’s important to remember that “all-season” does not mean “all the same.” While these are the most versatile class of tires available, there is still a lot of variation within the category. Here are a few factors to pay attention to when tire hunting:
Tread: All-season car tires usually come in one of three kinds of tread. Symmetrical tread is the longest-lasting but may offer slightly less traction in rain and cold. Asymmetrical treads are a popular option for sports cars, offering better handling at higher speeds. Finally, unidirectional (AKA directional) treads are perhaps the most common and offer the highest protection against hydroplaning and other weather-related hazards.
Brand: There are a number of well-established, reliable brands to choose from. Look for established, highly rated companies that offer extended warranties, like Michelin, Vredestein, Goodyear, and Continental.
Traction ratings: When shopping for tires of any kind, look for high UTQG ratings; particularly, AA and A are the best traction ratings, with B and C falling behind.
Performance: Finally, all-season tires come in different performance tiers, from ultra-high performance to passenger. These tires have trade-offs and balances, with lower-performance tires generally offering more longevity and durability, and quieter, smoother rides compared to their high-performance counterparts, which tend to better suit sports cars and coupes.