Winter vs. All-Season Tires: Which is the best for your car?

With Canadian winters lasting for what feels like almost half the year, it's a time where we can enjoy the holiday season and fun winter activities. But with lots of snow, below freezing temperatures and unpredictable road conditions, it's crucial to prepare for these winter months so that you can stay safe when you’re on the road.

A common question we get is about the differences between winter tires vs. all-season tires. If you've wondered whether or not you can use the same tires all year round or if you need to invest in winter tires, we're here to help differentiate the two and provide you with potential discount details so you can decide which option is best for you this year.

What's the difference between winter tires and all-season tires?

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about winter tires and all-season tires. The most common being that both types are relatively the same. This leads people to thinking if they both offer similar protection, why should you choose one over the other? While all-season tires are great year-round for most climates, they do start to sacrifice durability and effectiveness when challenged in extreme temperatures. Because the tread rubber on all-season tires isn't designed to withstand temperatures below freezing, it will cause the tire to harden and lose the proper traction needed to drive safely.1 Yes, all-seasons are capable of powering through light snow, but they aren’t the ideal choice for lasting all winter long.

Winter tires, on the other hand, actually have special tread rubber compounds that are designed to stay flexible in colder temperatures.2 This allows for better traction so that you can stop up to 40% sooner when compared to all-season tires.3 Winter tires actually have better traction at -30°C than all-seasons do at +4°C.4 These tires also feature deeper tread depths and different patterns which are designed to help you drive through snow and slush without any build up.5 Regardless of if the road is snowy, slippery and/or icy, once you hit your brakes, you'll be able to stop at a faster rate in comparison to all-season tires, thus helping you drive safer, no matter the road conditions.

What are the benefits of each kind?

Let's start off with all-season tires which may be the superior choice for driving majority of the year (depending on where you live). Why is that the case?

  • All-seasons are designed to conquer most road conditions (including wet and minimal snow);
  • They have a longer life span than any other tire since they're designed for longer usage as opposed to one specific season;
  • They offer the smoothest ride.6

Now with winter tires, you can consider this as the safer option that will give you a better winter experience on the road. What does that mean?

  • Better braking performance in slippery conditions;
  • Unique tread designs to help reduce snow buildup in tires;
  • Special tread rubber that offers better traction in colder weather to allow for better vehicle control.7

While both types of tires have their benefits, winter tires offer drivers a level of confidence while driving in all winter conditions – whether it's snow, slush, ice or freezing fog.

And, as an added bonus, many insurers offer winter tire discounts (province-dependent). If you're a TD Insurance customer in Ontario, we offer many ways to save including a winter tire discount when you fully equip your car with four winter tires from December 1st to March 30th. Just contact TD Insurance, let us know you qualify for the winter tire discount, and we'll apply the discount to certain premiums on your policy.

My car already comes with all-season tires. Do I need to invest in winter tires, too?

If you've already been driving throughout the year in all-season tires, it's still important to consider purchasing a set of winter tires, too. Even if you're taking all the extra precautions to drive safely in the winter, winter tires will be crucial depending on where you live. For example, if your area experiences heavy snow, freezing rain and temperatures drop significantly below zero all winter long, you'll want to look into investing in winter tires. If you live in an area that experiences minimal snow and temperatures consistently sit around zero, all-season tires may still work for you.

Although not enforced, most provincial governments highly recommend you have winter tires; however, keep in mind that some provinces do require you to change to winter tires by a certain date as required by law. This includes Quebec residents who are required to have winter tires on between December 1st and March 15th, and many highways in British Columbia that also require tires to be changed from October 1st to April 30th.8

When is the best time to change my tires?

If your provincial government doesn't require you to change your tires by a certain date, then ideally you want to change your tires when temperatures are consistently hovering around +7°C or lower. Why that number? With summer tires and eventually all-season tires, the grip starts to compromise once temperatures start dropping and the roads become wet. In comparison, winter tires actually gain grip as temperatures decrease, allowing the rubber to stick better on the roads to prevent slipping. So, around the seven-degree mark is when winter tires start to grip better and outperform summer tires and even all-seasons.9

The same applies when you need to change your tires back to summer/all-season tires. Once the temperatures start warming up to +7°C and higher, it's time to change out of winter tires to avoid wearing them out.

Whether the province you live in enforces winter tire laws or not, it's important to know the differences between winter tires and all-seasons. You may be thinking that winter tires are expensive, but when the return on investment is as high as ensuring your safety, it sure does become a wise purchase.


Sources:
1, 6, 7. https://www.jdpower.com/cars/shopping-guides/tire-guide-all-season-vs-winter-vs-summer-tires
2, 4, 5, 9. https://tirf.ca/blog/the-cold-hard-facts-about-winter-tires-what-snowbirds-need-to-know-to-stay-safe-while-wintering-in-canada/
3. http://www.ibc.ca/pe/disaster/winter-weather
8. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/driving-and-cycling/traveller-information/seasonal/winter-driving/winter-tire-and-chain-up-routes