Is It Better to Get Winter Tires or All Season Tires?

Car with winter tires on snowy road

When the temperature drops every fall, many people wonder if they really need to invest in winter tires. While not mandatory in Ottawa, winter tires are mandatory in Gatineau from December 15 - March 15 every year. And there’s no arguing that they’re safer. But they’re also more expensive, plus the inconvenience of storing and having them changed.

Many of our customers come to use with questions about which ones are “better”. The short answer is that winter tires are safer and we recommend them for that reason. But there are other pros and cons you may want to factor in when making your decision about which ones to buy for your car.

What’s the Difference Between Winter Tires and All-Season Tires?

First of all, let’s be clear about what defines each type.

Winter Tires (or Snow Tires)

Winter tires are specifically designed for better grip on ice and more traction in heavy snow. They are made of a slightly different rubber that stays softer in cold temperatures for better traction. They also have a deeper tread to really grab hold in snow. They also have additional siping (small cuts designed for extra grip). As you might have guessed, you can’t leave your snow tires on in spring because they’ll wear out quickly.

All-Season Tires

These are designed to handle rain extremely well and also have reasonably traction in colder temperatures. But they don’t grip the road as well in more than light snow or minor ice. The trade off is that they are better in warm weather, and won’t be quite as “sluggish” or noisy, but won’t provide the same responsiveness when cornering and braking as summer tires.

Summer Tires

Also called “slicks”, these tires are optimized for summer weather. They have harder rubber and shallower treads with a less “sideways” pattern. As long as the weather is warm and dry, they grip the roads nicely on tight turns, allow for quicker braking, and can even improve your gas mileage.

Imagine putting in a pair of running shoes after a winter of tromping around in winter boots, and you’ll get the picture! There are lots of different types of summer tires, and performance-oriented drivers have a lot of fun geeking out on the different kinds.

What are the Pros and Cons of the Different Types?

Winter Tires

The pros are many:

  1. Safety. According to the City of Ottawa’s accident statistics, the number of accidents rises dramatically in November, December, January and February when compared to other months. The results are consistent with reports from earlier years, and to make matters worse, Ottawa is one of the worst communities in Ontario for car accidents. Winter tires just plain handle bad winter conditions better.
  2. Confidence. Nervous drivers may feel more secure with the heavier weight and “grippier” feel you get with snow tires.
  3. Having two sets of tires means each set lasts longer, so replacement costs are spread out.

Most people are pretty familiar with the main cons of snow tires:

  1. They are an added expense.
  2. It takes time or expense to have the tires changed twice a year.
  3. The off-season set of tires need to be stored.
  4. They can reduce your overall gas mileage.
  5. They are noisier on dry pavement.

But when you consider that they can make the difference between having an accident and not, we think the safety factor trumps everything else.

All Season Tires

Pros

  1. Versatility. If you can seriously only afford one set of tires, get all-seasons.
  2. Less expensive. Not only are you buying just one set of tires, but the tires themselves cost less.

Cons

  1. Not safe in the worst winter weather. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself skidding out when conditions are truly snowy or icy. To compensate, try and keep your speed lower if you can.
  2. Lack of standards. Some all-seasons are better than others in cold weather, snow and on ice, so talk to your salesperson and explain exactly what you want.

We’ll leave out the summer tires, as they are absolutely not suitable for winter.

What about Studded Tires?

Designed to have the best grip possible on icy roads, metal studs also unfortunately tear pavement to pieces. They’re also unbelievably noisy too.

Ottawa residents are not permitted to have studded tires, even if you live outside of town. Unless you’re a resident of Northern Ontario, you can be fined $1,000 if you’re caught with them.

We Recommend Winter Tires in Winter

From a safety perspective there’s no question: winter tires are just plain safer in the November- March ice and snow. Almost everyone who makes the switch to winter tires notices the difference and wouldn’t switch back to using all-seasons in winter.

It’s normally new drivers who opt for all-season tires in winter because of cost concerns. But there are a lot of different makes and models at different price points, and they can be more affordable than you think, so talk to us and find out what the options are.

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