When winter comes, you install your winter tires. When spring comes, you switch back to your summer tires. Year in and year out, it's the same process.
With all-season tires, you can stop playing the tire-swapping game. They can handle all four seasons Mother Nature throws their way. But with our frigid winters and sometimes snow-covered roads, are all-season tires a surefire way to solve this issue in Canada?
We explore the world of all-season tires and determine if they make sense for Canadian drivers.
All-season tires strike a delicate balance between snow tires and summer tires, making this tire type acceptable to use in a wide range of weather conditions from a hot summer day to a snowy winter evening. They can even tackle a heavy downpour with ease.
All-season tires generally have features that span the gap between summer and winter tires so they can manage all four seasons. These features include:
On the flipside, because tire manufacturers design these all-weather tires to manage all four seasons, they generally aren't quite as good as summer tires for dry grip or winter tires for deep snow and slippery ice.
There are a few distinct advantages to choosing all-season tires over winter or summer tires. Let's explore those now.
If you run summer tires in Canada during the summertime, the cold winters will force you to choose between swapping them for winter tires or risking excessive wear or damage. If you opt for all-season tires, you may be able to skip the added cost of buying and installing winter tires. Plus, you free up garage space because you’re not storing an extra set of tires. But, this isn't always the case. We'll touch on the specifics later.
While winter tires may turn your Honda Civic into a Sherman tank in the snow, they don't do the same on dry pavement or warmer winter days. All-season tires strike a balance where a light dusting of snow or slush is no issue, but they also handle just like any other tire on dry pavement and in warm weather.
Because all-season tires have a balanced tread compound, they generally offer more tread life. And this longer tread life sometimes comes with a longer warranty. In some cases, these warranties can stretch to 120,000 km.
Summer and winter tires rarely have treadwear warranties. If they do, they're generally no more than 60,000 km.
Keep in mind, tires generally have limited warranties that cover only manufacturer defects. Driving in winter conditions could actually void an all-season tire's warranty if the manufacturer determines wheel slip caused the excessive wear.
Summer tires may get all the glory for dry-road performance, but some all-season tires fall in the high-performance and ultra-high-performance categories.
Because they lack the aggressive tread patterns found on summer and winter tires, all-season tires tend to deliver improved ride quality, including a quiet ride and reduced vibration.
All-season tires are the most common tire type you'll see in a tire shop, so you'll have plenty of options to pick from. All the major tire brands — Michelin, Bridgestone, Goodyear, Continental, and Firestone— and even many smaller brands have multiple all-season tire options.
With these options comes more affordable pricing, as every brand must remain competitive in terms of features and affordability.
With a balanced tire that spans the gap between summer and winter tires, it's no shock there are some tradeoffs. Let's explore the cons of all-season tires.
While they perform better in near-freezing temperatures than summer tires, generally handling temperatures as low as 1-3 degrees Celsius, all-season tires' rubber compound still hardens below freezing. These below-freezing temperatures are commonplace during Canadian winters.
This freezing can cause the tread to crack, leaving the tire unusable. The hardening also reduces traction, increasing the distance needed to stop the vehicle and lowering cornering ability.
Plus, while all-season tires provide decent snow traction and grip on ice, they lack the rubber compound and tread design to grip the ice and snow like a true winter tire. Also, some winter tires are studdable, making them even grippier on ice. If you deal with severe snowy conditions regularly, all-season tires will fall short of your expectations.
Yes, ultra-high-performance all-season tires are available, but these tires aren't for the true track machines. These tires are more for the avid weekend corner carver who prefers not to swap out their tires every winter.
Tire shoppers who race their cars on the weekends are still better suited with summer ultra-high-performance tires, which provide superior grip and can withstand the heat created on the track.
There are provincial laws to account for, and two laws in particular could prevent you from running all-season tires in the winter.
In British Columbia, you must install either dedicated winter tires or mud-and-snow-rated all-seasons from October 1 through April 30. You can identify dedicated winter tires by the three-peaked mountain and snowflake emblems on the sidewall while the mud-and-snow tires will have "M+S" on the sidewall.
If you live in Quebec, you must install dedicated winter tires in Quebec by December 1 and leave them on through May 1. There is no exception for winter driving with mud-and-snow-rated all-seasons in Quebec.
Ontario requires all car insurance companies to offer up to a 5% discount for any car owners who install new winter tires. Outside Ontario, some Canadian car insurance companies offer the same discount on their own accord.
Except for top-notch sports cars and supercars, and all-terrain pickups and SUVs, just about any vehicle can use all-season tires. Let's look at some of the more common all-season-tire applications.
Family sedans are prime candidates for all-season tires because they’re usually tuned for comfort over performance. This is directly in the average all-season tire's wheelhouse. Plus, with a family to care for, making time in winter to get your car's snow tires installed may be easier said than done.
Like family sedans, minivans put more focus on comfort than performance, making them prime candidates for all-season tires. Plus, with the extra weight to haul around, the longer treadwear warranties that all-season tires offer may come in handy.
Crossover SUVs include elements of a sedan, minivan, and SUV in one tidy package. While there are outliers that are off-road or performance focused and need tires to suit these needs, most crossovers are perfect candidates for all-season tires.
Like minivans, they benefit from the higher ride quality and the longer treadwear warranties. If you do a lot of hauling or towing with your crossover, make sure to verify the all-season tires you're considering can handle the weight. If not, you may need to look into extra-load all-season tires or light-truck tires.
Not every light truck owner loads their bed with cargo and hauls it. Some simply use them for daily drives with some light hauling here and there. These are great candidates for an all-season tire — just make sure to compare the tires' weight limit relative to the cargo you're hauling.
Canada can sometimes have brutal winter weather, ranging from massive snowstorms to temperatures well below 0 degrees Celsius. This altogether nixes the idea of all-season tires for many Canadian drivers.
That said, there are some cases where they may work.
Some people simply don't like driving in the snow and cold. If you're one of these people, all-season tires may work for you. Although the tread compound will still harden due to frigid temperatures, there will be no damage because you avoid driving in the snow and cold.
Some of the southernmost areas in Canada have milder winters, and these could be spots where you can get away with all-season tires.
For example, southern Ontario hovers between just below freezing and slightly over freezing in the throes of winter.
You'll get similar weather treatment in southern British Columbia. Victoria, for example, has an average January low temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Some people not only get dedicated winter tires, they get dedicated winter cars too. These are generally all-wheel- or four-wheel-drive vehicles to tackle the deep snow and slippery ice. Folks who use a second vehicle in the winter will be fine with all-season tires for the rest of the year.
In fact, all-season tires' cold tolerance may allow them to drive a little deeper into winter, conserving the tread on their pricier winter tires.
It's a biannual ritual: Head to the tire shop to have winter tires put on in October and have them removed the following spring. All-season tires can offer an alternative to this twice-a-year switch by handling all four seasons — no tire swaps necessary.
While this sounds convenient, it's not a surefire solution due to local laws and the extreme climates in some Canadian provinces. In these areas, sticking with all-season tires year-round is not only unsafe, it's illegal.
So, before opting for the convenience of all-season tires, consider all the variables, including the area you live in, the type of vehicle you drive, and how much wintertime driving you actually do.