Boots for winter, sandals for summer — your footwear matches the weather. Should your tires do the same? As any good auto parts store will tell you (use DexKnows auto parts listings to track one down), there’s a tire for all seasons. And there are all-seasons tires, too.
Confused? Let’s dive into the mysteries of seasonal rubber.
Where the rubber meets the road
Tires provide grip. How well they do that depends on the rubber and the tread pattern.
Grip comes from the type of rubber used, what’s called the “compound,” while the tread clears water and lets the rubber actually meet the road. If a tire is never used in wet weather, it doesn’t need any tread. In fact, with less tread, more tire surface is in contact with the asphalt and grip is higher. (That’s why you see no thread on race car tires.)
Grip results from the “stickiness” of the rubber. A softer compound grips better but wears out faster. And rubber is softer and grips better when the weather is warmer.
There are three main categories: summer, winter and all-season.
Summer tires, sometimes called performance tires, work well at higher temperatures but become harder and lose “bite” when the mercury dives. They also have little tread because they’re not meant for driving in wet conditions.
Winter tires are made from a compound that remains supple at low temperatures. They also have a very open tread pattern with lots of room to clear snow and feature small cuts, called sipes, which improve grip on ice. However, on dry roads, the tread blocks tend to squirm as the vehicle turns, so the tires don’t give the same control. They also wear quickly when the weather turns warmer.
All-seasons are the Goldilocks of tires. The compound doesn’t stiffen too much in the cold, but neither does it grip especially well in the warm. An open tread pattern helps in snow and rain, but doesn’t provide as much traction as would a snow tire. In short, all-season tires are not as good as summer tires in summer and not as good as winter tires in winter.
What’s right for you?
If winter temperatures where you live are generally below 45 degrees, consider winter tires. As Popular Mechanics magazine found, these help drivers stay safe in treacherous conditions by reducing stopping distances and improving grip. Have your auto repair or parts store put them on around Thanksgiving. Come Easter, you could replace them with all-seasons, but why not reap the benefits of summer tires instead?
For those living farther south, all-season tires should be perfectly adequate. Performance enthusiasts may, however, want the extra grip of summer rubber. One factor to consider is how much rain to expect.
Isn’t two sets of tires expensive?
Look at it this way: Each set does only half as many miles, so they’ll last twice as long. You could simplify the changeover by having your tires permanently mounted on a second set of wheels. One point to consider, though, is if you have a newer car, it will have tire pressure monitors. You’ll want to talk to the experts at the auto parts store or local car dealer to find out if these need any special treatment.
So should you change tires to match the seasons? If you want the best possible levels of grip, then yes. Track down a specialist auto parts store on DexKnows and ask the employees what they recommend.