Is there such a thing as the best all-season tires for snow?
Going into the winter season, you may be asking yourself: “What are the best all-season tires for snow?”
Or “What are the best all weather tires?”
These are important questions, especially if you live in the northern half of the United States.
Throughout the year, the variations in seasons play a large role in driving conditions.
When there are snow and ice on the road, all-season tires (or winter tires) can have a big impact on driver safety.
But what about when it’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit out?
Summer tires may be fine in ideal conditions, but is there a tire that you can use year-round? Or do you truly need to change tires depending on the season and weather?
Does Tire Choice Really Even Matter?
Case Study: MotoGP is a great example, illustrating the importance of tire choice:
If you’ve ever watched motorsports like MotoGP, you’ll know that tire choice is a critical component of world-class racing. Riders will choose very different tires if the conditions are wet (rain/grooved tires) or dry (tires without grooves). They also choose harder tires for hot days, and softer tires for cold days. The tire choice affects everything, from race pace to wear-and-tear, and often makes a big difference by the end of even a 45-minute long race! While a “soft” tire will be stickier and handle better in the beginning, it will wear out faster by the end of the race. A “hard” tire will be firmer and will offer less traction in the beginning of a race, but it will last longer and “warm up” by the end. Ths trade-off is a critical component of the sport.
Multiple sets of tires are expensive, and switching is costly.
With such extreme variations in temperatures and traction conditions on the road, it’s hard to believe that a one-size-fits-all option exists.
And those of us on a tighter budget don’t want to deal with the expense of having multiple sets of tires. But don’t lose hope –there might be a best all season tire for you out there after all.
That’s why we’ve compiled an in-depth list of everything you need know to make a smart decision, and you can decide how tire choice (or tire socks) will affect your driving year round.
We’ll keep updating this list with new information.
This list won’t be the same year-over-year, as new developments keep arising in the tire and traction device industries.
But this handy guide should help you figure what questions you should be asking to ensure you get the right fit for your needs.
Different seasonal tires usually have different “tread depth”, which can be measured using this handy device.
First off: What is an “all-season” tire?
As you might imagine, all-season tires strike a balance between summer and winter options. While they don’t perform as well as their dedicated counterparts, they strike a nice balance between the two extremes.
To get optimal performance year-round, you would have to swap out your tires with each passing season. However, this is impractical for most people, and therefore some type of trade-off usually has to be made!
- Ideal cross-over tire, providing great traction year-round
- Improved traction over summer tires
- Hold up better in summer/hot weather than snow tires
- Used as a marketing strategy in the past
Summer tires are often the “basic” tires that come standard on just about any vehicle. They are designed to handle dry roads in the “normal” temperature ranges.
- Traditional summer tires are made with a softer rubber that performs best in temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
- They have a shallow tread depth.
- Tread depth is measured in 32nds of an inch in the US. It’s the measurement of the vertical distance between the top of the tread rubber and the deepest grooves of the tire. When the tread depth gets too shallow due to use – on any kind of tire – they are unsafe for driving and need to be replaced.
- They are not designed for channeling water/snow or for dealing with inclement weather.
- Designed to last longer in hot/ideal road conditions.
As you move along the spectrum into winter tires, you’ll start seeing a more flexible rubber compound with more siping (grooves and lateral slices) and deeper tread depth.
- More “siping”
- Greater tread depth
- Enhanced friction for better snow/ice performance.
- Wear out much faster when used in warm weather or “ideal” driving conditions.
As you might imagine, these tires perform better in colder weather (and on snow and ice), because they create more friction.
The downside of the added friction is that snow/winter tires will naturally wear out faster on dry pavement and at higher temperatures.
So while they might be ideal for the winter, they may not be the smartest/most cost-effective choice for summer driving.
Note: You can get extra grip/friction with studs in your winter tires.
These symbols, found on the sidewall of tires, tell you which kind of tire it is.
“By law, a winter tire must contain at minimum the M+S marking, but in practice, for harsh winter conditions the tire should also have the “three peak mountain symbol” or “Severe Service Emblem” on it.” (Nokian Tires, 2018)
The best all-season tires and stopping time.
According to handouts from the Colorado Department of Transportation, you drastically reduce your stopping time on snow at 60 mph from 800 plus feet with summer tires, to 668 feet with all-season tires, to the shortest distance of 310 feet with snow tires. (CDOT, 2015)
Summary of stopping distance in snow:
- Summer tires: 800+ ft.
- All-season tires: 668 ft.
- Winter tires: 310 ft.
So clearly, the difference in tires has a profound effect on safety, at least during the winter months.
How can I tell which type of tires I have currently?
Visual inspection is the easiest way to identify the style of tires.
In addition to the tread depth being shallower on summer tires (and deeper on all-season tires or snow tires), there are symbols on the sidewall of the tire.
The chart below gives a good summary of how to easily spot the differences and some highlights.
(Petersen, Consumer Reports, 2017) (Tire Review, 2018)
So what’s the best all season tire for me?
Now that we have the basics down on the differences between various tires, what really is the best all season tire for you?
There is no easy answer, since it “depends on a number of factors, including noise, handling, all-weather grip, tread wear, and price” (Petersen, 2015).
Assuming you are the average driver in a sedan or SUV, looking for reasonable performance year all-season all season tire can be a good fit.
Since “All season tires can become stiff in low temperatures, causing less traction between the road and the tires” (Ateq TPMS tools, 2018), it can be a good idea to carry an insurance policy in your trunk.
A traction device bridges the gap between all-season and winter tires.
It can be nice to have a traction device in your trunk or garage for the winter months. These traction devices can either be snow chains or an alternative traction device that you can pop on when you need it like the ones we make at AutoSock.
In summary: The best all season tires by brand:
While we don’t test tires here, Consumer Reports has been a reliable source on this kind of stuff for a long time.
The 2018 report came out in September and had some good information.
You will note they mention all season and all-weather tires, which are pretty similar. While the difference has been used as a marketing strategy in the past, they appear to have a very different tread pattern.
The top two in the all season category from this report came out to be the Altimax RT43 by General Tire and the CrossClimate+ by Michelin (Bartlett, September).
It is interesting to note that the best all weather Michelin has a very directional tread. While the rankings will continue to change each year, it is important to keep in mind what your needs are for tires when you purchase and evaluate them.
In addition to the resources we cited above, it is worthwhile to check out annual reports in Consumer Reports, the US Tire Manufacturers Association, and the Tire Industry Association as leaders in the industry.
As a fun fact, Michelin is the provider of all the tires of MotoGP, so they might just know a thing or two about tires after all.
Ateq TPMS tools. (2018, October). Winter Tires and TPMS. Tire Review, p. 101.
Bartlett, J. (September, 27 2018). New Tire Ratings Reveal Top Tires. Retrieved from Consumer Reports: https://www.consumerreports.org/tires/new-tire-ratings-reveal-top-tires/
CDOT. (2015). Colorado Department of Transportation. Retrieved from https://autosock.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Colorado-Chain-Laws.pdf
Nokian Tires. (2018, 11 9). Nokian Tires. Retrieved from Nokian Tires: https://www.nokiantires.com/customer-service/tire-maintenance-and-change/tire-markings/how-do-i-know-what-is-a-winter-tire/
Petersen, G. (2015, March). Consumer Reports. Retrieved from Consumer Reports: https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2015/03/best-all-season-tires/index.htm
Petersen, G. (2017, March 16). Consumer Reports. Retrieved from Consumer Reports: https://www.consumerreports.org/winter-snow-tires/choosing-best-winter-snow-truck-tires/
Tire Review. (2018, October 9). The Right ‘Shoes” for the Weather. Tire Review, p. 106.