Summer or All-Season? The Great Tire Debate


Winter tires are just right for powering through snowy conditions and chilly temperatures, but now that spring is here, it’s time to switch to something designed for warm-weather driving. But should you invest in a set of summer or all-season tires?

What are all-season tires?

Much to the disappointment of anyone who’s been wishing for a one-size-fits-all tire for every driving condition, “all season” is a bit of a misnomer. These tires are more of a three-season solution and don’t provide optimal performance in either hot- or cold-weather driving.

All-season tires are, however, still quite common and are often the type you find on new cars at dealerships. They provide fair grip on the road in a range of temperatures, but you can’t really consider them to be the powerhouse you need for either long summer road trips or winter ski vacations. The more extreme the conditions, the less reliable the traction.

One exception to this is in rainy weather. When the road is wet, the kind of grip you get depends on the depth and design of the tread rather than the type of tire.

How are summer tires different?

Summer tires are sometimes referred to as performance tires because they’re designed to provide the best possible traction in warm conditions. They’re made with softer rubber than winter tires and often have larger tread to provide the grip you need for optimal contact with the pavement.

The drawback of this construction is an inability to perform well in chilly temperatures. Because the rubber is softer, summer tires don’t have the resilience of all-weather or winter tires. They do, however, provide good grip in both dry and wet conditions as long as the temperature doesn’t drop too low.

Which tires are the best?

While some people may argue summer tires are better because they’re specifically designed for driving in warm weather and gripping hotter pavement, the “best” tires are really whatever set is right for your particular driving conditions.

If you live in a climate where temperatures are always mild, it rarely ever snows and ice is something you only see on TV, you’ll do just fine with all-season tires. You might also be okay to drive if you have the freedom to avoid going out in adverse weather conditions, although it’s not necessarily a good idea to risk being unsafe should you have to rush somewhere in an emergency.

If the winter and summer seasons are pretty pronounced in your area, go for summer tires. You’ll be safer and have a better driving experience in both seasons. Just be sure to store your summer set in a temperature-controlled area when they’re not in use.

When is the best time to switch?

All-weather tires can go on your car as soon as the temperatures are consistently above freezing. For summer tires, it’s best to wait until the thermometer reads above 50 degrees to avoid damage to the rubber. Keep your winter tires on if there’s even the slightest threat of snow or ice in the forecast.

Why? Summer tires can crack or chip when the thermometer starts to dip below 45 or so, and all-weather tires aren’t going to provide enough grip should a late-season snowstorm decide to bury your neighborhood. It’s best to exercise caution when timing your tire change.

Summer driving is more fun – and a lot safer – when you have the right tires for your vehicle and driving style. Invest in a set with the characteristics you’re looking for, and keep them in top condition with proper care so that you have smooth sailing for every summer road trip.

About the Author

Theresa “Sam” Houghton is a writer, speaker and health coach from Troy, NY. She’s a regular contributor to NutritionStudies.org, and her work has appeared in the Honest Weight Food Co-Op Coop Scoop, Natural Awakenings Magazine and the NutritionFacts.org 2017 Daily Dozen calendar. She has been a featured guest on Focus on Albany, WMAC’s Food Friday and the Just Ask David podcast. When she's not writing or cooking, Sam likes to read and study the Bible, cook tasty plant-based food and knit socks.You can find out more about Sam at GreenGutWellness.com.