For years, we’ve been advocates of using separate sets of tires to cope with demands of the seasons. Just as you wear different shoes to match weather conditions, your vehicle benefits from the right rubber. It doesn’t matter if you own a performance cars or humble family hauler, it pays to have the ideal kind of tires carrying you.
Summer. Many tires within the summer category can also be called three-season tires, as they are typically safe for driving from spring through fall as long as temperatures remain above 45 degrees Fahrenheit or so. This group overall delivers a comfortable ride, optimal handling and acceptable levels of noise and wear in dry or wet conditions.
Winter. Once temperatures dip below about 45 degrees Fahrenheit and stay there, it’s time for winter tires. They’re alternately called snow tires, but don’t mistake them for the unsightly treads from years ago. Contemporary winter tires may feature slightly taller profiles and specially-designed tread patterns, but there’s little else to distinguish them appearance-wise. The big difference comes is the added safety they afford in icy and snowy weather conditions.
All year. Overall, all-season tires probably rack up more miles than they should. Driving enthusiasts’ derision aside, they aren’t fatally flawed. They just represent a compromise of comfort, handling, mileage, noise and traction. For drivers who care, that’s simply unacceptable. But if you don’t experience four distinct seasons, ice and snow are rare and spirited driving is the last thing on your mind, all-season tires will do just fine.
Bear in mind there are also variations within these categories. A conservative three-season tire will have noticeably different characteristics than an aggressive tire that can be used on a track. Likewise, studdable winter tires for extreme ice and snow won’t behave like performance-oriented snow tires.
As always, consult your owner’s manual or tire technician for specific applications, and maintain proper inflation.