You can put all season tires in a category of misunderstandings and myths alongside some of the all-time greats like chameleons changing color to match their surroundings, the toilet flush direction-hemisphere connection, tomatoes as vegetables, and how to pronounce nuclear correctly. (Still just the one “u.”)
What’s the root cause of this decades-long tire misunderstanding? Terminology. “All season” – quite reasonably we might add – means one thing to most people, and that’s year-round.
The “all season” tire term is actually intended to communicate potential use and reasonable function in a wide variety of temperatures and conditions. Over time this general use concept has been lost and muddled, and nowadays all season is far too often wrongly interpreted as a message of “You’ll be all set with complete tire performance, no matter the driving conditions. Period.”
So let’s resolve the issue – here’s a list of common questions and need-to-know information about all season tires. You’ll leave here fully informed, empowered and ready to make the right tire choices for your vehicle and circumstances. Not to mention, the new tire authority around the office water cooler.
This tire category is engineered for use across a wide range of climate and road conditions. You might have believed this basic, broad performance was a given for all tires, but actually, that’s not the case.
Take summer tires, for example, which are limited by temperature and experience a steep and dangerous drop in traction when temperatures approach freezing. By contrast, all season tires keep rolling, mostly unaffected, in colder temperatures. Unlike summer tires, all season tire compounds are engineered to function and stay pliable across a broad range of temperatures.
All season tires are rooted in U.S. driver convenience and economic factors. While tire changes due to seasonal weather changes are the norm in Europe, a minority of American drivers are similarly inclined. This process requires drivers to store and swap tires according to the season, buy multiple (at least two) sets of tires, and generally stay in tune with their tire status as it relates to changing weather and road conditions.
In general, all season tires do an excellent job of delivering convenience and reasonable performance in most conditions, but there are definite performance limitations, which we’ll touch on.
Essentially every type of vehicle can use all season tires – cars, trucks, SUVs, CUVs, vans, EVs, you name it.
All season tires are far and away the most widely used type of tire on American vehicles. No matter what you drive, there’s an all season tire that’s a fit.
Not even close. The all season tire category includes hundreds of tires, each of which is engineered with specific performances and vehicle applications in mind.
The wide diversity in all season tires reflects the range of vehicles that use them. An all season tire engineered for truck or SUV use will be fundamentally different than one directed at the performance car market.
A bundle – passenger, standard, performance, ultra-high performance (UHP), truck/SUV, and more. Here’s a snapshot of the many all season tires categories that you’ll find available on TireBuyer:
Fitted to trucks, SUVs and CUVs, highway all season tires are designed with an emphasis on street (on-road) performance.
Highway all season tires aim to deliver strong on-road stability, traction, and handling, a quiet, comfortable ride, and long tread life.
General Grabber HTS60 (Highway All Season Tire)
These tires are aimed at the sports car or performance coupe/sedan enthusiast who doesn’t want to garage his or her ride just because of colder temperatures.
The latest high performance all season tires deliver most of the street performance characteristics of high performance summer tires, but without the temperature/seasonal use limitations.
Pirelli P Zero All Season Plus (High Performance All Season Tire)
Think highway all season tires (defined above) in design and function, but directed at the family car market – everyday sedans and minivans.
Continental TrueContact Tour (Touring All Season Tire)
Pioneered by Michelin in the mid-20th century, radial tires are the standard throughout the tire industry. “Radial” refers to a type of tire construction that involves tire plies arranged horizontally across the tire.
Virtually every modern tire is a radial construction, and so all season tires = all season radial tires.
All season tires are designed with cold temperatures and light snow traction in mind.
However, snow traction varies by all season tire – not every all season tire will deliver sufficient or strong light snow traction. Additionally, all season tires are not equipped to manage severe winter weather and road conditions.
If you want a guarantee of sufficient snow traction, then you’ll have to look outside of the all season tire category.
The three-peak mountain snowflake symbol is primarily found on winter tires and accordingly has become synonymous with all-around wintertime traction.
In reality, the symbol is an indication of straight line traction on snow only. Ice traction, mixed wintry conditions, cornering capabilities, and various other winter driving conditions are not elements of the traction qualification.
Some all season tires might qualify for the three-peak mountain snowflake, but keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily guarantee strong all-around wintertime traction.
(All weather tires more commonly qualify for the three-peak mountain snowflake and are more well-rounded wintertime performers – additional details just below.)
If you’re committed to one set of tires year-round and experience true winter, we’d direct your attention to the emerging category of “all weather,” sometimes called “variable-conditions” tires.
These tires have been developed in direct response to the historically lackluster winter season performance of many all season tires. They borrow technology from winter tires but adjust the tire compound for year-round use.
Toyo Celsius (All Weather Tire)
For more on the differences between all season and all weather tires see: All Season vs. All Weather Tires
If you drive a truck or SUV and are looking for enhanced snow traction, note that various all-terrain tires meet the criteria for severe snow traction as well. These options are marked by the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol on TireBuyer product pages.
This depends on the severity of your winter season.
If your climate is seasonal with severe winter conditions, Michelin’s guidance is on the mark:
“To maximize your safety in all conditions we recommend one set of summer or all-season tires and one set of winter tires. All-season tires may not be sufficient for the severe winter conditions in your area.” - MichelinMan.com
Despite winter traction advancements in all season tires and the development of all weather tires as well, there’s no substitute for legitimate winter tires in severe winter conditions.
In winter conditions, is there a substantial difference between all season tires and winter tires?
In severe winter conditions at standard (even reduced) road speeds, the performance differential between all season tires and winter tires can be night and day. Scientific testing over decades has repeatedly affirmed the substantial winter traction superiority of winter tires.
To put the performance difference in hopefully more relatable driving terms:
All season tires are marked with the Mud + Snow (“M+S”) sidewall symbol. This indicates the tire meets certain traction criteria in both mud and snow conditions.
Search for this symbol on the outside sidewall of any of your vehicle’s tires to determine if they’re all season.
Select all season tires are designed with more heavy duty purposes in mind, including hauling, towing, and light off-road use.
Many trucks, for example, are fitted with all season tires as Original Equipment (OE). These tires facilitate the payloads and towing capacities promoted by the vehicle manufacturers.
Michelin’s Defender LTX M/S is an excellent example of an all season tire designed with truck and SUV purposes in mind.
Need? No. However, you might enjoy the benefits, and get the most out of your vehicle if you swap to summer tires during the warm weather months. For more information see What are summer tires?
Tread life is a strong point of many all season tires, with some of the best mileage warranties and treadwear ratings in the business.
Continental’s TrueContact, for example, is offered with (up to) a class-leading 90,000-mile tread life warranty.
Hopefully, we’ve resolved some or all of your questions about all season tires. Shop easily for all season tires online at TireBuyer or give us a call at 866-961-8668.