Summer, Winter, and All-Season: The How And Why Of Finding The Right Tires For Every Weather

In short, you’ll get the best results from your tires by using the right set of the tires for each season: summer for summer and winter for winter.

But the best-case scenario isn’t always possible. Luckily, it’s possible to mix and match some tires and seasons. Just make sure you know how to do it safely, and recognize what to expect if you don’t have the best tires for the weather.

What’s The Difference Between Winter And Summer Tires?

There are two main differences:

  • the composition of the rubber, and…
  • the style of the tread.

Summer tires have harder rubber and fewer grooves in the tread pattern. This makes for a higher maximum area of connection between the tire and the pavement, giving you the best grip on dry roads and resulting in minimal wear.

Winter tires have a softer rubber and a deeper, more complicated tread pattern. The soft rubber is “stickier,” and more flexible in cold weather, which lessens the amount the tire can slide on a wet or icy roads. The deeper tread also gives tires a better grip by collecting the water and safely dispersing it.

All-season or all-weather tires have a moderately flexible rubber and a moderate amount of tread. They’re designed to work well in both wet and dry conditions – but won’t work as well as summer tires in summer, or winter tires in winter.

Can I Use Winter Tires In Summer?

By BC law, special studded winter tires are only allowed on the road between October 1 and April 30. All other winter tires are fine for summer use.

For the most part you won’t see studded tires much in the Fraser Valley – there’s no real need for them in our mild winters. If you’re not sure if you have studded tires on your vehicle, it’s pretty simple to check. Nokian Tires shows the difference in these two photos:

You’ll see actual studs in studded tires (like on the left) as opposed to regular winter tires which are all rubber (like on the right).

Performance-wise, winter tires work just fine in the summer. They won’t have any problem gripping the road in heat, and will give you a little extra handling in those summer rainstorms.

But because winter tires turn soft in heat, they’ll wear down more quickly in hot weather. If you use winter tires as recommended, they’ll last three to five years. On the other hand, you could wear through half the life of your tires in a single sweltering summer.

If you end up using winter tires in the summer, it’s also good to know that they tend to “hum” on a dry road. Don’t worry if they’re a little noisier than you’re used to.

Can I Use Summer Tires In Winter?

The short answer is no – don’t use your summer tires in winter. Their shallower tread and harder rubber loses its grip completely when cold temperatures mix with heavy rain or snow. When winter hits, summer tires perform like tires that are totally bald, and your vehicle will hydroplane dangerously.

I suppose if you’re a particularly careful driver you could probably manage it. But for maximum safety, you’re going to want those winter tires.

Autumn is another story. For our relatively warm fall season in the Lower Mainland, summer tires are just fine. They’ll continue to work well in wet weather as long as the temperature hasn’t dropped.

A good rule of thumb: if you need to put on a coat before you leave the house, it’s cold enough that summer tires won’t cut it.

When Can I Use All-Season Tires? How About All-Weather Tires?

All-season tires are just that: designed to work pretty well in all seasons.

They work especially well in a climate like the Fraser Valley – our winters are mild, and while we get cold snaps we don’t generally see a lot of snow. All-season tires will serve handily for most of the conditions you’ll come across. It’s only if we see a prolonged bout of cold – temperatures consistently below 6° Celsius that all-season tires stop working well.

All-weathers are basically all-season tires with new branding thrown on them. You may have seen this commercial from Kal Tire:

They’re not wrong – stiff Canadian winters are the only time all-season tires don’t quite cut it. On the other hand, Fraser Valley winters are famously mild, and all-season tires are fine for our cold season.

However, I recommend investing in winter tires if you are a commuter. Snow doesn’t stick around long even when it does fall, so most of us can postpone leaving the house for a day or two in bad weather. If you have to drive more than a few kilometers to work every morning, you might not have that option – and winters are the best tires to keep you safe if the roads are wet, cold, and unavoidable.

What If I Only Have Two Winter Tires? – A Great Idea!

Two winter tires is just fine! Just make sure you pop them on your driving wheels – the front wheels in a front-wheel drive vehicle, or the rear wheels in a rear-wheel drive vehicle. If you’re not sure about the style of your vehicle, check your car manual.

I have a hard time justifying buying brand-new winter tires – they’re expensive, and our winters are honestly pretty mild. If you live in the Valley and you need new tires for winter, I recommend just getting two winter tires and keeping all-seasons on the other two.

Two winters will suit you just fine unless you find yourself in a harsher climate – going up the Coquihalla or driving around the Okanagan, for instance – in which case you should invest in winter tires for all four wheels.

How George Can Help You Swap Your Tires

I can do some tire work in the shop, but a lot of it I pass off to a specialized tire shop in town. When it comes to changing your tires, it depends if your tires are on rims. Some customers just have one set of rims, and swap their summer and winters on and off every season. That system has no adverse effects on the tires, but it can be a little more hassle.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the $5,000 tire changing machine to do that in the shop: if your tires have to come off the rim, I’m not the guy for you.

On the other hand, you can get a spare set of rims and never have to worry about swapping the actual tires. I keep my winters on rims in the garage, and it’s easy as pie to swap them on and off if the weather turns in a hurry.

So if your tires are already on rims, bring them on in. I can put on your winter tires at the same time I do your pre-winter inspection, and put the summers back on in time with your next oil change.

It’s one of those things you could do yourself at home, but it’ll be faster and easier for me to do for you – especially if you’re already in for a check-up. Just let me know if that’s something you want to include in your next appointment and I can work it into your quote.