All Weather Tires: What & Why?
Winter tires are basically a necessity in Manitoba. In the appropriate season, they’re a far more important safety feature than your Blind Spot Information System or backup camera. Regardless, many drivers refuse to use winter tires, often arguing that good drivers can get by with three-seasons. For now, let’s ignore the fact that the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada claims winter tires offer 50% better traction in winter conditions. Instead, we’ll discuss the best compromise, all-weather tires.
But first, let’s look at three-season tires. In the past, we called three-season tires “all-season tires.” That recently changed after it came to light that the good people responsible for those tires had never seen a Canadian winter. The idea that a single tire can offer safe performance at 30 degrees above and below zero is pretty stupid.
Rubber, like any material, expands and contracts in response to fluctuations in temperature. Three-season tires use stiff rubber that doesn’t become too soft in the summer heat. However, that means it becomes hard like a hockey puck in winter. Hockey pucks are designed to slide on ice, not stop.
Regardless, some people refuse to have two sets of tires. For many, the cost of owning two sets of tires seems out of reach. But smart car shoppers should factor the price of winter tires into their budget. Additionally, using tires only in the appropriate season prolongs their life. So, buying two sets of tires does not cost twice as much in the long run.
It’s not only the rubber that distinguishes different types of tires; tread patterns also play a significant role. Three-season tires have treads that are smooth and straight. In hot temperatures, they grip the road effectively. Inversely, winter tires have asymmetrical, aggressive-looking treads that cut through snow and dispel water. All-weather tires, meanwhile, combine both of these tread patterns. The hybrid style deals with snow far more effectively than three-seasons, but (obviously) not as well as winter tires.
Three-season tires perform poorly on all forms of snow and ice. All-weather tires, however, actually perform okay on snow. The more aggressive treads help them cut through powder and the more pliable rubber helps from slipping. But on wet or black ice, the performance of three-seasons and all-weather tires is similarly bad. In places where winter is short, or extreme winter conditions are rare, all-weather tires are a great option. Winter in Manitoba is not short. In Manitoba, extreme winter conditions are not rare.
Ultimately, you should purchase a set of winter tires (MPI even has a Winter Tire Program you can take advantage of). Even an economy set will perform better than three-season or all-weather tires on snow and ice. The extra stopping distance is not the difference between a few horsepower. But it could be the difference between the shoulder and the ditch, or even life and death. But, if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of a biannual tire changeover, you should equip all-weather tires, not three-season tires.