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Kicking the tires: Summer, winter, or all-season?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014, 12:50 PM

Tires are the most important part of your car. It’s where machine meets pavement, and determine everything from safety to comfort. Choosing the right set for you depends greatly on what you drive and the conditions you’re driving in.

A snap snowstorm caused traffic chaos in Atlanta late January. Drivers found themselves unable to get traction on slippery roads, and the city ground to a halt. A lot of people used to snowy roads found that humorous, but it illustrates how the wrong tires can negatively impact your drive. 

In southern climates, many vehicles are only equipped with summer tires. They provide the best performance in warm weather on dry pavement, as well as the best fuel economy. However, they’re useless for driving on ice and snow. They don’t dig into snow and they slide on ice. 

Winter tires provide superior traction to both summer and all-seasons in snow and ice. They have deeper tread patterns and rubber specially designed to grip in sub-zero temperatures. All drivers should consider switching to winter tires come the fall. This is especially true for rear wheel drive vehicles that are light in the back, such as vans and pickup trucks. The results can be dramatic. An Emunds.com test showed a car on summer tires took an extra 60 m to stop from 60 km/h on snow over winter tires. That’s well over half a football field!

Keeping two sets of tires and rims can be expensive though. Which is why many people opt for all-seasons. They’ve gotten a bad reputation over the last few years over safety. Of course, that all depends on where you live and how you drive.

All-seasons are a compromise between summer and winter. However, they start losing grip below 7°C. In the same Emunds braking test, winter tires outperformed all-seasons by 8.5 m. It’s not as big a margin, but it can make the difference between a safe stop and a collision. If you live in an urban city, where it’s warmer and the roads get plowed regularly, you can get away with them; but you have to understand their limitations. This means slowing down, leaving more space, and avoiding travel on snowy roads.

Drivers in snowy and cold regions shouldn’t even consider all-seasons. In Quebec, winter tires are mandatory by law. Just keep in mind that even with snow tires and all-wheel drive, it doesn't guarantee you won’t spin out or get into a collision. They simply reduce your chances when combined with safe driving habits. 

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