Fitting the right tyres to your vehicle is crucial for your own safety and comfort of driving in different weather conditions. Tyres are the only element in contact with the road, so drivers should always opt for ones that ensure fast braking, traction and grip even in bad weather.
Car owners typically have three options to choose from:
- Summer tyres, which are designed for the warmer seasons
- Winter tyres, which are designed for colder climates and icy road surfaces
- All season tyres, which offer a balance of safety and economy year-round
For the vast majority of drivers, summer tyres are an obvious choice. However, there are many parts of the UK where the winter weather is not severe enough to exclusively warrant the use of winter tyres, so many drivers wonder if it is better to use all weather tyres instead.
Different tyres, different performance
Each of these tyres has different characteristics and it's important to understand their parameters in relation to a specific driving environment. While summer tyres do very well during the warmer weather period, winter tyres are best for winter conditions on the road. All season tyres seem to be a universal choice as they are adaptable to both summer and winter weather conditions.
Continental’s findings show that all season tyres usually represent a middle ground between summer and winter products. As such, while they are not as effective in winter conditions (compared to tyres designed purely for this season), they are better than winter products in summer. They are not as good as summer tyres though.
All season tyres are a compromise between winter and summer products (Source: Continental)
Using all season tyres in winter and summer conditions
As you can see from Continental’s research, an all season tyre offers better braking in wet conditions compared to a winter tyre. However, a winter tyre offers better braking in snow.
The problem with these results is that they were tested at different speeds. Nonetheless, the difference in braking on a wet surface (2.4 metres) is bigger than the difference in braking in snow (1.4 metres), so one could argue this is more important.
Winter tyres offer best braking in snow
Of course, this also depends on where you live. If snow is a common problem during winter, additional grip and better braking distances in these conditions will be greatly appreciated. On the other hand, braking on a wet surface may still be useful throughout the year and, in many parts of the UK, rain is more common than icy roads or snow.
Obviously, you can still use all season products in winter although there are some areas that winter tyres are better at. For example, because these products aren’t designed to cope with hard slush, they typically offer less rolling resistance and better performance in dry conditions.
Temperature is an important factor
Aside from the different parameters - which come from the tread design and other features - you also need to consider the temperature of where you drive.
As we’ve mentioned before, when changing summer tyres to winter tyres, you should wait until the temperature drops below 7°C. This is because the compound used in winter products is designed to operate in winter conditions - in warmer environments, the rubber may warp or become too soft.
Similarly, summer options operate best above 7°C - they provide worse grip in colder weather because they have harder tread rubber which offers poor handling in snow and icy conditions. As for all season products, they are designed to operate above and below this temperature.
However, as you get closer to the extremes, all season tyres lose some of their functionality. According to Goodyear’s research, for example, these products shouldn’t be used when the temperature gets below -5°C. Instead, winter tyres should be used to ensure effective performance.
As such, it helps to know the average temperatures throughout the years. If it rarely gets this cold, all season tyres could be used all year round. On the other hand, if you’re very likely to encounter this temperature range on a regular basis, winter tyres are better.
Since you’re using dedicated winter products, you should use summer tyres during the warmer months. Winter tyres are not suitable for summer and, as already discussed, summer products offer better parameters compared to all season tyres.
Choosing the right tyres
Ultimately, when it comes to choosing all season or winter tyres, the main benefit of all season products is to save money by using one set of tyres, rather than 2. However, using one set all year round also increases the tyre wear, so this argument is questionable.
Nonetheless, if you want to save money or space in your garage, there are times when all season tyres can be used. However, when the weather is severe enough, make sure you have winter tyres fitted - they will always provide more safety and reliability in winter conditions.