Do I Need to Use Different Tires in the Summer and Winter?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Drivers who live in regions without harsh winters or brutally hot summers may only need one set of tires all year round. For the rest of us, the transition from summer or all-season to winter snow tires will continue to be an annual ritual. Those designed for rainy weather or dry pavement generally don't provide the level of traction needed to plow through thick snow and grip icy roadways. Alternatively, snow tires are designed for cold weather conditions and do not always function well on dry or hot pavement.

Snow tires allow a car to cut through deep, unplowed snow.
Snow tires allow a car to cut through deep, unplowed snow.

Some drivers may be confused by the designation of "all season" tires. While the name may imply equal levels of performance during rain, sleet, mud or snow, the truth is that many are not designed for extreme conditions such as heavy snowfall. There is no real substitute for snow tires when it comes to handling the most brutal winter driving conditions. Snow or winter tires are made from compounds engineered to perform best at colder temperatures, while standard summer types tend to stiffen up as they approach the freezing point.

Off-road tires may help drivers navigate icy road surfaces more safely.
Off-road tires may help drivers navigate icy road surfaces more safely.

If you don't plan on remaining home during extreme winter conditions, many experts suggest switching to a complete set of winter tires. Only installing two on the powered wheels would be better than nothing, but the car could also become a bit schizophrenic on the road as certain ones grip and others do not. Some auto shops in snow-prone regions will offer to store a customer's summer tires throughout the winter season, so it may be easier to mount the winter ones on their own rims and allow the mechanics to perform the switch just before the winter weather arrives.

Snow tires are designed to replace the regular tires to make driving on snow and ice safer.
Snow tires are designed to replace the regular tires to make driving on snow and ice safer.

The main concern with different types of seasonal tires is traction and stopping power. There's no law requiring drivers to switch from summer to winter, but there is a noticeable difference between the performance of those tires on snow and ice. Snow tires can be narrow to allow the car to cut through deep, unplowed snow, or they can be wide to maximize the size of the tire patch, the actual area that contacts the road. Summer tires do an admirable job channeling away rainwater, but their treads can become packed with snow and ice and become treacherous. Those designed for the snow have different tread patterns which grip the road and resist snow accumulation.

Individual drivers who live in the fringes of a snow belt are always free to decide whether or not a set of winter tires would be a wise investment, but safety on the road should always be a major consideration. As one car expert explained, a $400 US Dollars (USD) investment in quality snow tires can help a driver avoid paying a $500 (USD) insurance deductible following an accident which could have been prevented.

Snow tires can easily be put on or removed with the use of a simple car jack.
Snow tires can easily be put on or removed with the use of a simple car jack.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


I would say, just do it. Here's the data you asked for: If you don't do it, you'll always wonder "what if". If you do it, there will be no wondering. There, conclusive evidence. I am a tire expert because every car I've ever had, has had tires on it. They all worked until they wore out. I never had a tire I didn't like, except for Uniroyal, General, Yokohama, and Cooper.


My car is fitted with Michelin winter tires called X-ICE. Someone saw them and advised me to remove them, saying they were going to burst since where I live there is no snow all year round. He said they are strictly used in snowy countries. Is that true?


A question I have faced in my interview very recently is this: A truck traveled 10,000 kms without stopping, In a journey of 10,000 kms which tire will go out first (which tire will get damaged first?) Please help me out.


Yeah, except that even the best winter tires won't help in the most brutal winter weather. Snow/tire chains are what you need then. Other than that, some high quality all season tires should do the job.


Are there any laws that state when the studded tires must come off your vehicle in Alberta, Canada?


I'm from boston and i drive with all weather tires and i have no problem in the winter time. I have a jeep grand cherokee 4x4. Try first to buy some all weather tires and if you feel good on the winter is not need to buy some winter tires.

I've used winter tires before but it is too much money, i change for all weather tires and it work the same no problems in the last five years i change my all weather tires two times and save money.


It costs me $120 to change four tires, and that's twice a year that I would have to do it. As well, the process of removing the tire from the rim and putting on new tires seems itself to stress the rubber of the tires, so this would likely cause wear and tear resulting in reduced life of the tires.

I know someone will say that the solution would be to buy an extra set of rims, but depending on the vehicle, that could cost nearly a thousand dollars. I think the bottom line is that you really can't win no matter which approach you take.

For me, I'll just take my chances with using winter tires all year around (I live in cold Alberta) and no matter how warm it gets here, it never gets hot enough to "boil an egg on the car roof".


There are different types of "snow" tires. the more extreme ones: Blizzaks for instance, are not the best to run in summer. They are a pure snow tire.

The latest trend in snow tires seems to be back toward a bit more dry and wet performance vs a pure snow tire. This type of tire can be run all year round. Examples: Goodyear, Pirelli Dunlop and Michelin have all chosen to make their newest winter tires these new type of winter tire.

I predict a further evolution of the all season tire to become much more like these newer snow tires and the more performance oriented European snow tires, which you could also run year round because of their h, v or higher speed rating being more suited to heat generation.


I had snow tires on my Jeep Wrangler and left them on through summer. I was going max 25 miles an hour, someone cut in front of me and I had to slam on the brakes. I skidded quite a ways and nearly hit her. I couldn't believe it, I had no traction, it was like I had bald tires (and these were barely used snow tires).

Snow tires do not have good traction on dry, warm pavement. Trust me, and research it yourself. I was glad I wasn't going 60. Change your tires!


I had my first scare today with Goodyear Eagle summer tires. I usually buy all season tires but my Corvette had summer tires on it when I bought it. I pulled out on the highway today just like normal and almost did a 180. The temp. was around 34 degrees. It was like I was on black ice but the roads were dry.

Word of advice if you have summer tires and drive in cold weather with them. Be careful!


While it seems clear that the tires are constructed differently and with slightly different polymer composites, I can't help but wonder why the design and material can't be more "flexible" for year-round use. Who's winning and who's losing? Seems that the advantage goes to the sellers, yes?


I bought my winter tires in nov 07 and they are still on my car. I live in a wilderness area where the nearest food/supermarket is 80 kms distance.I have driven to Mexico and back during this period,10,000 kms. I truly wish I had kept track of my total mileage during this time. However I recently visited my Kal-Tire dealership and their advice was to leave them on until at least next Spring. Hope this helps ?!


Winter tire wear in summer is overrated, I use mine all year round and yes they wear, but no worse than my performance tires to on my Porsche. The real question is, does a snow tire make a safer all year round tire than an all weather tire? In other words, does the snow tire perform worse in the summer than all weather tire performs in the winter? I don't feel like it does, but I would like to see some data on this. Any ideas if anyone does performance reports for winter (snow) tires in summer conditions? I am interested in facts instead of the typical answer of "don't do it".


The rubber used for winter tires can wear prematurely when used on hot roads during the summers. If you do run them all year long, don't expect the tread to last very long.


I'm not a tire expert myself, but I'd say you could probably leave those snow tires on your car throughout the summer as long as you remain aware of the difference in handling. Snow tires are designed with winter conditions in mind, so you'll probably notice a difference whenever you're driving in heavy rain or on hot pavement.

I'd say give it a try for a season to see if you feel safe with those snow tires on your vehicle. I wouldn't fall out of the habit of switching to summer or all-weather tires in mid-May, however. There are fewer safety and handling question marks that way.


It is late May and I haven't gotten around to putting the all weather tires back on my car. Is there a reason why I can't leave the Blizzak snow times in place given that I'm likely to drive 5000 miles or less between now and when I would normally mount them again (end-november)?

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