Winter tires, also known as snow tires, are specially designed for driving in cold winter conditions with snow, ice, and frigid temperatures. They are made with a softer rubber compound and tread pattern that provides superior traction, braking, and handling when temperatures drop below approximately 45°F. Many drivers have separate sets of wheels with winter tires that they install each year once the weather turns cold.
But some wonder if it’s okay to just leave their winter tires on year-round, even during the warmer months. Here’s an in-depth look at the pros and cons of driving on winter tires all year to help you decide.
What Makes Winter Tires Different?
Winter tires have a few key differences compared to all-season and summer tires that make them ideal for cold conditions:
a. Softer rubber compound:
The rubber stays pliable and grippy in freezing temperatures when other tires would go hard and slippery. Common compounds include silica and other additives.
b. Specialized tread patterns:
Siped tread blocks, numerous grooves, and angled lateral slits efficiently channel away snow and slush while providing many sharp edges to bite into ice.
c. Deeper tread depth:
Usually between 16-20 millimeters deep when new, compared to 8-12mm for all-seasons. This allows better snow penetration and water evacuation.
d. Aggressive studs or carbide pins:
Studded winter tires have hundreds of metal studs or pins embedded in the tread that extend when pressed on hard ice, gripping the surface. Some regions prohibit metal studs, so check your local regulations.
e. Speed rating:
Most winter tires have a speed rating of T to H, equivalent to 118-130 mph maximum. This matches their intended use for slower winter driving, not high-speed summer driving.
The Advantages of Using Winter Tires Year-Round
Driving on winter tires all year has some potential advantages:
- No need to changeover tires twice per year- Skipping the seasonal tire swap saves time and effort. No need to pay for installs and storage either.
- Prepared for unpredictable weather- Your vehicle will already have suitable tires if an unexpected cold snap or snowstorm occurs in the warmer months.
- Consistent vehicle handling- Keeping the same tires year-round means you don’t have to re-adjust to different traction and braking feel when you swap tires.
- Longer treadwear- Softer winter tread doesn’t wear down as fast on warm dry roads compared to performance summer tires. Your tires may last longer.
- Quieter on pavement- Winter tires tend to be quieter on clear roads than aggressive summer treads designed for maximum grip. The ride may be more comfortable.
However, there are also some important downsides to weigh.
The Disadvantages of Using Winter Tires Year-Round
Driving winter tires in warm weather comes with some notable drawbacks:
- Reduced hot weather traction- The softer winter compound gets overly greasy above 80°F, reducing grip on dry roads. Braking distances suffer.
- Increased hydroplaning risk- The winter tread pattern doesn’t channel away water as efficiently as summer tires, increasing the chances of losing traction on wet roads.
- Lower high-speed control- Most winter tires have a speed rating max of 130 mph or less, and the tread could separate. Limit high-speed driving
- Compromised cornering- The winter tread design and rubber compound reduce lateral grip and cornering ability compared to high-performance summer tires.
- Faster center treadwear- The softer winter rubber wears down more quickly during high mileage warm weather driving, especially in the center of the tread.
- No high heat endurance- Prolonged high-speed driving in hot ambient temperatures can overheat winter tires, degrading the rubber’s longevity.
- More road noise- While quieter than high-grip summer tires, winter treads still create more noticeable road noise than standard all seasons.
- Lower fuel economy- The winter tread design’s extra drag and rolling resistance negatively impacts gas mileage.
Recommended Guidelines for Driving Winter Tires Year-Round
Most tire manufacturers advise against using dedicated winter tires during warmer months. But there are some scenarios where year-round winter tires may work reasonably well:
- In a mild climate without sustained summer heat or high mileage driving
- On an older vehicle not driven aggressively, at high speeds, or for long highway trips
- As a temporary solution if unable to procure extra tire sets for seasonal changeover
- On a secondary vehicle used only sparingly in summer
- With diligent inspection for uneven or excessive tread wear
- With an understanding of reduced performance limits in warm conditions
Ideally, switch to high-quality summer or all-season tires once average temperatures are consistently above 45°F for maximum safety, handling, and driving enjoyment during warmer months.
Best Practice for Winter Tire Usage
For most drivers, the recommended best practice is to install dedicated winter tires once temperatures start regularly dipping below 45°F in fall. Try to get them mounted before the first forecasted snow. Run the winter tires throughout the cold months when roads are primarily slick and icy. Then switch back to high-performance summer tires or good all-seasons once spring arrives and temperatures are consistently above 45°F.
Work with a qualified tire shop to determine the right months to swap your tires based on the weather patterns in your region. Proper winter tires provide critical additional traction and safety when it’s needed most, but high-temp summer tires give you better performance during warmer seasons. Changing over tires twice per year is the ideal way to maximize their effectiveness and get the most from your tire investment.
While it may be technically possible to drive winter tires year-round in certain moderate climates and usage cases, most industry experts recommend against it. For optimum performance, safety, and longevity across varying weather conditions, install winter tires when cold temperatures arrive and use summer or all-season tires during warmer months. Consult a tire professional to develop the right seasonal tire changeover schedule for your vehicle and driving needs.