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All-weather tires offer better winter performance than all-seasons.Kal Tire/Courtesy of manufacturer

With a long winter here in Canada that has seen plenty of snow, the good news is that spring is just around the corner. Of course, many of us won’t see green grass for another couple of months, but you’ve got to have some hope after a snow-filled winter.

The bad news is that, according to a survey just last year from the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada (TRAC), 25 per cent of Canadians won’t have used winter tires on their vehicles this season. Even though that’s down considerably from 65 per cent in 1998, it means that there are still some Canadians out there who don’t realize the safety benefits of using winter tires; some are just ignorant, but some also can’t afford the initial cost of buying a separate set of tires, wheels and the added balancing and installation costs. That’s not an excuse, but for some, it’s a reality.

But in just the past few years, another option has been gaining traction (excuse the pun): all-weather tires. Don’t confuse these for all-seasons, which are only really good for three seasons. All-weathers can be used in the summer, but are also officially rated for winter driving conditions and even come with the severe-service three-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol on the side, so they can be used in Quebec, where winter tires are the law.

“The biggest difference would be the compound of the rubber,” says Usman Mir, zone manager at Kal Tire in Southern Ontario. “An all-weather tire uses natural oils which help it stay soft in cold conditions. It’s good to operate down to around -30 C until the rubber turns to characteristics of glass, whereas an all-season can only operate down to 7 C before it gets too hard for traction.

“A winter tire would be even softer; it’s good down between -20 [C] and -50 C before they get glass-like characteristics.”

All-weathers also have a more aggressive tread pattern, or sometimes a hybrid pattern; a Nokian brand all-weather, for example, has more of an all-season tread on the outside of the tire – better for cornering in summer and lower road noise – and a winter-like tread on the inside for snow traction.

Nokian all-weather tires have a hybrid treat pattern.Courtesy of manufacturer

But the big difference with all-weathers is that they can be driven year-round – no spending money each spring and fall to switch ove, and no storage of off-season tires. With a soft compound, winter tires shed rubber quickly, especially in warm weather, but all-weathers now have similar mileage ratings as all-season tires.

Mir says he’s seen a year-to-year increase in all-weather sales as more people understand their capabilities. “The all-weather is a perfect balance,” he says. “They have over 100,000 kilometres in tread life, where most snow tires wouldn’t even have a mileage rating. If they do, the highest I’ve seen would be about 50,000 kilometres.”

Independent testing from Consumer Reports, the Montreal-based Automobile Protection Association and other organizations have confirmed that all-weathers are indeed much better than all-seasons, with stopping-distance averages around 20 per cent shorter – though winter tires have averaged around 15 per cent shorter braking distances than some all-weathers. But it also depends on the tires themselves; CR found two all-weathers – a Nokian and Toyo – that had better winter performance than some dedicated winter tires. Often when it comes to tires, you get what you pay for.

Let’s be clear, though. For the best traction in cold, icy conditions, dedicated winter tires are the way to go. While there is a higher upfront cost, the fact that you’ve got two sets of tires means you’re doubling the life of each set, so those costs work themselves out over a few years. As well, all-seasons – or dedicated summer tires, for that matter – are slightly better in rain conditions, not to mention generally quieter when running. So the all-weather isn’t quite the best of both worlds.

But for those who don’t drive much, or live in more temperate winter climates, such as Toronto or Vancouver, a set of all-weathers might be the perfect choice.

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