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All-season Tires or Winter Tires: Understanding the Differences

By RBC Insurance • Published January 17, 2024 • 7 Min Read

Winter tires or all-season tires? It’s a question many Canadians consider when choosing tires for their car.

Canada is a big country, and drivers from coast to coast to coast head out on the roads in all kinds of weather. Conditions can vary widely in winter, depending on where you live and where you’re heading. From heavy rains to sleet, snow, and ice storms, Canadian drivers need to make sure they’re safe on the road—and the right tires go a long way to support safer driving.

All-season tires are designed to safely grip the road’s surface in most conditions, but that changes when temperatures drop below freezing. Winter tires (or snow tires) are specially engineered to remain flexible in freezing temperatures and maintain their grip on the road. Here are some things to consider when choosing the right tires for your car.

Key takeaways

  • The differences between winter tires and all-season tires come down to tread design and the flexibility of the rubber they’re made from.

  • Winter tires offer better traction and an increased ability to grip the road in sub-zero temperatures.

  • All-season tires offer versatility and convenience for people who don’t drive in harsh winter weather.

  • Four-wheel drive is not a substitute for winter tires, because it doesn’t offer the grip and traction that snow tires offer.

What are the differences between all-season and winter tires?

Some of the key differences between winter tires and all-season tires include:

  • All-season tires aren’t designed for temperatures consistently below +7 C degrees Celsius. Their treads can become inflexible in cold conditions and then reduce their grip on the road. Winter tires are engineered to remain flexible and continue to grip the road in very low temperatures.

  • All-season tires are versatile and great for driving in a variety of conditions when temperatures are above freezing. They offer a smoother ride, thanks to their finer tread.

  • Winter tires may help you save on auto insurance, owing to their proven record of better vehicle control and traction.

  • All-season tires are engineered to have a longer lifespan than winter tires, since they’re more versatile and used more frequently.

What are the benefits of winter tires?

They offer better traction

Thanks to design elements dedicated to improving traction on ice and snow, winter tires make driving in winter weather a safer, less stressful experience. These tires feature a tread pattern with deeper grooves and diagonal slits laid out in zigzagging patterns. Together, these slits, called “sipes,” and the tread’s deep grooves give your car more traction on slippery surfaces. Additionally, the rubber that’s used to make winter tires is softer, so it stays flexible and retains its grip on the road in cold weather.

They have optimal cold-weather performance

It’s that softer, more flexible rubber combined with the special tread design that give winter tires their increased capabilities to provide traction on icy  or snowy roads when the temperature dips below freezing. All-season tires tend to become more solid, less flexible, and less able to grip the road in cold winter weather.

They last longer

Swapping out your tires seasonally means that each set will last longer, especially since they’re only being used in the road conditions they’re designed for.

They can come with auto insurance savings

Drivers in Ontario and Alberta can benefit from saving on their insurance when they have winter tires installed. Contact your insurance advisor to learn more about how to qualify for the winter tire discount. In Quebec, the mandatory use of winter tires has been shown to reduce the average number of collisions occurring during the winter months by 19 per cent. Reducing your risk on the road reduces the chances of having to make an insurance claim, therefore saving you from having to pay your deductible and potential future increases in your insurance price.

Winter tire trade-offs

Winter tires are usually more expensive than all-season tires and come with the additional cost of having them changed each year, as the seasons change. Driving on winter tires during warm weather will wear down the soft rubber compound these specialized tires are made from. Winter tires are truly made for winter, and outside of cold, icy, or snowy conditions, they actually offer less responsive handling.

What are the benefits of all-season tires?

They have optimal tread design

If you live in an area of the country that doesn’t experience the extreme winter weather conditions that the rest of Canada does, all-season tires could be your best choice. These tires are engineered for a range of road conditions—from wet to dry to a light dusting of snow. Their treads feature a blend of summer and winter tire design, with winter tire sipes in the centre for travelling through light snow or slush, and wide grooves to help water pass through in rainy conditions. The outside edges look like summer tires and are designed for gripping dry roads while cornering.

They’re suitable for moderate climates

The design of all-season tires makes them a great choice for those who live somewhere with mild winters. They perform well in a wide range of temperatures and road conditions, with the exception of extreme cold and ice.

They’re versatile and convenient

These smooth-riding tires come with the benefit of convenience: there’s no twice-yearly change required, no need to find storage space for the tires that aren’t in use, and there are none of the costs that come with the above. They’re versatile enough to handle many kinds of road conditions safely and effectively.

They can be budget friendly

Drivers may find that using all-season tires is cheaper in terms of both the initial cost and the maintenance.

All-season tire trade-offs

The convenience of keeping one set of tires on your car year-round comes with some trade-offs. In snowy and icy weather, all-season tires simply don’t perform as well as winter tires (they also don’t perform as well as summer tires in hot weather). They don’t last as long as winter tires and they also don’t offer the possibility of a discount on auto insurance.

Are winter tires mandatory in Canada?

Many drivers believe that because their car has four-wheel drive, they don’t need winter tires for winter weather. This isn’t true. Four-wheel drive gives your vehicle the power to pull you out of a snowy ditch after you’ve slid into it. Winter tires grip the icy road and can prevent you from finding yourself in a ditch in the first place.

Winter tires are not mandatory in Canada, with the exception of in Quebec (from Dec. 1 to March 15) and in British Columbia on specific routes marked with regulatory signs (from Oct. 1 to April 30); however, they are highly recommended.

When choosing winter tires, look for the official Alpine/Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake Symbol (three mountain peaks with a snowflake), which designates them as being approved under Canadian National Safety Code.

Choosing between winter tires and all-season tires

Deciding which tires work best for you depends on where you live, how often you drive, and your preferences about the way your car performs at different times of the year.

If you’re familiar with the harsh winters experienced in many parts of Canada and safety is your No. 1 concern, winter tires are your best choice. They’ll support your vehicle’s peak performance in icy, snowy, and cold weather, thanks to their increased traction and ability to grip slippery surfaces.

If the climate you live in features milder winters, all-season tires might best serve your driving needs. They’re more versatile and a good compromise for a wide range of driving conditions.

Contact your RBC Insurance Advisor to learn about the potential insurance savings for having winter tires installed on your vehicle by calling 1-877-749-7224 or get a quote online today.

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*Home and auto insurance products are distributed by RBC Insurance Agency Ltd. and underwritten by Aviva General Insurance Company. In Quebec, RBC Insurance Agency Ltd. Is registered as a damage insurance agency. As a result of government-run auto insurance plans, auto insurance is not available through RBC Insurance in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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