When looking for a new set of tires this spring, consumers who are intent on putting on all-seasons might want to consider the option of installing all-weathers instead.
While acknowledging that many Canadians know little or nothing about how all-season tires stack up against all-weather tires, Carey Hull, director of retail products at Kal Tire, said that understanding the differences is key to making informed decisions.
“[Consumers] have to really understand whether it’s an all-season tire that they’re looking for,” said Hull, whose company’s corporate office is in Vernon, British Columbia. “An all-season tire is basically a three-season tire. It really doesn't cover you through the winter months, and a lot of people get confused by all-seasons thinking they’ll take all four seasons into account when it really doesn't. An all-weather tire...does have the severe mountain snowflake [symbol] on it, which allows that consumer to drive through the winter months in many regions.”
Hull, who stressed that there are numerous things consumers need to keep in mind when they purchase new tires, is one of the experts out there encouraging motorists to take the tire-buying process seriously.
In fact, professionals at tire companies agree that consumers should consider things such as whether to buy all-seasons or to purchase all-weathers, assess things like how they will use their vehicles, and pay special attention to issues like speed rating and load index before plunking down their hard-earned cash for tires.
The Survey Says…
A Kal Tire survey that was conducted late last year confirmed that almost half of vehicle owners planned to drive without winter tires for the 2013/2014 winter driving season. After all, many drivers, opting not to shoulder the expense of buying both a set of all-seasons and a set of winters, choose instead to use their all-seasons year-round. However, Kal Tire also discovered that many motorists, upon being briefed on the benefits of all-weathers, were open to the idea of buying all-weathers down the road.
The survey results, which came from responses provided by vehicle owners in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, revealed, among other things, the following:
- 44 per cent of respondents did not intend to use winter tires;
- 64 per cent of respondents who did not plan to use winter tires said they were considering all-weather tires for their next winter tire purchase;
- Alberta drivers were the least likely to use winter tires, with 52 per cent saying they weren't planning to use winter tires;
- Ontario had the highest percentage of drivers using winter tires at 60 per cent; and
- Alberta had the highest percentage of drivers who considered all-weather tires for their next tire purchase.
All-Seasons Versus All-Weathers
Pioneered by the winter tire experts at Nokian, all-weather tires have long been popular in Europe where urban drivers typically need just one solid set of year-round tires. But many Canadians are not up to speed on what all-weather tires bring to the table.
“There’s very poor consumer awareness on the all-weather tire," said Hull, who noted that Nokian all-weathers entered the Canadian marketplace in 2000. "Nokian is the very first producer of the all-weather tire...[T]here really is quite a lack of understanding by the consumer that an all-season tire is a three-season tire. An all-weather tire is an all-weather tire. The beauty of the Nokian all-weather tire is that the compound is unique in that it will not wear in the summer like a winter tire would.”
Key differences between all-weathers and all-seasons, according to Kal Tire, include the following:
- Slush performance. All-weather tires prevent hydroplaning and slush-planing with an aggressive tread pattern and siping -- hairline slits in the tread. Polished grooves and slush edges also help push away water and slush.
- Flexible compound for every forecast. The compound used to make all-weather tires contains more natural rubber as well as canola oil and silica, as compared to all-weather tires, to stay soft at temperatures above and below 7 C. That means superior stability and grip on everything from bare asphalt to fresh snow.
- Precise braking. All-weather tires stop almost instantly on wet roads at any temperature. All-season tires, however, can take up to 30 meters longer to stop on smooth ice, even at just -1 C, where thin layers of water make the road slippery.
- Savings. All-weather tires roll easily compared to all-seasons, which means that drivers consume less fuel and emit less CO2. Plus, with all-weather tires, drivers don’t have to worry about season changeover fees or the extra expense and hassle of buying and storing a second set of tires.
Of course, there are some good reasons for preferring all-seasons over all-weathers. Drivers who live in areas where there are heavy snowfalls on a regular basis during the winter, for example, would probably be better served with two sets of tires, one set of all-seasons for spring, summer and fall, and one set of winter tires for winter.
"Anywhere where there’s heavy winter [weather], we strongly encourage them to buy winter tires," said Hull. "If you’re somewhere on the Prairies and you’re driving consistently in a couple feet of snow, that kind of stuff, then you should buy all-season tires and winter tires.”
The Human Factor
Even if consumers decide that all-seasons would be best, there are still lots of things to factor into the equation before buying tires.
Geoff Harris, assistant manager at Fountain Tire in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, explained that motorists who want the right set of all-season tires need to think about things like how they intend to use their vehicles.
“It depends entirely on their needs,” said Harris. “The first few things I try to figure out is what they’re looking for in a tire, what they intend to do with the vehicle that they’re driving and what kind of vehicle it is. If someone just wants a tire that will really last a long time and they’re not really concerned with other factors, there’s plenty on the market that offer incredible mileage warranties. It really depends on the person and what their needs are."
Hull added that the different types of all-seasons include economy tires that might give drivers 60,000 kilometres, mid-level tires that might give motorists 80,000 kilometres and high-mileage tires that could give drivers 150,000 kilometres.
“It’s really important to ask [consumers] what their driving habits and needs are,” explained Hull. “From there, you can put them into the right type of all-seasons for their car.”
Meanwhile, a staff member at OK Tire in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia said that consumers need to be less fixated on cost and more focused on buying the right kind of tires.
“They should consider tread wear, which is longevity of the tire,” said the staff member. “Second would probably be the performance and handling characteristics of the tire, meaning wet and dry, snow, ice, that sort of thing. Certain tires are going to handle ok when they’re dry but they’re no good when they’re wet."
Speed Rating and Load Index
Finding the right all-seasons also means considering things like the speed rating and the load index. Speed rating refers to the maximum permitted speed that tires can sustain over a 10-minute period without being compromised while load index refers to how much load tires can safely support. While it’s fine to select tires with higher speed ratings or load indexes than what the vehicle manufacturers recommend for their vehicles, consumers who choose tires with lower-than-stipulated speed ratings or load indexes are courting disaster.
“It’s really important when they’re choosing an all-season tire that they’re not just looking at the size but that they also ensure that the speed rating and load index match the vehicle,” said Hull. “You can get a size that would come out, but it may have three or four different speed ratings and two or three different load indexes as well.”