All-Season Tires

Performance Testing All-Weather Tires Versus All-Season Tires

by TrackWorthy,

Who knew that all-season tires really aren’t suitable for use in all four seasons. Those in the know, refer to them as three-season tires. If you live in a climate that experiences spring, summer, fall and cold and snowy winters, then you should not be using all-season tires during the winter months. Once temperatures dip below +7 degrees Celsius, you should switch to all-weather or winter tires.

Kal Tire wanted to demonstrate the different handling capabilities and characteristics of all-weather tires verses all-season tires. They set up a series of handling courses, in a controlled environment, so that we could experience firsthand, the impact of switching from all-season to all-weather tires.

We drove a Volkswagen Jetta equipped with factory installed all-seasons (the black car) and one equipped with Nokian WR G4 all-weather tires (the white car). Nokian invented winter tires and all-weather tires. They released the first all-weather Nokian WR tire to the consumer market in the early 2000’s. Kal Tire was the first retailer in North American to offer these tires to consumers.

In the braking exercise, we tested the tires emergency stopping capabilities. We accelerated to 50 km/h, then hit the brakes as hard as we could. In each case, the all-weather tires stopped a distance of 10 feet shorter than the all-season tires. That might not seem like a big distance, but imagine slamming on the brakes in a snowstorm in rush-hour traffic. That could mean the difference between not hitting the vehicle in front of you, to ending up in potentially dangerous and expensive fender-bender. Extrapolate that to highway speeds, and the difference in stopping distances would be that much more impactful.

Kal Tires’ independent test result were even more dramatic, determining that all-weather tires stopped in about fifteen feet shorter distance than the all-season tires. That is the distance of one car length.

Kal Tire Test Rating
Braking on ice at 30 km/k
– All-Season Tire: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
– All-Weather Tire: 3.5 stars
– Winter Tire: 4.5 stars

Kal Tire Test Rating
Braking on snow at 50 km/k
– All-Season Tire: 2.0 stars (out of 5)
– All-Weather Tire: 4.0 stars
– Winter Tire: 4.5 stars

Where the all-weather tires really shone, was in the two handling courses. We lapped the skip pad at 25 to 35 km/h. The handling capabilities of the all-weather tire were much higher than the all-seasons. The level of understeer from the all-season tires was very apparent. The car consistently wanted to slide off of the snow and out onto the paved surface. The transition, from snow to dry surfaces, was much more abrupt as well, because the car arrived at the paved section with so much understeer. The all-weather tires had less understeer and therefore transitioned well onto the paved section, with the front wheels doing what they are intended to do, which is steer the car in the direction you want to go. We were cornering so much faster and consistently with the all-weather tires that it made us dizzy, which was a good thing. It meant that the all-weather tires were doing their job. The difference between the two tires was very noticeable.

Kal Tire Test Rating
Cornering on ice
– All-Season Tire: 1.5 stars (out of 5)
– All-Weather Tire: 3.0 stars
– Winter Tire: 4.0 stars

Kal Tire Test Rating
Cornering on snow
– All-Season Tire: 2.0 stars (out of 5)
– All-Weather Tire: 3.5 stars
– Winter Tire: 4.5 stars

The slalom course, with its snow covered and dry sections, was the highlight of the day. We attacked it as aggressively as we could and the all-season tires provided very low levels of grip and confidence. Trying to maintain some speed through the cones was like racing in slow motion. Again we experienced significant understeer and a general sense of a lack of control and pace. We were trying to make it through the cones as quickly as possible, we just couldn’t. The all-weather tires were so much more fun! We were much more aggressive with our throttle and cornering inputs because the all-weather tires delivered appreciably higher levels of grip, performance and confidence. We came away from this exercise really questioning just how safe it is using all-season tires in snowy conditions.

Driving a two ton vehicle, on rubber tires, with four contact patches the size of your hand, on snow and ice in freezing weather, seems like a recipe for disaster. Winter driving on all-season/three season tires hinders the driver’s ability to defend themselves against Mother Nature’s cold weather offerings. The next rung up the winter driving performance ladder are a set of all-weather tires. They aren’t going to perform as well as a dedicated set of winter tires, but they are going to perform better in every respect compared to all-season tires. An additional bonus for all-weather tires, is they are suitable for use all year long. Switching from all-season to winter tires is a bit of a process, and requires the storing of a set of tires or wheels and tires throughout the year. That is not necessary if you have one set of all-weather tires.

Driving exercises like this are very useful and really help illustrate the different performance handling characteristics of these two types of tires. There is no question that experiencing this firsthand helps drive home the point that we really need to do everything we can to try to equip our cars with the best tires possible to safely navigate through the winter driving season.

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