Many Canadian drivers struggle with whether to invest in winter tires or all terrain tires. While they are both heavy-duty tires and have several similarities, there are also key differences between the two which means they aren’t interchangeable.
There are many considerations to think about before investing in one or the other. Which type of tire is right for you will largely depend on where you live, your driving habits, and the type of vehicle you own. In Canada, you ultimately want to choose a tire that can withstand extreme weather, especially harsh winter conditions. There is nothing more dangerous than driving on a snow or ice-covered road without the proper equipment. Below, we break down the key differences between winter and all terrain tires and offer some advice on which tire is best for you.
Winter Tires, sometimes referred to as snow tires, are tires specifically engineered for snowy or icy conditions. They offer superior traction, grip, stability, handling, and general capabilities than any other tire when driving in winter conditions. How? It comes down to the fact that winter tires were designed to not simply withstand harsh weather but to excel in it. That is why winter tires can navigate everything from heavy snowfall to slush and ice with ease. Unlike other types of tires, namely summer and all-season tires, whose abilities become majorly compromised in cold weather, you can count on winter tires to perform no matter how extreme the weather. Winter tires feature unique tread patterns and rubber compounds that allow them to succeed in winter conditions. For example, winter tires have a soft rubber compound that remains flexible in freezing temperatures. In fact, winter tires should only be driven in temperatures of 7 degrees Celsius or below as anything warmer hinders their ability to perform. Additionally, winter tires have a blocky tread compound with deep grooves, high-density siping, and lots of biting edges. These design features work to excavate slush, water, and ice from the contact patch, enabling the tires to grip the snow underneath. Ultimately, it’s these winter tire design features that make them so effective and result in a safe, smooth, and comfortable ride for the driver.
When shopping for winter tires, you’ll have many options to choose from as they are one of the most popular types of tires in Canada. Almost every major tire manufacturer makes winter tires, ranging from Michelin and Bridgestone to Toyo, Firestone, Radar, BFGoodrich, and more. As such, you should have no problem finding a winter tire to suit your budget, as well as the exact make and model of your vehicle. One of our favourite winter tire lines is from Bridgestone. They have a sub-brand called Blizzak that makes some of the best winter tire technology on the market today. All Bridgestone Blizzak tires offer extreme grip, stability, and driving comfort, no matter the road conditions. If you have a passenger car, we recommend the Blizzak WS80. Alternatively, if you drive a light truck, minivan, CUV, or SUV, then we suggest the Bridgestone Blizzak LM-80, the Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V1, the Michelin Latitude X-Ice XI2, the Firestone Winterforce UV, or the Firestone Winterforce 2 LT (the latter two of which are more budget-friendly and studdable).
Finally, if you aren’t sure whether a winter tire is in fact a winter tire, look for the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol on the sidewall of the tire. This certification, which dates back over 20 years, indicates that the tire has been tested and meets the minimum performance criteria in severe snow. This certification essentially acts as a guarantee that the winter tire will perform well in cold, snowy conditions.
All terrain tires are a hybrid tire of sorts, combining certain design features of off-road tires with those of passenger tires. Generally, all terrain tires are designed for year-round use and can provide traction in all kinds of rough road conditions. As a heavy-duty tire, they are known for being more resistant to damage, cuts, or punctures compared to standard all-season tires. In essence, whether you’re on back roads, country roads, residential roads, or the highway, all terrain tires should provide a smooth and comfortable ride. Specific features of all terrain tires that allow them to offer off-road capabilities include an open tread design and reinforced sidewalls. The open tread design means that the grooves of the tire are arranged to create an interlocking puzzle piece-style pattern rather than a typical vertical pattern. This interlocking tread makes for better traction and grip, allowing the tire to mold to different shaped objects. This is what enables them to be so effective on uneven off-road surfaces like gravel, mud, or dirt roads. The wide grooves of all terrain tires also prevent rocks or other objects from getting wedged in the tread. Further, all terrain tires have reinforced sidewalls that are extremely strong and tough. Reinforced sidewalls result in a higher load carrying capacity, which makes them a top choice for heavier trucks and off-road use. The strong sidewalls of all terrain tires can withstand rock punctures and other types of damage. Ultimately, all terrain tires get their name from the fact that they are effective on a wide range of surfaces, including gravel, rock, mud, slush, and even snow. That said, while all terrain tires provide some traction on snow or ice-covered surfaces, it’s usually minimal and as such, this type of tire shouldn’t be used in extreme winter conditions.
Similar to winter tires, all terrain tires are a popular choice amongst Canadian drivers. This means that you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a set for your vehicle, especially if you drive a light truck, van, CUV, or SUV. Brands known for their quality all terrain tires include BFGoodrich, Toyo, and Bridgestone (we are huge fans of the Bridgestone Dueler A/T Revo 3).
The answer to this question is that it depends. Where you live in Canada, your driving habits, and the type of vehicle you drive all come into play. If you live somewhere that experiences harsh winter weather for months on end, then winter tires are probably your best bet, as all terrain tires are not known to have anywhere near the winter driving capabilities as winter tires. Alternatively, if you live somewhere with milder winter weather, such as Vancouver or Victoria and you do a lot of off-road driving, then all terrain tires might be better suited to your lifestyle. One con of all terrain tires is that they produce more road noise than winter or other passenger vehicle tires, which makes them less suited to highway driving. In terms of where you live in Canada, it’s also important to note that certain provinces have winter tire mandates, which means even if you were leaning towards all terrain tires, you may not have an option but to install snow tires come winter.
While the federal government of Canada has not issued any sort of nationwide winter tire mandate, some provincial governments do require the residents of their province to use winter tires during certain months of the year. Currently, Quebec and British Columbia are the two Canadian provinces that have mandatory winter tire requirements in place. In Quebec, the mandate is province-wide and is in effect from December 1st until March 15th each year (failure to comply could result in a fine of up to $300). Meanwhile, in British Columbia, the mandate is highway-specific, meaning that if you regularly drive on highways in BC that are outside of the Lower Mainland and Southern Vancouver Island, you will be required to have winter tires on your vehicle. For these highways, the winter tire mandate takes effect on October 1st and ends either March 31st or April 30th, depending on how much snow the route receives (failure to comply results in a fine ranging from $121 to $598). Tires are not legally required in any other Canadian province, but many provinces, including Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Maritimes, do recommend it. Some of these provinces have even gone so far as to provide incentives such as lower insurance premiums or low-interest loans to entice their residents to invest in winter tires.
As we’re discussing the circumstances in which winter tires should be used over all terrain tires, it’s important to remember that there are also circumstances in which winter tires should not be used. As mentioned above, winter tires are engineered to provide traction and grip in cold winter temperatures. Although they are exceptional at winter driving, they become a liability if used in summer or other warmer seasons. For example, studies have shown that wet asphalt in warm summer temperatures presents a major challenge for winter tires. In summer conditions, the tread compound of snow tires that allows them to excel in winter becomes a liability. The dense siping, deep grooves, and biting edges ultimately result in slower, less precise steering and less overall stability. Plus, winter tires have a higher rolling resistance than their summer or all-season counterparts, which will lead to higher fuel consumption and more road noise if used in warm temperatures. Overall, the tread compound of winter tires is too soft for driving on hot, dry asphalt, and doing so is a surefire way to damage or wear down the tires.
Finally, the conversation surrounding winter and all terrain tires doesn’t have to be an either/or argument. In fact, some Canadian drivers prefer to invest in both, using all terrain tires in the spring, summer, and fall, and swapping them out for more reliable snow tires come winter. Don’t limit yourself. And remember, at the end of the day, the best tire for your vehicle is the one that offers the most stable, safe, and secure ride.
As the #1 tire provider in Canada, we are proud to carry a wide range of winter and all terrain tires to suit every make and model of vehicle. We offer tires from some of the leading tire brands in the world, including Bridgestone, Dick Cepek, GT Radial, Radar, Toyo, Michelin, and Firestone. Plus, we make shopping for winter or all terrain tires easier than ever before. No matter where you live in Canada, you can visit our website, shop for tires, order them, and have them delivered to your home, all in a matter of days. We ship tires all across Canada, including to remote areas and the Territories. We also have fast shipping times of 2 to 4 business days, low shipping fees of just $5 per tire, and you can choose if you’d like your tires delivered to your home or directly to an automotive service centre. Tire Warehouse even has a mobile installation service, where a professional mechanic will install and balance your newly-delivered tires right there on the spot. If it’s unbeatable savings, convenience, and quick service you’re after, look no further than Tire Warehouse. Get in touch today to speak to an expert and learn more about our vast inventory of winter and all terrain tires. Check the tires FAQ here .
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