As we slowly emerge from our annual winter deep freeze in Canada, thoughts turn to spring-time activities such as garage clean out, yard work and auto maintenance. A popular item for the latter is tire changing.
While winter tires are a wise option for a climate that receives as much snow and ice as ours, removing them once warmer temperatures arrive in the spring makes just as much sense. The rule of thumb for installing winter tires is when the temperature is consistently below seven degrees Celsius, and the inverse is true for when they should come off. With the calendar now turned over to April, many parts of Canada are already experiencing many sunny days where the mercury is much higher than seven degrees.
Bottom line, spring tire changing season is upon us. And if you’re still on the fence for some reason, what follows is a handy guide as to why your winters should come off when the weather gets warm.
Winter tires don’t like heat
In a nutshell, winter tires are at their best when temperatures are below seven degrees Celsius. Their rubber compounds are designed specifically for better grip on cold pavement and shorter stopping distances. Winter tire compounds are much softer than all-season or summer tires, which makes them ideal for cold and hard surfaces.
But in hotter conditions during spring and summer, softer compounds in winter tires produce worse handling and are generally less responsive. Steering feel and stability degrade, fuel consumption is worse and stopping distances are longer.
Heat means faster wear
Related to the first point, winter tires also wear faster in warmer weather because their compounds weren’t designed to manage extreme heat. As a result, running winter tires in warmer conditions hurts their tread life, and the stress of operating in hot weather can increase the risk of a blow-out.
Winter tires burn more gas in hot weather
This is the biggest hidden cost of not switching and something to keep in mind if you’re worried about the cost of a second set of tires. Winter tire use in warm weather is bad for fuel consumption. Why? Because their softer compounds produce more drag on warm surfaces.
All-season and summer tires are built for warm weather
Much like winter tires are built to handle cold and snow, all-season and summer tires are designed for driving conditions unique to warmer weather. Not only are they built from harder rubber compounds, but they also have stiffer sidewalls for better handling, stability and steering response. Their compounds also reduce drag to improve fuel efficiency and their tread patterns, unlike winters which are designed for traction on snow and ice, are engineered to maintain grip in rainy conditions. And for those interested in performance, all-seasons and especially summers, have much better grip on dry surfaces and shorter stopping distances in hot weather.
Differences between all-season and summer tires
To this point I’ve lumped all-season and summer tires into the same category as a means of differentiating them from winters, but there are significant differences between the two.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while shopping:
• Japanese tire giant Bridgestone summarizes the difference between all-seasons and summers this way: all-seasons are designed for balanced performance while summer tires emphasize performance on dry surfaces. What it boils down to is all-seasons offer a balance when it comes to characteristics such as comfort, handling, performance and tread life. Summer tires, on the other hand, are designed to maximize performance (grip, cornering, braking, etc.) with less of a focus on comfort, wear and tread life.
• Pricing for all-season and summer tires varies based on host of factors, including manufacturer, retailer and location but generally summer tires are more expensive than all-seasons, significantly in some instances. Generally, it is easier to justify the increased cost of summer tires if they are being installed on a high-performance vehicle such as a Chevrolet Corvette or Porsche 911. Something to keep in mind if you’re driving a more common passenger car or SUV.
• Intended use. Related to the second point, if the vehicle you’re buying the tires for is simply a daily driver that isn’t likely to see any performance driving, a good set of all-seasons make a lot of sense. If the vehicle is more performance-oriented and it could be used in a closed course track environment, summer tires probably make more sense. Of course, repeated track use will likely consume more than one set of tires so that’s something to also keep in mind.
• Shop around. As mentioned, tire prices can vary greatly so it pays to research your purchase online beforehand to determine what manufacturers and retailers / installers have available with respect to rebates, discounts and special offers.
Five great all-season tire options
This list is subjective, as all lists are, but here are five all-season tires worthy of consideration. The following are listed in alphabetical order but not ranked.
Bridgestone Potenza RE980AS
Bridgestone’s flagship performance all-season is engineered for vehicles with big performance envelopes such as sports coupes, sedans and SUVs. In terms of features, the Potenza RE980AS is had a redesigned tread for improved wet and dry braking and 25 percent longer life, according to Bridgestone. Available for 16 to 20-inch wheel sizes. www.bridgestonetire.ca
Continental ExtremeContact DWS 06 Plus
The new DWS 06 Plus is a new ultra-high performance all-season tire designed for passenger cars and SUVs. Among its features are Sportplus+ Technology which extends tread life, enhances wet grip and improves steering control, and a visual indicator for the tire’s performance in dry, wet and snow conditions. As the D, W and S letters disappear, the tire’s performance is no longer optimal for those road conditions. Available for 16 to 22-inch wheel sizes. www.continentaltire.ca
Goodyear Eagle Exhilarate
The Eagle Exhilarate is Goodyear’s latest ultra high performance all-season designed for muscle cars, sports coupes and sedans. Among its features are ActiveGrip Technology, which offers exceptional handling and traction, ActiveBraking Technology for enhanced braking, ActiveStrength Technology for improved handling due to strong, lightweight design. The Exhilarate also has a rim protector built into its sidewall and a wear gauge tool to track tread life. Available for 17 to 20-inch wheel sizes. www.goodyear.ca
Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 4
The Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 4 is from the French tiremaker’s Pilot family of high-performance tires. Notable for its excellent all-season wet and dry grip, the Pilot Sport A/S 4 is features and asymmetric tread pattern designed for a high degree of lateral grip, along with an Extreme Silica+ compound for enhanced wet grip. Of note, it is the first all-season tire chosen for the Corvette by Chevrolet. Available for 16 to 22-inch wheel sizes. www.michelin.ca
Pirelli Cinturato P7 All Season Plus II
The Cinturato P7 All Season Plus II is a high-performance all-season that features higher silica content for improved wet performance, along with technological innovations designed for performance in a wide variety of wet and dry conditions. Pirelli has also reduced the tire’s weight and rolling resistance for improved fuel efficiency, and four longitudinal grooves for improved stability and water evacuation. Available for 16 to 20-inch wheel sizes. www.pirelli.com