All-Season Tires vs. Summer Tires: What's the Difference

The seasons you encounter play a factor when selecting tires for your vehicle.

Up-close tire tread patternShutterstock


The same way you need different outfits for different seasons, you need different tires for your car during different seasons. Summer performance tires don't perform as well when the temperature falls or when rain makes roads slick.

Even if you live in a place where summer and winter are both warm and sunny, you may need options when you travel. While you don't need to change tires as often as you do outfits, there are some weather-related conditions to take into account when selecting between summer and all-season tires.

What Are All-Season Tires?

All-season tires are suited to the majority of driving most people do. Chances are your car came from the factory wearing all-season rubber for this very reason.

As the name suggests, all-season tires work well in both wet and dry conditions and in a wide range of temperatures. There are subsets within the broader group, distinguished by the aggressiveness of their tread patterns. A touring all-season will have a tamer design than a performance-focused all-season, for instance.

In general, this type of tire should attempt to clear any water it's moving through, helping to avoid hydroplaning. Some all-seasons have the three-peak mountain snowflake icon, which means they're rated for at least minimal use in cold and snowy conditions. That said, if you live somewhere the thermometer dips below about 45 degrees Fahrenheit for long stretches, a dedicated winter tire will serve you best.

What Are Summer Tires?

Summer tires are to warm weather as winter tires are to the cold. They perform best on hot roads, where the rubber compounds turn soft and pliable for superior grip. And with superior grip, you get superior acceleration, turning, and stopping.

Within the summer-tire category, there is a spectrum of capability, with some suited for wet weather and moderately cool temperatures, while others, such as those on certain sports cars, are strictly for dry, warm days. They will get hard in the cold, though, losing that grip, which is one reason you don't want to use them in the winter.

How Summer Tires Differ From All-Season Tires

No tire option is without its compromises. Summer tires often have a shorter lifespan than all-seasons, as the tread depth is usually shallower and the softer rubber compounds tend to wear more quickly.

All-seasons are the jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none choice. They're acceptable for the majority of driving conditions, but they're least useful in climatic extremes.

If the weather where you drive warrants it, you could swap between a summer and a winter tire twice a year and avoid the all-season compromise. Conversely, in milder climates, it's possible to run an all-season tire year-round, avoiding the need to swap tires at all.

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David Gluckman
David Gluckman has over a decade of experience as a writer and editor for print and digital automotive publications. He can parallel park a school bus, has a spreadsheet listing every vehicle he’s ever tested, and once drove a Lincoln Town Car 63 mph in reverse. When David’s not searching for the perfect used car, you can find him sampling the latest gimmicky foodstuffs that America has to offer.