Summer Time, Summer Tires?

Dear Tracy,

I live in the Midwest and as long as I’ve had my car, I’ve always put on snow tires during the winter and changed over to all-season tires for the spring, summer, and fall. Recently a friend told me he was shopping for a set of summer tires for optimal driving performance in the summer months. I’d never heard of summer tires and now I’m wondering if the all-season tires are best for spring and fall only. Can you shed some light on these different types of tires and how to make the right choice?

-Chuck A.

Dear Chuck,
Understanding the differences between winter tires, summer tires, and all-season tires will help you in selecting the right tire type for your vehicle. The climate in which you live, the season, and the type of driving you do are important factors in your decision.

Winter or snow tires are a necessity in areas that get a significant amount of snow and ice. The softer rubber used for winter tires is developed to grip better in low temperatures. The tread design features small tread blocks with tread cuts called siping, to promote better traction and help prevent hydroplaning. Winter tires wear faster because of the soft rubber, so they should be only used during the winter temperatures and conditions.

Though called summer tires, these performance tires are not necessarily the best choice for all summer driving. The name “summer” is more of a limitation than a recommendation, meaning  that these tires are appropriate for warm seasons and climates only. Summer tires do offer excellent driving performance by enhancing handing, acceleration, and braking response. These features aside, they are probably not the most practical choice for the typical driver due to expense. The rubber used in summer tires is soft like winter tires, but summer tires are subject to more heat and friction so they wear out  even more quickly.

All-season tires are designed to provide the best ride and driving performance in a range of climates and weather. The rubber composition and tread design are engineered for reliable handling and grip in a variety of temperatures and road conditions. I’d say your current tire game plan is probably the best approach for you.