Auto repairman loading automobile car wheel at tyre fitting machine during tire replacing
Almost half my reader mail has been asking about “all-weather” tires’ a term that has worked its way into the professional tire lexicon, but is not entirely understood by consumers. A few dealers have even used this phrase to mislead buyers.
All-weather tires are not the same as all-season tires. If you drive in any kind of winter weather, or even just below freezing climes, all-weather tires are superior to all-season.
All-weather tires carry the Transport Canada pictograph of mountain peaks containing several snowflakes. This logo indicates these tires pass the test as a “snow/winter” tire. The important difference is they can be left on the car all year round.
All-season tires do not carry this logo because they have not passed the winter test. All-season tires were originally meant to be able to cope with snow and ice, but their grip falls as fast as the Times Square ball on New Year’s Eve when temperatures drop.
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On bare pavement at just below freezing, an all-season tire takes about 30-per-cent longer to stop than a snowflake-rated tire. Throw in a bit of slush, snow or ice, and the stopping differences become scary.
It is not surprising, then, that a recent survey by Kal Tire found that 64 per cent of drivers who are not using winter tires are considering all-weathers for their next purchase.
“There are a lot of reasons why people choose not to use winter tires. People think their all-season tires will be good enough for the weather conditions they experience, or sometimes it’s a budget issue,”says Carey Hull, Kal’s director of retail products.
“That’s why the all-weather tire could be the answer for so many drivers. They’d get the safety they need, because this is a designated winter tire as well as a superior summer tire, and they wouldn’t have to buy or store a second set of tires.”
The Finnish tire company Nokian pioneered this new class of tires. Their Hakkapeliitta winter tires are among the world’s best ice and snow sloggers, and are pretty well standard issue in northern Finland.
But something was needed for a more urban environment, where streets and highways get plowed on a regular basis. Most urbanites don’t have storage room for extra tires, but all-season tires are persona non grata in Europe.
So the Nokian WR was born, in automobile and SUV sizes. The WR is now into its third generation (G3), and the size range is huge.
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“These all-weather tires are perfect for drivers in cities with mild winter weather, because you’ll have the traction you need to get to the ski hill on the weekend, and you’re going to get excellent stability and grip on wet and slushy roads,” says Hull. “Slush is actually the second-most dangerous driving condition, and it’s the most common.”
In its simplest form, a tire is just a mixture of real rubber, synthetic rubber, polymers, steel belts, fibre belts, binders, silica, carbon black and oils. The whole thing is mixed, put into the form of a tire and baked to perfection.
Depending on the recipe, the rubber will harden as temperatures drop-the recipe determines that rate. To have grip, tires need to be flexible, that’s why all-seasons don’t have much traction below freezing.
All-weather tires do not have this problem; their recipe keeps the rubber soft well below freezing. It also stops the rubber from getting too soft when driving in summer heat.
This is partially achieved by having the tires built to a higher speed rating than one might expect for any given size. Higher speed-rated tires are built stiffer and can dissipate heat better than lower-rated tires.
Nokian tires are sold only by Kal Tire. But other all-weather tires available in Canada are the Hankook 4S (sold only by Canadian Tire), the Vredestein Quatrac (sold at independent retailers) and some Goodyear Fortera SUV tires.
When shopping, be aware that some retailers misidentify their all-season tires as all-weathers. Look for the winter snowflake logo.
Consumer Reports ranked the Nokian WR G3 as its top choice in the performance winter tire category. I have tested the earlier G2 model and was similarly impressed with its grip.
Testing the Hankook Optimo 4S proved to be a revelation, since it nearly equalled the Nokian G2 and has a much lower price. The Quatrac is the economy player in this group but still works.
In real life, depending on driving style, you can expect about 80,000 km out of these tires, although the WR G3 is rated at 100,000 km.
All of these tires are a bit noisier than premium all-seasons, and because they may be a higher speed rating than you normally use, the ride may be stiffer.
Although this class of tires can handle most winter conditions, if you are the guy driving to the snowplow to clear the highways, you may still need dedicated winter tires.
It’s time for all big tire companies to recognize consumer demand and start producing more all-weather tires. The all-weather is what the all-season wanted to be, before it lost its way.