Nobody likes to spend money on their car if they don’t need to. Running and maintaining a vehicle is expensive enough as it is without going looking for more things to buy for it. So why would you splash out on all-season tyres?
One of the benefits of running a car in the UK is that the weather is generally fairly predictable. Sure, there can be a ‘Beast from the East’ storm one week and a shock heatwaves the next, but in Britain we generally know what to expect in the summer and winter months and can adjust our travel plans to suit.
We have said before at The Car Expert that even though the tyres are the only part of your car that actually touch the road, drivers rarely give them a second glance and they’re often lucky to even be kept properly inflated.
So how many UK drivers would consider investigating and buying all-season tyres for their car? It’s an important question though, because as soon as the air temperature drops below 7º Celsius, the performance of conventional (summer) tyres deteriorates significantly.
One good cold snap and you are in the danger area. And when the cold grips your tyres, it affects the car’s steering, braking and power delivery, irrespective of tread pattern or depth.
In many countries across mainland Europe, it’s a legal requirement to fit winter tyres when the coldest part of the year arrives. And even though we don’t have to do that in Britain (mainly because we don’t have those great extremes of weather every year) it is still a serious consideration, especially if you do a lot of miles all year round and need to be able to get up and down the country safely.
So let’s look at the different types of tyre available to explain the differences.
Here in the UK, ‘summer tyres’ are simply known as ‘tyres’ as that’s the sort of tyre cars almost always run.
This rubber is the kind fitted to your car when it comes new from the manufacturer or is the usual choice when drivers come to replace their tyres after a few years of motoring. Made of a softer compound, they offer very good grip when it’s warm and therefore give excellent handling and braking. However, they lose their effectiveness once it gets colder.
Once temperatures drop below about 7º Celsius, conventional summer tyres become far less effective. This led to the creation of specialist winter tyres that perform better in the cold.
Winter tyres are made using a high silica compound and formed with a tread pattern specifically designed so the tyre remains flexible and allows better braking, traction and performance on snow and ice, as well as on wet roads, in cold conditions.
The sidewall of a winter tyre is always marked with a symbol showing a snowflake or snow-topped mountain so you know that your car is shod with them.
Winter tyres are not suited to all-year-round use and they wear out quickly when it’s hotter and drier, so you need to swap your car back onto regular ‘summer’ tyres as soon as the temperature starts to warm up.
The biggest problems with running separate summer and winter tyres is that you essentially need two separate sets of tyres mounted to two separate sets of wheels – one on your car and the other kept in storage – which is expensive and requires you to have space to store them (or to pay to have them stored). You also have to either swap them over yourself every six months or so, or pay a tyre shop to do it for you.
The alternative to separate summer and winter tyres is to opt for all-season tyres, which are designed to work in both warm and cold conditions.
All-season tyres were long seen as a compromise because they were neither as good in cold conditions as a specialist winter tyre, nor as good in warmer weather as conventional summer tyres. However, development of tyre technology has progressed significantly over the years.
They can offer a great compromise for drivers, especially if you live in a part of Britain that gets more extreme weather conditions. They give you peace of mind and better handling when it’s really cold and provide excellent grip and sure-footed traction in the wet. But they don’t wear out quickly when the weather changes for the better, as winter tyres would.
Goodyear’s Vector 4Season, the Continental AllSeasonContact and Michelin’s CrossClimate are examples of all-season tyres. They are able to perform in summer months as well as winter, without wearing out. They are not as soft as pure winter tyres so still offer a responsive and enjoyable drive during the warmer months.
As well as having a compound that suits both warm and cold weather, they are designed with small grooves, known as sipes, built into the tyre’s larger tread pattern, which offer extra grip in the snow or ice. They just don’t have as many sipes as pure winter tyres do.
As a result all-season tyres have become an attractive proposition for drivers looking for safe, winter performance coupled with comfortable, enjoyable rest-of-year motoring, and finding a cost-saving way to achieve that.
Are all-season tyres expensive?
Compared to equivalent summer tyres, yes they are usually more expensive.
Having a quick look online at some of our partner sits listed below, you’re probably looking at paying about 15% more to replace your current tyres with all-season tyres (although this will vary quite a bit).
But when you add up the costs of buying two separate sets of tyres, and buying four extra wheels, and having to pay a tyre shop to fit them and balance them, and having to store four tyres somewhere in your shed (or paying to have them stored elsewhere), and changing them over twice a year, it’s certainly a lot cheaper.
Incidentally, specialist winter tyres tend to be more expensive again, and sometimes significantly more so, than all-season tyres.
- More car tyre advice and tips from The Car Expert
- More general car ownership advice and tips from The Car Expert
Additional reporting by John Blauth. Originally published in August 2016, comprehensively updated in September 2022.