Can You Use Summer Tires in the Winter?

Although the fall season has just arrived, winter is coming sooner than you think. And if you live in an area that constantly gets snow, then you might have to change your car’s tires if it currently has summer tires on it. But what if you want to save on the cost of switching them? Can you use summer tires in the winter?

Different compounds react differently

There is a reason that there are three main categories of tires: summer, all-season, and winter. Summer tires have a lower rolling resistance than winter tires and the rubber compound that is used on them is softer and performs better in warmer temperatures as they heat up and become grippier. But when the weather gets colder and the temperatures drop, the rubber on a summer tire will harden and provide much less traction.

On other hand, winter tires are quite the opposite. When the weather gets colder and the temperatures drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s when winter tires tend to shine. Winter tires have a deep tread design with cuts going across them, which are called “sipes.” This intricate tire design aids in removing excessive buildup from slushy ice as the sipes pack ice between the tread blocks and provide more traction on the ice. So, the short answer to the question is: No, you should not use summer tires in the winter as your car’s traction will suffer greatly and possibly cause you to get into an accident.

A car driving in the snow during winter season.
Daily driving in snow | Evrim Aydin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

What about all-season tires?

If summer tires use a soft compound for better traction in the summer and winter tires use special tread patterns that provide grip in the winter, then you can think of all-season tires as splitting the difference between the two. Although, that doesn’t mean that all-season tires are amazing in both the winter and summertime, as CNET referred to them, “[all-season tires] are the jack of all trades, and master of none.”

In reality, all-season tires perform adequately in warmer temperatures, but never truly at the level of a dedicated performance summer tire. And on the other side of the coin, all-season tires can perform adequately in the snow as well, provided the roads are only covered with a thin layer of the white stuff. But don’t expect them to have the same cornering and handling performance as a true winter tire.


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What is the best solution for the season?

If you live in an area that routinely gets snow in the wintertime, then we suggest that you bite the bullet and swap out your summer tires for winter rubber when the snow starts to hit the ground and then change them back when spring hits. However, if you cringe at the thought of changing your car’s tires twice a year, then look into having two sets of wheels, one set with summer tires and another with a set of winter tires in order to make swapping them a lot easier.