All-season vs. winter tires
For over a decade now there has been a simmering undercurrent of debate in Europe over the merits and needs of winter tires. It is a tricky subject as parts of Northern Europe and Scandinavia predictably receive harsh winter conditions including heavy snowfall, so rugged winter tires are essential.
In Southern Europe, however, wintry road conditions are a very rare occurrence.
In the past few years the emergence of all-season tires (sometimes known as all-weather tires) has added even more fuel to the fire of opinion on the best type of tires in terms of safety needed for cars and trucks in the winter months.
Perhaps the perfect example of a market where both all-season and winter tires are competing against one another is the UK which forms part of the European road network (at least politically).
Although all-season tires are fitted to most vehicles in America where (in regions of modest winter snowfall) they are considered a reasonable compromise to suit most road conditions, the same universal agreement has not yet reached various parts of Europe. In the UK right now both types of tires have avid supporters.
The UK is perhaps unique in the sense that like Holland and France, heavy snow conditions only happen once every few years. And although when the roads are particularly bad with ice and snow it would make sense to drive on professional winter tires, such severe weather is considered to be reasonably rare.
To be honest, I have yet to see winter tires being extensively promoted in UK tire retail outlets, but the exact opposite can be said of all-season tires.
The general description of all-season brands in Europe is that they have been specifically developed for selected European regions with moderate climates which are characterized by wet, light to mid-winter conditions to give drivers a sense of confidence in safe driving experiences throughout the year and eliminating the need to change tires twice every year.
This is why in 2013 I have noticed an increasing amount of tire retailers recommending all-season brands for the coming winter season — not just in the UK, but also in Holland and France.
Living in a reasonably average neighborhood area among a good cross section of people — from young, ambitious business people right through to young couples starting families — I have recently carried out my own very low-key survey on what ordinary drivers feel about the winter tire vs. all-season tire argument in the UK.
The overwhelming conclusion is that because the winters are only occasionally severe, most favoured buying all-season tires over winter tires. I feel there are two fundamental reasons for this overwhelming decision.
First of all, it’s a matter of cost. It’s true the UK is slowly but surely recovering financially as a nation (unlike some European countries), but money is still tight for many households. So having to change tires midway through the year to combat winter is simply unacceptable and can be out of reach for many drivers.
The other reason is that most people still work on the age-old theory of “If the weather is that bad we will not drive,” therefore eliminating the need for winter tires.
When you look at the proven benefits of all-season tires, including the fact that these tires are manufactured with specific rubber formulations and compounds to provide reassuring impressive traction on a wide range of tough wintry road conditions, it’s easy to understand why drivers do not see the need for more tough and resilient winter patterns fitted to their cars. To be honest, I am a great believer in economic practicality when it comes to driving and can understand why there is still eager support for the UK and milder climates in Northern Europe to adopt all-weather tires over winter tires. However, there is no doubt that these patterns are not ideal when road conditions really deteriorate dramatically and lead to a series of spectacular accidents with loss of life.
The hotly disputed debate continues. ■
John Stone has been working within the global tire industry for the past 20 years. In 2004 he launched his own company, Sapphire Media Services, as a business media consultant with clients around the globe. Stone also writes for tire and automotive-related publications in Europe, South Africa and Asia.