Throughout the years, the tire industry continuously evolved, introducing more and more innovations. Thanks to those, today we have tires that can offer improved performance in certain conditions and unlike the olden days when there was only one type of tire, today we have multiple.
There are several options for going off-roading and tons of choices for road-going tires. Even in those main categories, there are multiple sub-categories. Having these many options is nice, but it introduces a problem – choosing the right one. I’ve said plenty of times that one tire won’t perform well in multiple conditions, so while you get versatility, you will be making some compromises.
Making the right choice is crucial to getting the most out of your vehicle, but with so many options, sometimes it’s a bit difficult to make the right one. Over the years I’ve seen a mistake that some people make, which revolves around performance on snow.
A common misconception is that all-terrain tires are excellent performers on snow due to their tread pattern. I’m not saying that this is wrong, but there are situations where you may find them struggling. To set the record straight, I’ll compare all-terrain and snow tires today and outline which is better for each situation.
While this may seem like an unfair comparison, there are some overlaps in which both tires can be used in similar conditions, which is why it’s common for some people to mix them.
All-Terrain vs. Snow Tires
All-terrain tires are designed to deliver a mixed performance between on and off-road conditions. Since they are also all-season tires, you can expect to get some usable or maybe decent performance in snowy conditions.
Snow tires, or winter tires, as the name suggests, are designed to deliver the best performance on the road and in snowy conditions. As a bonus, some of them can offer excellent performance on ice, especially with studs.
What are All-Terrain Tires?
You may have gotten the idea from the summary above, but here’s an in-depth explanation. All-terrain tires are designed as a one-stop shop for people with off-road capable vehicles but also drive them on the roads. Think of them like all-season tires – good performance in multiple conditions.
I will emphasize good performance because tires that combine performance in multiple conditions usually have some tradeoffs. Unlike road-going tires, all-terrain ones have a more aggressive tread pattern designed for non-paved conditions like dirt or mud. Another key difference is the rubber compound and internal construction. Even though they won’t excel in the most extreme off-road conditions, they are still designed tougher to survive in these conditions.
Compared with mud-terrain tires, the all-terrain ones don’t have an overly aggressive tread pattern, which is the tradeoff. They are set up for road use, which mud-terrain tires aren’t too good at. As a result, you are losing some performance in more extreme conditions.
All-terrain tires are designed for multiple driving conditions, as well as multiple weather seasons, so you’re also looking at all-season tires. It means you can drive them in summer and winter and get good performance in both cases. The biggest problem with these tires is the performance in harsher winter conditions.
While they can offer some usable performance, they wouldn’t be my first choice when it comes to deep snow or ice, which is where snow tires come into play.
What are Snow Tires?
Snow tires, on the other hand, are designed specifically for road use in winter conditions. The rubber compound is the key aspect of these tires, as it’s designed only for lower temperatures, and most winter tires are recommended to be used below 45 degrees.
Next up is the tread pattern, which is a key area that enables snow tires to be very good on snow. In most cases, they feature a zig-zag pattern, allowing them to bite into snow and deliver traction. Keep in mind that even though we call them snow tires, they’ll have absolutely no problems delivering performance on dry or wet roads.
As part of the winter tire category, there are studless and studdable tires, and I’m guessing you know where this is going. The studless ones are regular winter tires, capable of offering excellent performance in all winter conditions and usable performance on ice. Studdable ones are the tires that can be fitted with studs for the absolute best performance on ice, but without them, you are still getting superior winter performance.
Differences Between All-Terrain and Snow Tires
As I mentioned in the beginning, these two types of tires aren’t exactly comparable, but there are some overlaps in their performance, so we won’t be upsetting the gods of tires by comparing them.
One of the main differences between these two types of tires is when you should use them. As all-season tires, the all-terrain ones are designed to be used in summer and winter, thanks to the rubber compound, which remains softer during winter but doesn’t rip to shreds in summer. Snow tires, on the other hand, are for winter use only, as the compound won’t withstand high temperatures and will wear out prematurely. Another disadvantage is that the performance in summer is terrible. Yes, there are those that claim a winter tire sticks better on hot tarmac, and that’s true. The problem with this is that the handling is terrible, and it feels like you’re driving on round balloons filled with water.
The next main difference is where you should drive them. All-terrain tires are more durable to withstand getting driven in off-road conditions. While they may not be as durable as mud-terrain ones, they are definitely more durable than snow tires. A key note here is that the durability doesn’t relate to all-terrain tires having longer treadlife or being capable of lasting for 20 years. The durability side of it can be noticed in off-road scenarios, as most of them have cut and chip resistive rubber compounds. With snow tires, you have a much softer compound that is designed for paved road use only, so if you take your winter tires off-roading, you may end up damaging them and reducing their lifespan.
When Should you Get All-Terrain Tires?
All-terrain tires are technically more versatile, so there are many conditions where you should look at them. The first step is the type of car you drive, which is the most crucial. If you own a sedan or a hatchback, then all-terrain tires are off the table, as you won’t be driving your car in off-roading conditions.
If you own an off-road capable vehicle, then you should consider all-terrain tires, but not for all conditions. Since these types of tires are capable of delivering off-road performance, then you will be able to benefit from the performance they can offer.
These kinds of tires are generally good for driving on dirt roads and can handle some mud-action and maybe some light sand conditions. While some have shown acceptable results in rock crawling, they won’t be anywhere near as good as proper mud-terrain tires. The bonus is that you also get some decent performance on the road, which is why they are an excellent balance.
Naturally, there are some drawbacks since they aren’t designed specifically for road use. The performance on the road won’t be on the same level as a touring tire, which is because of the tread pattern. Another drawback is the refinement. While the comfort levels may be decent with some models, the noise levels are higher than what you’d get with road-going tires.
When Should you Get Snow Tires?
This is an easier decision, as snow tires are something you should be looking at if you need better performance in winter conditions. With that said, there are a few considerations you should have in mind here as well.
While all-terrain tires are for off-road capable vehicles only, snow tires can also be fitted to passenger and off-road vehicles. Some people get them but don’t drive in off-road conditions, so they can look at road tires. While it seems simple enough, there are a few roads you can take here.
For the most part, snow tires are for winters with a lot of snow, lower temperatures, and overall harsher conditions. Some people live in areas where the winters aren’t so harsh, so maybe they would benefit from all-season tires, at least from a financial standpoint. As for performance, regardless of how mild winters are in your area, if the temps are below 45 degrees, you’re looking at better performance.
Finally, it’s the type of winter and the driving conditions. Most people would be fine with regular winter tires and wouldn’t even think about anything else. On the other hand, people that drive in the harshest conditions, especially ice, should consider studdable tires. The addition of metal studs means that you can get more traction in these conditions, something that the regular tires won’t be able to tackle as well.
Choosing the right set of tires is a mix of personal preference, conditions, and type of vehicle. In my area, for example, the winters aren’t overly harsh, so some people are perfectly fine with all-season tires, while I’m going for the summer and winter options.
When it comes to all-terrain and snow tires, things are a bit different. While in my example, both options can be good, with these two, the vehicle plays a huge factor. The off-road factor will push you towards the all-terrain models, while the harsh winter one will force you to get a snow tire.