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Winter vs. summer tires – what’s the difference?

The winter has come. And so has the snow and ice. That means it’s about time you start thinking about winter tires. But are they really worth it and what is the actual difference between a summer and a winter tires?

To explain this, our favorite car nerd, Jason Fenske from Engineering Explained is here once again, to help us understand the massive difference winter tires make versus all seasons and summer tires, especially when temperatures drop and snow falls.

His explanation goes pretty in-depth, but the most important takeaway is that winter tires are engineered to stay grippy when it gets cold. One of the major factors that makes winter tire better in the winter and a summer tire better in the summer is something called “the glass transition temperature”. What this basically means is that the rubber in summer tires offers more grip when it’s warm, but below an ambient temperature of 45 degrees or so, they get too hard to provide effective grip. On the flip side, when things get hotter, the summer tire rubber gets nice and sticky, whereas the winter tire gets mushy and starts wearing out more heavily.

Winter tires also have more sipes and deeper thread to gather snow. Summer tires have stiffer sidewalls to improve handling.

Meanwhile, all-season tires simply strike a balance between the two compounds. Ultimately, that means compromising on performance. It’s definitely better to use all-season tires instead of summer tires in the winter, but you’re never going to beat the winter tires performance.

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So, if you live in an area where it snows, you should invest in a proper set of winter tires for your vehicle. When the weather turns warm and sunny, you should happily switch to summer rubber. Each tire is designed to perform best in a given climate conditions. Now you know why, so you no longer have an excuse to run the wrong tires based on the season.

Luka Hribar

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