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Buyer's Guide: All-Season vs. All-Weather vs. Winter (Snow) Tires

We live in the Great White North, dreaming of a life in permanent sunshine where we drive our convertible down a beachfront avenue with a surfboard strapped to roof-rack. But that’s not our reality. The truth is for the long winter months, we are driving on snow-plowed streets and highways, scraping our windshield in the morning, and refilling our engine’s anti-freeze tank when it runs low.

Driving in Canada means understanding and dealing with the elements, then learning to safely navigate through them when behind the wheel. Being safe on a wintery road raises an important question: what type of tires do you need when temperatures drop and snowflakes start to fall? What's the difference between winter (or snow) tires and all-season? What about all-weather – how is that different from all-season?

Studded winter tires are another option and provide the best traction, especially on ice. But these tires come with their own drawbacks and may not be legal in certain parts of Canada.

Let's answer some of these questions because tires can be a big investment and you want to be sure you're outfitting your car with the right kind of rubber.

comparing the tread design of all-season, all-weather, and winter tires

What are winter tires?

Most Canadians have experienced white-knuckle drives through a winter wonderland. That's when a fresh dump of snow coats the roads before any plow truck leaves its shed. It's terrifying – slipping around and spinning out. This is where winter/snow tires give you real peace-of-mind.

Winter tires feature big blocky treads, which move water and slush more efficiently, and softer rubber that maintains flexibility in cold temperatures. In hot temperatures that softness becomes a liability, which is why you need to swap out winter tires for all-season or all-weather once spring is sprung.

The biggest drawback for winter tires is the additional costs of storage and the responsibility of putting them on and taking them off at the appropriate time of the year. Not everyone has extra storage space to keep four bulky tires, which is why all-weathers tend to be a more popular choice. But if you live in a region where the snow is deep, the temperatures are low and the plow trucks are few, then winter tires are going to be your best friend.

It's also worth noting that, in some places in Canada, winter tires are required by law:

  • In Quebec, winter tires or all-weather tires are mandatory for all passengers from Dec 15 to March 15. Only tires with the 3-peak mountain logo qualify.
  • Over in BC, either winter tires, all-weather tires, or all-season mud & snow tires are required by law on specific highways. That means tires with the 3-peak mountain logo or M+S designation qualify.

What are all-weather tires?

All-weather is a hybrid tire that can cover you in mild conditions, as well as some non-extreme winter conditions.

In a lot of ways, it's the best of both worlds. You're getting strong performance in summer, spring and fall months, similar to the all-season, but you're also getting good performance in the winter season. Plus, winter tires require change over and storage, while all-weather are used all year, so you're unburdened from that winter tires cost.

Like winter tires, all-weather tires are recognized by Transport Canada as safe to use in most snowy conditions. On the physical tire, you will see a symbol of a 3-peaked mountain/snowflake (“Alpine”) logo (see table) on tires that qualify for this designation.

If there's a downside to all-weather, it's that they generally don't last as long as all-season and winter. This is why you will see shorter tread warranties for all-weather compared to others. It makes sense, considering you are driving on these tires all year long versus swapping out two different sets of tires (all-seasons and winter).

What are all-season tires?

It's confusing when you hear the terms all-season and all-weather compared against each other. If you're talking about all-seasons, then it seems logical you would be talking about all types of weather, right? Not exactly.

All-season tires offer optimal performance during spring, summer, and fall. In fact, some companies have begun renaming all-season tires "3 season tires". Unfortunately, this is not an ideal tire for sub-zero, snowy winter conditions. These tires tend to lose grip at temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius.

The treads on all-seasons are often smooth and straight, repelling water when you're driving in the rain and gripping the road better during warm to hot conditions.

Mud and snow tires are all-season tires that have been approved for muddy and snowy conditions. The 'M+S' designation can be found on the tire. With regards to mandatory tire requirements in Canada, mud and snow tires are approved for use in British Columbia as long as the tire has a tread depth of 3.5mm. However, mud and snow tires do not meet the mandatory winter tire requirement in Quebec.

Here's a quick summary for reference.






Warm, dry, and wet weather

Milder winters including heavy rain & light snowfall

Harsh winters with plenty of snow


Above 7°C

Above & Below 7°C

Below 7°C

Tread pattern 

Provides grip during warmer temps. Finer tread not fit for snow & slush.

Mixture of blocky tread pushes away slush & provides stability, plus sensitive handling in warmer climates

Blocky tread with fine slits that grip snow & push away slush


Harder, lasts longer

Stays flexible above and below 7°C

Stays soft in colder temps for better grip


Put tires on your next car with Canada Drives

There's more to the equation for winter driving than finding the right kind of tires for the right season. There are features like all-wheel drive vs. 4-wheel drive, engine power, and safety services that you can subscribe to in case something goes wrong on the road.

Search hundreds of great vehicles online with Canada Drives and find a car that will give you peace of mind on these snow-covered Canadian roads.

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