While there is no such thing as a one-type-fits-all fitment solution, the majority of tires sold in the United States fall within the all season (AS) category. According to the latest Hankook Tire Gauge Index survey of American drivers, 75 percent have all-season tires on their vehicles in the winter months.
“All-season tires are a good choice when the customers’ region does not reach extreme conditions,” says Juan Britos, senior technical services specialist for Hankook Tire. “Regions with heavy snow might require snow tires. However, all-season tires run year round so they do not require switching to snow tires.”
Cooper Tire sees this trend in all-season market dominance as one fueled by consumers’ pocketbooks.
“The majority of the tires sold in the U.S. are all-season, driven primarily by consumer economic considerations,” the team at Cooper Tire said. “In most of the country, all-season tires perform well in winter, summer, spring and fall, meaning that consumers do not need to invest in separate winter tires or summer tires. In short, consumers can minimize out-of-pocket costs by using all-season tires. At the same time, they do not compromise on performance in most cases, meaning an all-season tire may be the ideal solution for many drivers.”
But Is All-Season Always the Best Solution?
While AS tires may seem like a safe, go-to recommendation, according to David Shelton, director of operations and projects for Giti Tire (USA) Ltd., there are tradeoffs.
“All-season tires do provide a better performance average across the board but are not the absolute solution to every environment and road conditions one might encounter,” Shelton says. “The most common misconception is that all-season tires handle all driving conditions optimally. All-season tires are not the best choice for a fast lap around the test track, or for heavy snow and slush conditions. Consumers need to understand that all-season tires are not the answer to everything.”
One of the largest misconceptions by consumers – and often by those who sell tires – is that an AS tire can replace the need to swap out to winter tires in areas that experience less-than-mild winters. According to Bob Abram, senior manager of product planning at Yokohama, and others, AS tires do not replace the need for winter tires in certain climates. A rule of thumb is that if you have road crews in the area that are dedicated to snow plowing, AS may not always be the best choice.
An all-season tire recommendation should be made only after a fact-finding conversation with the vehicle owner. Because tires are such a strong component of vehicle performance and safety, asking the right questions to fully understand the needs of the customer is paramount.
The top three questions to ask a customer, according to Yokohama’s Abram, include gathering information on an individual’s driving style, driving climate of where they travel and the mileage they’d like to reach.
“A salesperson should ask about the consumer’s driving style (spirited, defensive, aggressive, competition), the kind of roads they frequent (city, highway, rural, mountain), as well as the predominant climate in which they drive,” Abram says.
In addition to driving habits, Brad Robinson, product manager with Bridgestone Americas tire operations, says you also need to understand how customers use their vehicle on a daily basis and the type of ride or in-vehicle experience they prefer. “What type of driving/experience or ride do you prefer – Quiet? Comfortable? Sporty?” Robinson suggests. “Do you live in an area that has mild winters? Would you prefer to have a well-rounded product that can handle mild winter conditions [or] do you need a tire that will perform in extreme winter driving conditions, such as cold, ice, snow and slush?”
Other details like “what tires are currently on the vehicle and what do you like about them or dislike about them” can also help you better understand the consumer’s preferences so you can make an appropriate recommendation. “Tire selection is important,” adds Rick Phillips, vice president of sales with Triangle Tire USA. “[If you go with an all-season tire], you might give up some high-end performance if you drive very aggressively, or you might sacrifice some traction in extreme winter conditions.“
Bridgestone’s Robinson agrees.
“All-season tires are not the best type of tire for drivers looking for best-in-class performance in extreme conditions, such as winter or high performance driving situations,” he says. “When designing an all-season tire, the objective is to engineer a tire that performs well across a range of daily driving conditions including summer heat, rain and even light winter weather. In the U.S., all-season tires are the default tire choice. [But they] are not the best type of tire for drivers looking for best-in-class performance in extreme conditions such as winter or high performance driving situations.
“For customers who reside in areas with more extreme winter weather, we always recommend switching to a dedicated winter tire during that time of year. On the other end of the spectrum, if a customer lives in a place that is warm or hot year-round, and they enjoy sporty driving, they likely would be best served by a summer tire.”
All-Season Design Variations
All-season tires are designed to be different. Over the years, the technology behind all-season tires has improved substantially.
“These tires are lighter, more fuel efficient, and perform better than ever in all types of conditions,” the team at Cooper Tire says. “Characteristics important to Cooper in the development of all-season tires, which are also key for the development of all tires, are enhanced performance, light-weight materials, rolling resistance/fuel economy, wet and dry grip and tire and vehicle noise.”
With many variations of all-season products – such as touring tires and UHP all-season designs – it’s important to understand the features and benefits of a specific recommendation in order to match the right qualities against the wants and needs of the customer.
Giti’s Shelton explains how all-season technology falls on the spectrum of tire design – information that could be useful when talking with customers about the differences.
“[AS tires] are designed with more blading (siping) and biting edges in the tread design,” Shelton says. “As a tire design appearance changes from a designated summer UHP tire through all-season variants to dedicated winter tires for a given vehicle category, the tread blocks usually shift from larger blocks with wide straight tread grooves, to smaller blocks with more edges and sipes. As the tire moves more toward winter [designs], there are even more facets to the blocks and they are more angled with usually more intrusion into the grooves to provide more biting edges for snow traction. Additionally the tread compound(s) tend to shift their optimum operating range (peak traction range) from higher ambient temperatures through to moderate, and down to extremely cold ambient temperature ranges for dedicated winter products. All-season tires spread through the greater part of the spectrum but do not provide the higher level of grip at the extremes as those dedicated to the ends of that spectrum of performance.”
Bridgestone’s Robinson says that the all-season touring tires are designed for normal daily driving. While there are many variations, these variations add specific additional benefits, such as fuel efficiency, noise reduction, comfort and durability. All-season UHP tires give the ability to drive in most weather conditions but there will be more trade offs, like wear life and winter driving performance. Robinson says this is a necessary tradeoff in order to maximize other qualities of the tires, like sporty handling and better traction in dry and wet conditions. He adds that as tire technologies progress, the trade-offs lessen as innovation is introduced.
Shelton says that one important part of the conversation that is often not addressed is the impact of temperature extremes on tire performance. When temps drop well below the freezing mark, some tires considered to be all season lose their grip.
“From a traction perspective, the difference of grip available from the tread interface with the road, from when the temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit, to that same surface at freezing (or when ice is on the surface of the road) is dramatic,” Shelton explains. “A tire designed primarily to work and perform at its highest when temperatures are above 70 degrees and on dry pavement does not function nearly as well on ice and when at, or below freezing, as one designed for those temperatures and surface conditions. The reverse is also true.”
Bridgestone’s Robinson says that the versatility of all season tires comes at the expense of maximum performance. “All season tires are the ‘jack of all trades’ tire, but they are not the best option for extreme conditions that can occur in the summer and winter.”
He adds that some tire dealers also make the mistake of fitting all-season tires on all-wheel drive or four-wheel-drive vehicles, as the vehicle itself will be enough to pull the customer through bad weather conditions when that is not the case.
“Pairing all season tires with AWD/4WD is a common misconception among drivers; they believe AWD/4WD is enough to equip them to drive in snowy and icy conditions,” Robinson says. “While AWD or 4WD will help drivers accelerate in those conditions, those features do nothing to help a driver stop in snow or ice.”
All-season tires are designed with versatility in mind. While it’s easy to make assumptions about what most customers want, digging into the details can help you make a smarter recommendation, improving your customer’s vehicle performance and safety as a result.