Tires 101: Summer Tires vs Winter Tires

June 11th, 2021 by

A close up shows the sun shining on a set of summer tires.

Do you know that one of the best ways to ensure the safety of your vehicle is to outfit it with the right tires? Tire shopping can be overwhelming, especially when you consider the different types of tires like summer, winter, mud, and all-terrain. Searching for summer tires in Cincinnati can even lead you down a rabbit hole of seemingly endless options. Fortunately, the team here at McCluskey Chevrolet can help you navigate the tire-buying process, better understand the differences between the types of tires, and select the best tire for your driving needs.

One of the most common questions we get involves choosing between summer and winter tires. The biggest difference between summer and winter tires is the rubber compound. Summer tires utilize a rubber compound that’s designed to enhance grip, handling, and performance on dry and wet roads in warmer climates or conditions. Winter tires, however, are composed of a more natural rubber that doesn’t harden in cooler or freezing temperatures. This ensures the rubber is flexible enough to maintain traction in snowy or icy conditions.

What are the other differences between summer and winter tires? What’s the best tire for your needs? As your go-to tire experts, we’ve got those answers and more!

Tires 101: Summer vs Winter Tires

Believe it or not, not every tire is created equal. The tire market is rich with options whether you’re outfitting your SUV with knobby all-terrain tires for your off-road adventures on the trail or you need a new set of winter tires to provide better traction on snow or ice-covered roads. There is a tire for every condition, environment, and need.

Two of the most popular types of tires are summer tires and winter tires. If you live in a moderate climate that doesn’t typically experience extremely hot summers or frigid winters, then your vehicle is likely equipped with all-season tires. However, if you’re in the Cincinnati area, you know firsthand that our climate is anything but moderate. With the combination of below-freezing winter days offset by months of hot and humid summer days, shopping for the right tires is even more important for Cincinnati residents.

Summer Tires

Summer tires are recognizable by their smoother tread blocks that feature shallower and straighter grooves. This ensures that more of the tire is always in contact with the road. By keeping more of the tire on the road, the tire has better traction on dry roads, while the shallow grooves are still enough to prevent hydroplaning in wet weather. So, what makes up a summer tire?

The tread on a summer tire is made of a unique rubber compound that’s mixed with rubber and filler – i.e. sticky additives that make the tread stiffer. Why is this significant? The sticky additives give the tires more grip, while the stiff tread means that the tire will hold its shape even in the summer heat.

The unique rubber compound makes summer tires exceptional performers on both wet and dry roads. However, it’s also what makes them dangerous in winter conditions. The compound is designed to withstand heat, so when the temperature falls below 45 degrees, the compound naturally becomes hard and brittle. This creates a hazardous situation and causes the tires to lose their grip on the road, which is especially dangerous in the snow or ice.

A close up shows snow on the tread of a tire.

Winter Tires

As a Cincinnati resident, you know that winter roads can be extremely unpredictable, whether you’re navigating snow-covered city streets or a bridge covered in black ice. This is where winter tires are vital since their unique rubber compound and tread pattern allow them to navigate even the harshest winter conditions. But what makes a winter tire different from a summer tire?

While summer tires use a unique rubber compound that adds grip and stiffness, winter tires are made of a natural rubber compound that ensures their flexibility. This means that a winter tire won’t stiffen in frigid temperatures and, therefore, will maintain its grip on the road even if the temperature falls far below 45 degrees. However, this also means that winter tires will wear out quickly if you drive with them in warm summer weather.

Just as summer tires are recognizable by their tread, winter tires are also easy to spot since they feature more aggressive tread patterns with lots of grooves and sipes. With a deeper tread, the tires expel water and snow out of the grooves. This allows the tire to maintain its grip on the road and is why winter tires are a must-have when the temperature falls below 45 degrees and snow is in the forecast.

When to Change to Summer Tires

Keeping an eye on the weather is an important part of ensuring your safety on the road. As winter comes to an end and there’s an obvious trend toward warmer temperatures, then it’s time to swap out your winter tires for summer tires. While this may sound like a daunting task, our team can make this transition seamless and convenient, or with the right tools on hand, you can manage the task yourself.

One of the easiest ways you can save time is by keeping both sets of tires – summer and winter – on their own set of wheels with the same bolt pattern. This makes swapping out the sets quicker since it’s a matter of changing out the tire when the time is right. Having separate wheels also allows you to use wider tires with lower sidewalls for summer performance on good roads and then switch to narrow tires with thick sidewalls for digging through snow and driving over frost heaves. If you have the right tools, you can swap the tires yourself or, if you prefer, our certified service techs can swap the tires in no time at all.

Once you’ve swapped out your winter tires for your summer tires, you’ll want to store the winter tires inside and away from any direct sunlight. This maximizes the tire’s longevity and ensures that they’re ready when the winter season returns. One important thing to note is how important it is not to drive on winter tires in the summer in Cincinnati. Winter tires lose their effectiveness in warm conditions and can wear down incredibly fast since the rubber compound is softer. This increases the risk of blowing out a tire and minimizing traction, both of which create a recipe for danger on the road.

A mechanic is shown installing a set of summer tires in Cincinnati.

Are Your Tires Ready for the Road?

When shopping for summer tires in Cincinnati, timing is everything. Why? Since winter tires don’t perform well in warmer conditions, it’s important to keep an eye on the temperature and the predicted last freeze in your area. This will give you a better idea of how much time you have before your winter tires will no longer safely perform.

Once you’ve found the right summer tire for your vehicle, it’s time to make the switch for the season. You can rest assured knowing that the tire’s unique rubber compound will maintain its grip on the road and keep you safe in dry and wet conditions as well as in Cincinnati’s warm and humid summer climate. This peace of mind is huge whether you’re navigating the busy city streets of Cincinnati or you’re venturing out of town for a getaway with friends.

The only question left to ask now is, “are your tires ready for the road?” Now that you know more about the difference between summer and winter tires, it’s time to outfit your vehicle properly. Once you’ve done that, there’s nothing standing in the way of your next adventure on the road!