You pretty much have three main choices — traditional winter tires, ice radials or all-weather tires

Tire swapIt’s never too early to talk about winter tires in Canada. While most of September is still technically summer, some parts of Canada have already experienced snow— and more is on the way in the coming months. One particular category of winter tires gaining popularity, with more manufacturers offering “all-weather” tires, but let’s have a short recap.

In this country, tires for passenger vehicles and light trucks can be divided into four categories: All-season (which essentially means three-season), traditional winter tires, ice radials, and now, all-weather. These all have different performance characteristics, and more importantly, all this depends on the type of vehicle they’re installed on.

Traditional winter tires are easily distinguished by their large, clunky and grippy tread patterns, with wide and deep grooves to channel away water, slush, and snow. To most consumers, their main drawback is the noise they create. On the plus side, they provide traction in just about any type of winter road condition, but of course, less so on hard and extremely cold ice.

If the favorite feature of your ride is silence, these might not be for you. Sedans, higher-end crossovers, compacts, subcompacts, and minivans suffer the worst from this increased volume. A few years back, European tire makers were working with a United Nations committee to come up with new labeling rules that would give consumers some idea of how noisy a particular tire was compared to the competition. We’re still waiting for North American regulators to adapt those rules; these regulations were also supposed to provide a good basis for comparison in terms of fuel economy and tread life, too.

Ice radials have moved from new kids on the block to teenagers, and have a lot of benefits. More manufacturers are offering them every year, and this is bringing some substantial competitive pricing to retailers. For the most part, they are almost as quiet as summer tires but deliver great traction on any surface, including better-than-average grip on ice. They can get beaten in deep, fresh snow without the wide grooves of traditional snow boots, but for most urban drivers this isn’t much of a concern.

Generally, they are more expensive that traditional winter tires, but their smoother profile doesn’t impact fuel economy. Ice radials can be a great choice for almost any type of vehicle and in most regions. Pickup owners choose these less than traditional winter tires for a number of reasons; higher road noise isn’t usually much of a concern, and ice radials don’t have an aggressive-looking tread.

All-weather tires are the newbies, if you forget that Goodyear started first marketing them over 15 years ago — remember the TripleTred? But many other tire manufacturers have followed suit, in an attempt to grab those drivers who abhor having to change their boots seasonally or spend a good part of winter in sunnier climes.

If you fall into either category, all-weather tires might be for you. Keep in mind — even their makers admit they’re a compromise. They don’t have quite the same grip as traditional winter tires or ice-radials in the winter, and won’t deliver the same tread life as all-season or summer tires in warmer weather. But if you factor in your costs of seasonal changeovers against the reduced lifespan of the rubber, it might be worth your while. These are suitable for just about any type of ride.