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All Season Tires: Good Enough?

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Justin Pritchard
I've received many emails this winter about tires. "All season tires are good in the snow too, right?" One reader asked. Another said "Do I really need snow tires if I have all-wheel drive?" See, all-wheel drive is great, but it doesn't help you to stop, and it doesn't increase the friction between the road and your tire's surface. At best, it helps with acceleration and handling in winter driving. At worst, it could be a dangerous false sense of security.

Ask a neighbor or friend with snow tires about them if you haven't got any yourself. They'll probably tell you that the investment pays for itself the first time sudden stopping or steering is required in wintry conditions.

That in mind, all season tires are fine if you live somewhere that doesn't get a lot of snow. That's because they sort of try to do everything--as a result, they do an "okay" job of handling winter. It's a bit like your family doctor--they know a bit about everything, but sometimes a specialist is required.

To answer your questions, I spent a day last week testing out different tires to see if all-season tires are actually "good enough".

First, I needed a vehicle--a competent machine ideal for the Northern family. Something safe, well-equipped and fitted with all-wheel drive and above-average performance was in order. An Escape XLT would fit the bill--with its 200-horsepower engine and all-wheel drive system, it would be an ideal companion for the tests.

Next, some tires. After a few phone calls, I had a set of BF Goodrich Winter Slalom tires, as well as a set of Nokian Hakkapelitta studded winter ice radials. The latter come from Finland, the country that invented winter, and as such promised to perform. With my truck and thousands of dollars worth of tires ready to be put through their paces, it was time to see if all-season tires would hold their own against some of the best winter tires on the market.


The first step was to get the Escape up to 60 km/h as quickly as possible. With its 3-liter Duratec engine cranking out 200 horsepower selectively to all four wheels, this was the easy part. Once the speed was sustained, full brakes were applied at a pre-marked point on the test strip, with the distance measured between that point and the point where the Escape came to rest, from the center of the front wheels. The surface was hard packed, polished snow, free of sand or salt.

Each test was performed three times, with the distances measured by laser and the average recorded. I spent some time testing acceleration and handling with each set of tires mounted, to comment on the differences in handling as well.

Continental All-Season Tires
The factory tires fitted to the Escape XLT provide moderate grip during acceleration. Full-out stopping yielded an average distance of 104 feet, while the antilock system made a valiant effort to squeeze every bit of traction possible out of the road's icy surface.

BF Goodrich Winter Slalom tires
The advantage to the Winter Slalom tires was apparent the instant the brakes were applied. The initial slip was almost totally averted, and the tires bit into the snow instantly. The Escape managed to consume only 83 feet of icy tarmac to stop. That's 21 feet shorter than with the all-season tires mounted. Imagine this meaning the difference between rear-ending someone or not, or stopping at a red light instead of sliding through an intersection. That folks, is the kind of performance that's hard to put a price on.
Justin Pritchard
Justin Pritchard
Automotive expert