During our current testing of 53 different models of all-season, all-terrain, and winter/snow truck tires, Consumer Reports has noticed a significant change by manufacturers.
Tire makers have started to apply the mountain/snowflake symbol (shown below, it’s also called the Alpine symbol) that traditionally designates winter/snow tires and their snow traction capability to all-season and all-terrain tires. That move could confuse tire shoppers.
Dedicated winter/snow tires deliver a clear advantage in snow, because their tread compound stays pliable in the cold and the many slits, or sipes, in their tread provide biting edges to grip snow and icy surfaces. But based on our tests, winter/snow tires generally don’t grip well on clear roads, and their softer tread compound wears more quickly.
In general, all-terrain tires naturally do well in snow because their tread design, with deep lateral grooves and tread lugs, not only helps on unpaved roads but also helps dig through snow. One of the tires we are testing, the Nokian WR G3 SUV, has the mountain/snowflake symbol, but is neither a dedicated winter/snow tire nor an all-terrain tire. It’s really sort of an all-season tire that places an emphasis on winter traction.
On top of that, of the 17 all-terrain tires we’re testing, six have the mountain/snowflake symbol. And the Cooper Discoverer AT/W and Falken AT3W, are marketed as all-terrain tires with all-weather capabilities, and highlight their winter-performance potential. It is interesting to note that seasonally wintry locales, such as Quebec, Canada, mandate the use of tires with the mountain/snowflake symbol for winter driving.
How the Winter/Snow Tires Stack Up
To evaluate snow traction, we measure the distance it takes for our Chevrolet Silverado, in two-wheel-drive mode, to accelerate from 5 to 20 mph on packed snow. Tires that have better snow traction need to travel less distance to reach 20 mph. We use GPS instrumentation to record the distance.
No surprise, if you need to drive in severe snow conditions, a dedicated winter/snow tire offers the best snow traction. Those tires needed an average of 80 feet to reach 20 mph.
But the all-terrain and all-weather tires with the mountain/snowflake symbol we tested were not quite as good. On average, they took 98.2 feet to reach 20 mph, shorter than the average distance for all-terrain and all-season tires that without the mountain/snowflake symbol.
CR’s take: If you frequently drive in wintry conditions, then go with dedicated winter/snow tires. While the all-terrain and all-weather tires with the mountain/snowflake symbol that we tested do offer improved snow traction over the all-terrain and all-season tires that lack the symbol, don’t confuse them for dedicated winter/snow tires.