When it’s time to replace your vehicle’s tires, a crucial question is whether you currently have all-season or seasonal rubber.
All-season tires are designed to handle a variety of road conditions year-round, while winter tires and summer tires focus on just cold or warm weather performance respectively.
But with so many tire variations, how do you determine what type of tires are on your car or truck right now?
By closely examining the tire markings on the sidewalls, you can identify key indicators that reveal if you have general all-season tires, specialized winter tires, or performance summer tires.
Let’s take an in-depth look at how to decipher the tire codes and markings to get a clear answer.
What to look for with All-Season tires
All-season tires are engineered to provide decent traction in all four seasons – wet, dry, snowy, or cold.
They offer a balance of year-round capabilities without specializing in any one condition.
Here are the telltale signs that your tires are all-seasons:
- M+S, M/S, M&S, or MS Markings – These letters stand for “Mud and Snow” and indicate the tire has all-season traction capabilities. All-season tires will have one of these markings.
- Mountain/Snowflake Symbol – The pictograph of a mountain with a snowflake also signals mud and snow suitability for all seasons.
- No Summer Tire Designation – True all-season tires will not have any summer-only markings on the sidewall.
- Moderate Aspect Ratio – The aspect ratio, shown as a percentage, will typically be in the 60s, 70s, or high 50s for all seasons to balance comfort and handling.
- P or LT Tire Type Code – All-season tires carry a standard passenger (“P”) or light truck (“LT”) type code.
- S or T Speed Rating – Most all-season tires have S, T, and H speed ratings for speeds between 112 to 130 mph.
If your tires have these clear indicators – M+S rating, moderate aspect ratio, no summer marking – then you have all-season rubber suitable for year-round use.
Spotting dedicated winter tires
True performance winter tires are specifically engineered for superior traction, handling, and braking in cold, snowy, and icy conditions compared to all seasons.
Here’s what sets them apart:
- 3PMSF Marking – This stamp means “3-Peak Mountain Snow Flake” and indicates the winter tire meets severe snow performance standards, mandatory for genuine winter rubber.
- Aggressive Tread Pattern – Winter tread has many more sipes (thin slits) and grooves than all seasons to grab snow.
- Softer Rubber Compound – The rubber stays pliable in freezing temperatures for a better winter grip.
- Tall, Narrow Sizes – Better snow traction comes from narrower treads and taller sidewalls, usually a 55, 60, or 65 series aspect ratio.
- H or V Speed Ratings – Winter tires typically top out at 130 to 150 mph speed limits.
While all seasons can handle light snow, true winter tires are in a different league for heavy snowfall, freezing rain, and ice storms. Check how safe all-season tires are for snow here.
What makes summer tires different
Summer performance tires maximize grip, handling, and acceleration in warm, dry conditions.
Here are the characteristics that set them apart from all seasons:
- No M+S Rating – Lack of a mud/snow marking indicates minimal cold weather capability.
- Stiff, High-Performance Tread Pattern – Designed to channel away water and maximize traction in dry conditions.
- Lower Aspect Ratios – Sizes are typically in the 35 to 45 series range for improved steering, cornering, and acceleration.
- Summer Tire Designation – Some models explicitly have “Summer Tire” on the sidewall.
- W or Y Speed Ratings – Can handle sustained speeds up to 168+ mph.
While great in sunny, warm weather, summer tires are not ideal once temperatures start dropping.
In some cases, the tire may not have clear seasonal indicators on the sidewall. If you’re still not positive what tires came on your vehicle, there are two options:
- Check the manufacturer’s website for detailed model specifications based on your tire’s full DOT code and size details.
- Consult a local tire shop – they can inspect the tread pattern, rubber, and size metrics to provide guidance if they are all-season, winter, or summer tires.
The bottom line is that the tire markings provide the clues you need to determine whether your rubber is engineered for year-round all-season use or specifically for winter or summer conditions.
This knowledge allows you to select replacement tires tailored to your climate and driving needs. With the right tires, you can drive with confidence and safety all year long.