All-Terrain vs. All-Season Tires: What’s Right for You?

All-terrain tires are meant for off-roading and extreme weather, whereas all-seasons are meant for any weather.
Written by Kathryn Mae Kurlychek
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
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All-season and all-terrain tires may seem similar, but they serve different purposes. All-season tires are generalist tires meant for multiple weather conditions, whereas all-terrain tires are meant for frequent off-roading and extreme conditions.
  • All-terrain tires are specialized for off-roading and extreme conditions, but they are noisier on paved roads and less fuel-efficient.
  • All-season tires are more versatile and suitable for everyday driving conditions, with a shallower tread that provides traction in various weather events.
  • All-season tires are more cost-effective and fuel-efficient than all-terrain tires.
  • Factors to consider when choosing between tire types include vehicle compatibility, your typical driving conditions, and your budget.

All-terrain tires: Built for mud, rocks, and snow

All-terrain tires (AT tires) are specialized for situations not typically encountered under normal driving conditions, like thick mud, large rocks, and deep snow.
If you’re an avid off-roader or regularly transport large loads for work or sport, all-terrain tires can improve your traction and perform better in extreme conditions. Vehicles that come readily equipped with all-terrain or off-road tires tend to also bundle in other off-road performance benefits to help fulfill more specialized driving purposes. 
Pro Tip If you’re going for serious off-road action, you might want to consider mud-terrain tires as well as all-terrain tires. 

Tread 

Your tire’s tread helps maintain traction while driving—so the tread pattern of your tire matters depending on what you’re driving for. All-terrain tires have a wider, deeper, more aggressive tread design to help them better absorb impact and hold traction in extreme off-road use or weather conditions. 
The downside, however, is that all-terrain tires tend to make more noise on paved roads, especially if you’re driving on paved surfaces, negatively impacting driving comfort.

Fuel economy 

Your car uses fuel to keep your tires rolling, and the amount of fuel it takes depends on the characteristics of your tires—tread pattern, tire size, and the materials they’re made of can all impact how much fuel it takes to turn your wheels. 
All-terrain tires are bigger and blockier and cover a wider surface area when in contact with the road. As a result, they create more rolling resistance, which means they’re somewhat less fuel-efficient than all-season tires. 

Cost

The starting costs of all-terrain tires are pricier than all-season tires—even the cheapest all-terrain tires average a $100 price tag. Plus, if you’re adding all-terrain tires to a car that originally came equipped without them, you may have to pay extra for car modifications or adjustments to get the tires to fit. 
Additionally, although all-terrain tires are meant to perform on all types of terrain, they’re best suited to more extreme road conditions, which means they’re likely to experience faster treadwear than all-season tires. This is especially true if you’re driving on regular roads often. 
Consequently, you’ll have to change or replace all-terrain tires more often in comparison to all-season ones. 

All-season tires: Built for the open road (in any weather)

Sometimes called all-weather tires, all-season tires are made to withstand a variety of everyday driving conditions, including more standard weather events and driving on backroads or dirt roads. 
Because their intended purpose is to perform in normal driving conditions, all-season tires are generally the industry standard. Look for the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol if you’re looking for premium snow traction. 

Tread 

Compared to all-terrain tires, all-season tires have a shallower tread, making them most suitable for on-road driving. 
Their shallower tread channels decrease road noise (and increase driving comfort) while still doing the work of maintaining traction in weather events like rain or winter conditions. As long as you’re maintaining your tires properly, all-season tires should outlast all-terrain ones, so you’ll spend less on tire changes throughout the span of your car’s lifetime. 

Fuel economy 

All-season tires can also save you money where fuel’s concerned. The shallower tread pattern, smaller size, and rubber compounds characteristic of all-season tires makes them more fuel-efficient on normal cars than all-terrain tires

Cost

What about the cost of the tires themselves? All-season tires tend to be cheaper, as they’re industry standard for most cars, vans, SUVs, and trucks, and are made to perform under average driving conditions. 
Starting costs for all-season tires are at least $40 to $50 cheaper than starting costs for all-terrain tires. 
MORE: Winter tires vs. all-season tires: Which is better?

Pros and Cons: 

To make things clearer, we’ve summed up all the pros and cons of all-season vs. all-terrain tires in the table below:
Type of tire
Pros
Cons
All-season
Perform well in most driving conditions, cost-effective, fuel-efficient, quiet, and more comfortable on roads
Poor performance in extreme or winter weather conditions, minimal off-roading ability
All-terrain
Open-tread pattern improves off-road handling, reinforced sidewalls for easier towing on heavy loads, better traction in weather events, suitable for any driving surface
More costly, less fuel-efficient, prone to wearing out more quickly, noisy on roads

How to choose the right tires for you

If you’re not sure which tires will best suit you, you can ask yourself a couple of questions before making your decision. 

Are the tires manufacturer-approved for your vehicle? 

Since all-season tires are generally the industry standard for most vehicles, certain cars—particularly smaller models—can’t be fitted with bulky all-terrain tires. It’s important to consider your specific vehicle and what it can handle when making your decision. 
If you know you’ll be using your car for off-roading excursions or heavy transportation, it may be better to purchase a vehicle that comes pre-equipped with all-terrain tires right from the dealership. 

Where do you drive on a typical day? 

Part of figuring out what kind of tires are right for you includes considering your driving needs. 
Asking questions like where do I typically drive in a day? or what am I using my car for most of the time? can help make clearer your specific driving needs, so you can choose the best tires for those situations. 

What’s your budget? 

Upgrading your car’s tires from all-season to all-terrain can be costly, especially if you own a smaller car. Determining your budget and what you’re willing to spend on your car beforehand can help make the decision easier. 
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FAQ

Yes: you can use your all-terrain tires year-round. They’re made to roll on any surface and perform better than all-season tires in severe snow or extreme weather conditions.
Yes: in certain conditions all-terrain tires can make a difference in the way your car drives, especially on off-road surfaces, in harsher weather, or when towing or transporting heavy loads.
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