Bourassa explained that the 3PMS symbol doesn't indicate the level of snow performance of various tires.
"Those standardized tests establish a minimum threshold—that if you pass this threshold, you can add that three-peak-mountain-snowflake to it. And typically, premium winter tires are way, way, way above that threshold."
Dedicated winter tires may achieve the 3PMS threshold, but within that winter tire category, high-performance winter tires may not have the same level of snow performance.
"The expectations for winter grip with those (HP) products might not be the same as a standard or premium winter tire," Bourassa said. "Consumers are buying the performance winter tires for better dry handling, for better wet grip, and typically the sacrifice is some of the winter grip on those products.
"A premium winter tire is achieving a level of 130 or 150 (in 3PMS testing), so way, way above the threshold. Performance winter tires may not be that high. They might be closer to that threshold, and I think the same thing about potential value winter tires as well.
"Low-entry, low-cost winter tires might not have the technology or the materials needed to really over-achieve on those standardized tests," he said, adding, "That's one of my thoughts: Do we need to change the three-peak-mountain-snowflake test? Do we need to make it harder? The risk is that we might start to eliminate some products that are more or less needed in the markets in order to try to bump up that minimum threshold of three-peak-mountain snowflake."
The USTMA's Norberg said the ASTM regularly reviews the testing procedures.
All-weather tires are designed for year-round driving conditions and may carry the 3PMS because they provide better winter traction performance than all-season tires, but they do not provide the same performance as dedicated winter tires, which also can carry the 3PMS symbol.
"Consumers may think that everything that has the three-peak mountain snowflake is at the same level of performance. That's not entirely true. It will depend on the tire and the model and the tread characteristics and compounds, etc.," TRAC's Yutronkie said.
When the 3PMS designation was created, only dedicated winter tires could achieve the designation. Most all-season tires had the M+S marking for mud and light snow. The 3PMS was added to show a tire had that extra level of winter performance capability, Yutronkie said.
Now the growing segment of all-weather passenger tires can carry the 3PMS stamp.
"We like to refer to them as all-seasons with the 3PMS symbol. All-weather is more like a marketing term used by companies," Yutronkie said.
He said he thinks there is a bit of consumer confusion between all-weather and dedicated winter tires.
"We try to educate them. We do have a winter tire report that we put out annually that denotes differences in the different types of tires. Through our media campaigns, we try to give consumers the information they need to make that decision and certainly the tire retailers are quite familiar with the different products that may suit their customers the best. They should be able to steer them in the right direction.
"It just a matter of doing a little bit of homework on what type of tire that you need for your vehicle. Sometimes it's not always clear to the consumer because there are so many choices. Doing a little bit of research will ensure they can find the tire that would work for them for their needs."