Temperatures are beginning to drop and that means it’s time to start planning to swap out your regular or all-season tires for a set of winter tires. You may think winter or snow tires are only required for those who live in rugged, snowy terrains and aren’t really necessary for those travelling on paved and frequently ploughed roads in urban areas. The truth is that regular and all-season tires just don’t perform as well during Canadian winters as they do the rest of the year.
In Quebec the law mandates that all passenger vehicles and taxis must have winter tires installed from December 15 to March 15. In other parts of the country, installing winter tires is a choice left up to individual drivers. Making the choice to forego winter tires means you could be putting your safety and the safety of others at risk.
Not convinced? Consider this:
Winter tires are built for winter
Colder temperatures can cause regular tires to become too hard. This means that they lose their normal traction, even when there’s no snow on the ground. Winter tires are created using rubber that stays soft in colder temperatures. This allows the winter tires to grip the surface of the road – including compact snow and ice – with more surface area, allowing for better traction, acceleration, stopping, and steering compared other types of tires. Winter tires also have wider, longer treads that will eject snow and ice more easily.
Winter tires can be identified by a special logo on the tire’s wall that indicates it has been designed and tested to meet winter traction requirements. The logo is a three-peaked mountain with a snowflake inside. Be sure to look for this symbol when you shop.
Don’t buy into winter tire myths
There are many winter tire myths, and I’ve heard them all. Many people will argue that all-season tires (often confused with all-weather tires) can get you by in all seasons, including the winter, since that’s what their name suggests. But if you live in a place where the temperatures consistently drop to five degrees or lower (i.e. Canada), you’re likely overestimating their ability to perform in colder conditions.
And don’t think that your four-wheel drive, ABS brakes, or traction control will compensate either, or that you can get away with just putting two winter tires on your vehicle’s driving wheels. The fact is that you’re only as good as the contact point where each tire grips the road.
How much will they cost?
Generally, winter tires are less expensive than standard tires. They will likely run you between $120 and $170 per tire without the rim and sensor, and between $170 and $220 with the rim and sensor.
If costs are preventing you from investing in winter tires, consider this: by switching to winter tires every winter you can extend the life of your regular, all-season tires. Winter tires should last four to five years (or 50,000 – 60,000 km), depending how you drive, the treading pattern of the tire, and how you care for them.
In addition, because of the safety benefits, many insurance companies will give you a discount on your premium if you install winter tires on your vehicle.
Now that you’re convinced, here’s what you need to do before you shop
Make sure you know the correct size of tire needed for your vehicle. Also check to see if the car manufacturer has a list of suggested winter tires for your car’s make and model. There are a wide variety of tire types and sizes available on the market and it can get confusing.
Consider where and what kind of driving you will be doing during the winter to help understand your tread needs. If you will be staying in the city, you may want to select a tire with a smaller tread design. If you plan to drive up to your winterized cottage, where roads are rarely ploughed, a more aggressive tread design may be needed.
Be sure to do some research. Read reviews and articles on tire road tests to see how various tires performed and ask your friends and neighbours for referrals to find a local retailer you can trust. For convenience and time savings, consider using a service centre that is a one-stop shop – somewhere that will include sales and service, including tire rotation and end of season storage.
Decide in advance if you want to purchase just the set of winter tires, or if you also want to purchase rims. While getting rims for your winter tires will cost more initially, it will likely save time and money down the road. Switching tires back and forth on the same rim is a more complicated process than switching out a winter tire that is already on a rim. It also requires balancing of the winter tires on the rims. This means a mechanic will charge you more for the service each time it is performed.
Caring and storage
You shouldn’t keep your winter tires on all year. Just as your regular tires are not made for winter, winter tires are not made for warmer conditions. The amount of time your winter tires are on will depend on where you live and how long winter temperatures last. Generally speaking, winter tires should be installed by the end of November and removed by early April.
Once the tires are removed, have them inspected. An inspection should look at the treads and condition of the rims to ensure they’re in good shape for the following year. Clean and dry the tires and put them in tire covers to help protect them from debris and rubber-degrading elements like ozone. Winter tires are best stored in a cool dry place, such as a basement or climate controlled storage unit. Temperature fluctuations that can occur in sheds and garages can accelerate aging. They may be stored on their side to a maximum pile of four tires, but it’s even better to put them on a rack (which can also help save space).
Many retailers will offer winter packages that include tires, rims, sensors, installation, removal, and storage, so shop around and take advantage of comprehensive package deals when you can.
Do you have a tire question? Let me know in the comments below.