Every year when temperature starts the drop and snow starts to fall, the winter tires debate springs up. From questions about when to put them on, to discussions about their cost versus road safety, consensus on the winter tire argument never seems to happen.
Each province has varying regulations and recommendation for winter tires. In Quebec, according to the provincial Highway Safety Code, all drivers must have winter tires on from December 15 to March 15 inclusively. Failure to do so can result in fines of up to $300.
In Ontario, for example, there isn’t specific legislation around winter tires but you can save on your insurance premium if you use them. According to the Ontario Ministry of Finance, winter tires that are in good condition can shorten braking distances by as much as 25 per cent.
Although regulations differ across the country, insurance companies and driving experts alike agree that putting winter tires on your car, no matter where you live Canada or the vehicle you drive, is imperative for winter road safety.
“Many people think winter tires are only important when driving in snowy or icy conditions but they also help with handling, maneuverability and braking in cold weather,” Kaitlynn Furse, public relations manager, CAA South Central Ontario (CAA SCO) said in a statement.
According to Andrew Comrie-Picard, a BFGoodrich ambassador, professional racer driver and stunt driver for film and television shows such as Top Gear USA and NCIS New Orleans, it’s “crucial” that every driver uses winter tires in below freezing temperatures, even if you have an all-wheel drive of four-wheel drive vehicle.
“Any tire is developed and optimized for a certain type of service use, and the conditions that we see in Canada are some of the most extreme winter conditions in the whole world,” Comrie-Picard said. “In the winter, all an all-wheel drive car will do is get you to the accident faster because while four driving wheels help you accelerate forward, they don’t help you stop any faster.”
Despite expert, insurance and government commentary on the importance of winter tires, drivers still have doubts and criticism about these seasonal products.
The importance of winter tires comes down the tires’ ability to grip onto the road and perform at lower temperature, so you can brake and steer effectively in the winter season. Contrary to popular belief, the necessity of winter tires is related to temperature more so than precipitation.
“Winter tires…are optimized to stay flexible, and to maintain the chemical and mechanical grip on the road at lower temperatures,” Comrie-Picard said. “[Winter tires] maintain their grip for breaking, for steering and also for accelerating in those low temperatures.”
Winter tires contain a special rubber compound that keeps tires soft. Due to their flexibility, winter tires are specifically manufactured to ensure that tread blocks retain their structure with the softer compound.
Winter tires also have small edges or cuts that act as pressurizers on the surface. They pick up a little bit of snow, which grips onto more snow that is on the road.
The mechanics of a winter tire might make sense, but the most popular complaint that drivers have is the cost of these specialty tires.
Since the cost of winter tires is so high, some drivers opt for used tires as a way to save a few dollars, but professionals like Comrie-Picard are strongly against it.
“A used tire, by definition, is going to have less than brand new tread depth, you’re already compromising some traction and some safety,” Comrie-Picard said.