Winter / Snow Tires

Winter can be a magical time of year but, for many of us motorists, that magic can turn tragic if we are not properly prepared for the first fall of snow. Most of us don’t think twice about updating our wardrobe to compliment the season – summer sandals and light shoes are replaced with winter boots and snowshoes. It really should be no different with the vehicle that transports us about our daily business. You may well live on the extreme perimeters of the snow belt where, perhaps, your set of All-Season Winter / Snow Tires might suffice. However if you need tires that can perform safely in cold, winter conditions like ice and snow, then it is wise, if not crucial, to step the car out in a set of Winter Tires, or Snow Tires as they are also referred to as.

Winter / Snow Tires 

Thinking back as to why we might wear snowshoes as opposed to a pair of trainers in snowy conditions, it works pretty much the same with Winter / Snow Tires. We are hoping for more stability as we move across the snow. The design of a winter or snow tires is very specific and aims to maximize traction in cold weather and snowy conditions. Specialized tread designs give the Winter / Snow Tires more grip and better traction on snow and ice and prevent spinning out on the ice or slush or getting stuck in the snow. The snow tires feature a much softer rubber compound than a standard or all-season tire, allowing for more flexibility and to prevent a buildup of snow tires.

What is most important driving on snow and ice is traction and grip. Without either your car will loose stability, steering and braking control. Many cars today have been equipped with technologies such as antilock braking systems and traction control. Both technologies bring important benefits to driving but they do not outrank the importance of selecting the right tires when it comes to safety issues. The effect of rubber-meets-road is what really determines a vehicles level of grip and traction to the road surface. ABS brakes and traction control won’t actually contribute to improved traction on winter road surfaces unless you are using them along with specialized winter / snow tires.

As with slipping on a pair of heavy snow boots, it should be an easy decision to fit winter / snow tires to your vehicle and enjoy the added control, comfort and protection to your driving experience during a harsh winter season.

Winter / Snow Tires Standards

Towards the end of the 1990’s, U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) along with the Rubber Association of Canada (RAC) agreed on the introduction of a standard that would readily identify high performance tires that provide a high level of snow traction.  A typical winter / snow tires will carry a mountain/snowflake symbol on it’s sidewall identifying that it has met the required performance of winter driving tests. In Quebec today, for example, the Highway Safety Code stipulates that a taxi or passenger vehicle may not be operated on the roads between 15 December and 15 March without tires that are in compliance with the standards described by government regulation.

Not all acceptable winter tires carry the mountain/snowflake symbol simply as they had already been in production and met the required standards prior to the symbol being developed. To address this, Quebec expanded the code to include a number of alternate winter brands that included terms such as Artic, Stud, Blizzard, Ultratraction or Winter in their tire name. From 2014, however, drivers in Quebec will be required to equip their vehicles only with tires branded with the mountain/snowflake symbol during the winter season.

All-Season Tires or Winter / Snow Tires?

Although it may sound like a contradiction, All-Season tires will not deliver the same performance on ice and snow as a winter / snow tires. The All-Seasons have been designed to handle moderate year round driving. Their tread designs for example are not as vigorous and will not be as flexible under cold conditions. They can also become packed with snow and your car will quickly loose traction, increasing the risk of slippage or becoming stuck in the snow.

You may be familiar with the M+S(Mud and Snow) symbol introduced on tires that feature a knobby, bias ply and aim to handle mud and snow better than a typical straight rib tire. Whilst an all-season may appear like the best tire for year round high performance tires, a large majority of winter drivers have discovered that the tread geometric definition of an all-season does not deliver required traction control on snow and ice, especially under harsh conditions.

Test results have shown that, at same speeds, a vehicle equipped with winter / snow tires will stop shorter and is far less likely to spin out than those equipped with a set of all-season tires. On a safety issue alone, the decision to use winter tires is the right one if you know you’ll be facing ice and snow on the roads.

Buying Winter / Snow Tires

If you have recently moved to an area that suffers harsher winters than you are used to and you are not sure when to change over from your summer or all-season tires, it is a general recommendation that winter / snow tires are installed on your vehicle when temperatures hit no more than a maximum of 10 degrees celsius. With this in mind, it is probably not a good idea to put off the purchase until the last hour. In places where winter / snow tires are an absolute necessity, the earlier the better as by mid-November the opportunity to find winter tires at the best price will diminish as supply runs short.

Before you go shopping for your winter / snow tires, do your homework. Know what kind of winter driving you’ll be mostly exposed to and how you expect your car to handle conditions such as slush, snow and ice.

It’s important to match the tire size and load capacity of your current tires. Have information to hand such as tire size, load index numbers and tire speed ratings. You should find this info on the tire sidewall or you can ask your local dealer for assistance if you are not sure.

Ask dealers about installation options as you may find it is worth considering a wheel package. Many tire shops now offer winter / snow tires already mounted on new wheels. It may take a few years to offset the initial payout but you can enjoy savings in the long run both in terms of time and money ordinarily spent on mounting and dismounting tires when switching between winter and summer or all-season tires. If purchasing a wheel package, get the best advice on how to properly store your winter wheels for the rest of the year. It is possible to get the appropriate storage bags from dealers which will protect the tires correctly during storage and prevent them from getting too dry and cracking.

Now, a question often asked by many drivers is if it’s really necessary to install 4 winter tires? The answer given by all the experts is YES! Using only 2 winter tires will make for unpredictable results, particularly under emergency conditions. It may even cause the vehicle to spin unexpectedly as there will be greater traction across only 2 wheels. If you decide to buy a set of winter tires, don’t go half-measures as, apart from the safety risk, you just won’t get the expected results.

In areas that are hit by severe snow falls, you may also consider studs for winter tires. A studded tire will have increased traction on icy surfaces though will not add extra safety under normal road conditions. Due to the damage that studs can cause to roads under normal conditions, most states are restricted to using them only during the winter season so it’s a good idea to confirm if there are any restrictions in your state before you make a decision to use studs.

Driving safely in rough winter conditions means being prepared. The most essential compliments of the winter season are those designed to give us extra protection, safety and comfort.  It is unlikely for most of us that we would forget essentials such as our cell phones, gloves, ice-scraper or a flashlight as a measure against getting stuck in the snow. Maybe even carry a shovel in the trunk! If snow, ice and slush will be a real prospect for your winter driving, then it’s time to “get a grip” and invest wisely in a set of reliable winter tires.

snow tires

Snow Tires