If you regularly encounter ice, unplowed snow, or slush, then you’re going to need winter tires (also known as “snow tires”). Winter tires will give you that extra traction, braking and handling you’ll need to confidently drive on snow and ice. They have specialized rubber compounds and tread designs to handle the cold temperatures. The tread remains flexible to prevent snow buildup and help with traction on ice. Tests that have been conducted on ice show that even at 15mph, vehicles equipped with winter tires stopped from 1/2 to a full car length shorter than identical vehicles on all season tires. Without winter tires you are more likely to fishtail in corners and spin out on that icy hill.
ABS (Anti-Lock Brake System), traction control, and vehicle dynamics control systems are limited by the grip the tires can provide. These are all safety features you don’t want to fail under emergency circumstances.
Severe Snow Conditions Grading
On February 1, 1999 the Rubber Manufacturer’s Association (RMA) and the Rubber Association of Canada (RAC) introduced a winter tire grading.
These tires are specifically designed for severe snow conditions and meet snow traction performance requirements. Tires meeting this standard are marked with a pictograph of a snow flake within a mountain peak . This standard helps drivers choose a tire that will help make their winter driving safer.
Winter Tire Installation and Purchasing Tips
There are few things to keep in mind when shopping for winter tires. In most cases, you should consider purchasing separate rims for your snow tires. This will save you the time and costs involved in changing over and balancing the winter tires onto your existing rims. Typically, change over and balance of a tire on a rim costs between $15 to $25 CAD per wheel, and you will have to bear these costs once again, when switching back to your summer tires or all season tires. Alternatively, a plain steel rim is approximately around $85 CAD, and opting for a separate rim also gives you the opportunity to install the winter tires by yourself and at your convenience. You may decide to go even further and purchase alloy rims to enjoy a consistent and esthetic look of your car, all year round.
Don’t wait too long with your purchase decision as this might severely affect your mobility. Early winter storms can sometimes result in hot demand that leads to a shortage or even a complete sell out of winter tires in some locations. Keep in mind that although the weather in your city may not be too bad, other parts of the country may not be so good and so stock levels of winter products everywhere will be depleted.
You may be wondering what is the best time to install your winter tires, and for what duration should you have them installed. This primarily depends and your local weather. One thing is for sure, don’t wait for the very last minute and have them installed beforehand. A good guideline for installing your winter tires is once the temperature is regularly 7 degrees Celsius or less, and they should be removed once the temperatures are consistently higher than 7 degrees Celsius. This will ensure that they do not wear prematurely in warmer weather, but you shouldn’t get caught by surprise.
Other than being specifically designed for extreme winter conditions, winter tires, and as is the case with all season tires or any other type of tires, have to be carefully selected to meet the technical characteristics of your vehicle. Be sure to get acquainted with the related technical details and metrics by reading our General Tire Guide. You may also contact our tire and wheel experts with any question or concerns you may have.
Storing Winter Tires
The best place to store winter tires is in a cool, dry location. (Basement, or possibly a garage). You can lay them down flat, stacked on top of each other, but no taller than 4 high. This offers the most support and should eliminate any fitting problems the following fall. We also recommend that you return to the store/dealer from where you purchased your tires, and ask for storage bags. This will protect the tires from natural ozone in the air which can cause tire rubber to dry and crack. Wrap each tire individually and stack them. Stored tires should be kept away from electric motors or welders as these produce ozone which will damage the rubber over time.
Winter Driving Tips
- If you install winter tires, switch all four tires, not just two. Using just 2 winter tires can cause the car to spin unexpectedly because of greater traction on only two wheels.
- For driving in excessive amounts of snow you may need to use chains or studs on your tires. Studs are best suited for soft ice. Check with your local authorities about the legality of using such products.
- When driving in rough winter conditions, be prepared and bring the following: jumper cables, tire chains, flares, blankets, food, gloves, boots, a flashlight, a cell phone, a first aid kit, an ice scraper, and a towing cable.
- Slow down, especially before corners and before going down hills.
- When you first get on the roads, test your brakes and steering.
- Watch out for black ice, as well as extra ice on bridges, overpasses, and intersections.
- Don’t use cruise control in the winter.
- Don’t follow other cars too closely and give yourself extra time to stop safely.
- Check your local weather forecast before driving to prevent getting caught in undesirable conditions.
- Handling a Skid:
When your vehicle begins to skid, release the accelerator and gradually steer into the skid (if the rear of your car is sliding to the right, then you want to steer carefully to the right). Resist the temptation of using your brakes as this will cause you to skid more. If you overcorrect the skid, you’ll end up skidding in the other direction. Once you have the vehicle straightened out, you can slowly apply the accelerator to continue your forward movement.
- Getting Unstuck:
If you feel you can get the vehicle unstuck on your own, first clear snow from around the tires. Then try to get more traction with the use of something like sand, salt, or traction mats. Whatever you use should be spread along the path where you will drive, not just directly around the tires. Now try to slowly drive out. Do not give it too much gas, as all this will do is dig yourself a deeper hole and pack snow in your wheel well. You may want to rock back and forth if you cannot just drive right out. With each rock back and forth drive further and increase your rocking distance. If you still cannot get unstuck, you may require the assistance of a tow-truck or another vehicle with a tow rope.
- The very common misconception among drivers of SUV’s and other 4WD vehicles is that a 4 wheel drive vehicle provides them with the safety measures they need when driving on the ice. This deadly misconception has no grip on reality whatsoever. A 4WD vehicle will help you get started from a full stop and will partially help you around corners, but will certainly not help you to stop or slow the vehicle down any faster.