Winter tires are made from a soft rubber-silicone compound. That, plus their deeper tread depth, make for better handing in cold conditions. The all-season tires that likely came with your car have a higher rubber content. “You know from putting rubber in the freezer or on an ice cube,” says Alastair Hesp, a mechanic at Hesp Automotive in Vancouver, “that rubber will go hard and there’s no sticking power to it.” All-seasons start to lose grip at 5 to 7C — around late October or early November. And on icy roads, winter radials reduce braking distance by up to 40 percent.
Some drivers demur over purchasing winter tires because of the upfront cost of two separate sets. But since you’ll use only one set at a time, all your tires will last longer, and that cost will be spread out over a longer period. Depending on how much you drive, both sets of tires should last you about five years.
What they cost
If you have a mid-size car, expect to spend $100 to $130 per tire; bigger tires cost more. Hesp cautions against buying used. You can inspect a tire for wear and cracks, he says, “but you don’t know if it’s leaking air. You don’t know if someone hit a pothole with it and damaged the metal wires that are inside it.”
Time it right
In April, swap back to your all-seasons. “Hot pavement is hard on winter tires,” says Dwayne Smith of Hillcrest Volkswagen in Halifax. “It will cause them to break down.” The switch costs about $70. Off-season, store winter radials in a cool, dry place, on their sides, so they don’t develop flat spots. (Small living space? Some dealerships offer storage for about $75 per set.)
I heard a rumour…
Winter tires are recommended by Transport Canada for all provinces and territories, and are required by law in Quebec and on BC mountain passes.
Contrary to rumours, though, using winter tires doesn’t lower your car insurance, says Mark Klein of the Insurance Bureau of Canada. “Perhaps it’s not a bad thing that they think that,” he adds, chuckling, “if people who maybe were not inclined to get snow tires before will do so.” But if winter tires help you avoid a premium-raising winter fender-bender? Worth the investment!
Which radials are right for you?
Here are recommendations for three popular family vehicles. Whichever tire brand you choose, always check the side for the Transport Canada pictograph — a snowflake inside a mountain peak. It’s your assurance the tire has passed snow traction tests and is designed especially for use in bad winter weather.
Try: General Tire Altimax Arctic (available at canadiantire.ca)
Cost: $148 per tire
Try: Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT (find a retailer at goodyear.ca)
Cost: $154 per tire
Try: BFGoodrich Winter Slalom KSI (available at canadiantire.ca)
Cost: $110 per tire