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Winter Tires, What You Need To Know

Much like a great pair of winter boots, snow tires are designed to improve traction and handling in slippery conditions. While all-season tires are also known as "mud and snow" tires, they're not actually meant for use in the types of heavy snow conditions most Canadians face each winter.

In fact, winter tires are mandatory in Quebec because of the heavy snowfall they receive every winter. Even if you have a vehicle with four-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes or electronic stability control, your tires still need to be able to grip the road for these features to do their jobs properly.

Cutting corners cuts safety Some drivers choose to put snow tires only on the front axle, thinking it will give them added traction for less money; however, this actually causes a serious safety hazard. Tires ensure efficient braking as well as traction, but your car needs equal distribution of both to avoid spinning out. If you have snow tires only at the front of a front-wheel drive vehicle, the back end can easily slide off course.

You wouldn't wear one boot and one running shoe to walk in the snow; in the same way, your car needs four tires of the same type, size, speed rating and load index for a safe, smooth ride. Mixing tires with different tread patterns, internal construction or size can lead to serious stability and safety issues.

Tips for buying Always ensure the tires you're purchasing are the right size and type for your vehicle to ensure your safety and maintain your warranty; check your vehicle owner's manual for the manufacturer's recommended tire size or speak to your automobile dealer.

The two main features to look for are tread design and type of rubber compound.

  • The tread affects the tire performance; the more snow you have to drive through, the more grip you'll want from your tires. Tires have either a V-shaped or zigzag design on the tread to help keep tire grooves clear of the snow and slush that contribute significantly to winter road accidents.
  • The elasticity of the rubber in the tire also contributes to performance; the more flexible the tire's rubber, the better its grip and performance. Most all-season tires start to harden at 7șC and lose elasticity below -15șC. However, most winter tires don't lose elasticity until -40șC. Even in dry conditions, snow tires maintain elasticity well below freezing.

Look for tires that will best match the road conditions you will drive on most often. If you frequently drive on unplowed roads or in hilly areas, you may want to consider studded tires for additional grip. Check with the transportation ministry in your area to find out if studded tires are allowed, and when you can use them.

What about tire chains? In the more mountainous and snowy areas of Canada, particularly around British Columbia, tire chains are not only a good idea, but also a requirement. In certain designated areas, you are required to use winter tires, plus carry chains in your vehicle and be prepared to install them. Signs with a flashing amber light indicate that you can't safely proceed without the chains installed.

To use tire chains correctly, fit them closely to the tire and ensure the links are not twisted. Avoid driving over 50 km per hour or on bare pavement, and be sure to change the chains when they become damaged.

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