Every winter without fail, there are numerous fender benders, collisions, and even pileups as a result of the weather. Partly this is due to reduced visibility, and partly it’s due to underestimating how much snow affects brake time and handling ability. We’re used to our vehicles reacting the way we want them to when we apply the brakes or turn the steering wheel, but when there’s heavy snow on the ground, all bets are off.
This is why it’s so important to make sure you’ve fitted your car with winter tires. Winter tires brake better, handle corners more confidently, and accelerate better than other tires in snowy conditions. In Canada, where winter is always a guarantee, there’s no excuse not to have them.
What Makes Winter Tires Different than Other Tires?
There are two main features that differentiate winter tires from other tires.
First, winter tires have tiny cuts and grooves (called sipes) that provide the surface with extra traction. When driving on snow, these sipes collect clumps of snow that in turn stick to the snow on the road, creating friction that keeps you in control of your vehicle.
Second, winter tires are made out of a special compound that is specifically designed to function in colder weather. Generally this compound is made with a greater concentration of silica and natural rubber compounds, making it softer and better equipped to handle below-zero temperatures.
When shopping for snow tires, look for a pictograph of a peaked mountain with a snowflake on the tires’ sidewall to ensure that they meet Transport Canada’s snow traction performance requirements.
Common Myths about Winter Tires
There are several myths about winter tires that cause people to use them incorrectly or even avoid them altogether.
I don’t need winter tires because I have all-season tires. The name “all-season tires” implies that they are a one-size-fits-all solution to driving in diverse weather conditions. But the name is misleading. All-season tires were never meant to deal with heavy snow or ice, and in fact could more accurately be referred to as “three-season tires.”
The problem with trying to make a tire that can handle most road conditions is that many compromises have to be made, and the tire ends up being specialized for nothing in particular. As the saying goes, “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” All-season tires perform fine in the rain and even in light snow, but they are not equipped to deal with the unique challenges posed by heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures.
I don’t need winter tires because my vehicle is all-wheel drive (AWD). Increasingly, Canadians are choosing to drive AWD vehicles. While AWD systems do provide better traction than 2WD systems, they are no substitute for winter tires. All-wheel drive works very well in inclement weather as long as the tires have grip and the vehicle isn’t travelling very fast. But in heavy snow, the best AWD system in the world is still going to suffer from lack of traction if you’re not using snow tires.
I can keep my winter tires on all-year round. If winter tires provide better grip, why not keep them on all year long? It seems sensible, but there’s a reason all-season and summer tires don’t have as many sipes as winter tires.
When sipes contact a surface, they get jostled around, creating heat. In winter when the temperature is cold, this isn’t a problem, but in summer the heat builds up and wears down the tires quickly. To maximize safety and minimize wear and tear, use winter tires when it’s cold out and switch back to your regular tires when spring rolls around.
I can save money by only fitting two winter tires on my vehicle, instead of four.When winter tires were first introduced, it was common for people to fit them only on the driving axle of the car (front or rear). Some people still follow this practice today, thinking it provides the same benefit for half the cost. In fact, this is very dangerous. Having different sets of wheels on your vehicle means the front half and back half will grip the road differently, making it much easier for the vehicle to become unsettled and spin out of control.
Snow tires should always be applied to all four corners of your vehicle, regardless of whether it’s front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive.
Financial Benefits of Winter Tires
Apart from the safety benefits of winter tires, there are financial benefits as well. For one thing, having a specialized set of both summer and winter tires means each set will last much longer before needing replacement. Depending on conditions and usage, you can get up to five or six years out of a single set of winter tires.
As well, Desjardins General Insurance rewards drivers who equip their vehicles with four winter tires – with a 5% savings on their auto insurance premium. If you aren’t already taking advantage of this, talk to one of DGI’s licensed insurance professionals for more details.
Protect yourself from the hazards of winter driving while saving money on your auto insurance – sounds like a pretty sweet deal, don’t you think? At the end of the day, the benefits of having winter tires – in terms of both safety and long-term savings – far outstrip the costs.