Canada enjoys a variety of seasons and in winter, depending on which province you reside in, the cold weather coupled with bountiful quantities of snow can turn your commute into a nightmare. While all-season tires can be used to navigate most weather/road conditions, they may not be adequate for extreme winter conditions. For these, winter tires are a necessity.
Studies have shown that at temperatures below 7 °C, all-season tires stiffen up, resulting in less traction and a deterioration in braking distance and car handling. This increases your chances of getting into an accident when driving in colder weather. The main difference between winter and all-season tires is in the rubber compound used to make them. Winter tires are made of softer rubber that remains flexible when temperatures drop and maintains a grip on the road. In addition, winter tires have deeper threads that allow for a bigger bite and traction on snow and ice.
How much of a difference does it make if you are driving on all-season tires vs. winter tires in wintry conditions? it can be a lot as per numerous studies. Tests done by Consumer Reports show that winter tires stop six (6) feet shorter on average than all-season tires when braking on ice. Winter tires can be identified by a mountain snowflake symbol on their sidewall which denotes that they meet recommended snow traction performance requirements.
Provincial Requirements For Winter Tires
All provinces in Canada recommend the use of winter tires, and in a few places, they are mandatory. There are also various guidelines and restrictions regarding the use of studs and chains on winter tires.
The use of winter tires is mandatory in Quebec from December 15 to March 15. This requirement also applies to taxis, rental vehicles, mopeds, motorized scooters and motorcycles. The penalty for getting caught without them is a fine between $200 and $300. A few exemptions may be applicable by obtaining a winter tire exemption certificate.
Studded tires are generally allowed between October 15 and May 1 for vehicles weighing 3 tonnes or less. Emergency vehicles, farm tractors and vehicles used for snow removal and winter maintenance are authorized to use tire chains during the same period.
Winter tires or all-season tires with the “M+S” symbol (mud and snow) are required on many BC roads between October 1 and March 31. Signs are posted on all roads where this is a requirement. The tires must have at least 3.5mm of tread depth.
Commercial vehicles traveling outside the Greater Vancouver and Greater Victoria areas are required to carry tire chains. Studded tires are allowed from October 1 to April 30 and studs should not protrude more than 2mm. A failure to comply with these requirements can result in a fine of $109.
Winter tires are recommended but not mandated except for school buses which must have them on. Studded tires are allowed from October 15 to May 1.
Winter tires are not mandatory in MB. The province has a Winter Tire Program that is aimed at encouraging residents to purchase winter tires by providing them with with low-interest financiang up to $2,000 per vehicle. Studded tires are allowed between October 1 and April 30. There is no law requiring or prohibiting the use of tire chains.
Winter tires are recommended for winter driving but are not mandatory. There is a requirement that insurance companies offer a discount to drivers who have winter tires on their vehicles. This discount can be as high as 5%. Studded tires are allowed for vehicles in Northern Ontario between October 1 and April 30. Residents of Southern Ontario are prohibited from using studded tires.
Alberta, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut
Winter tires are not mandated in these provinces and territories.
- Nova Scotia permit studded tires between October 15 and May 31. The studs must not protrude more than 1/8th of an inch from the tread or traction surface of the tire.
- Newfoundland and Labrador allow the use of studded tires from November 1 to April 30.
- PEI allow studded tires from October 1 to May 31. The studs must not protrude more than 3.2mm beyond the tread surface of the tire.
Related: How To Prepare Your Car For Winter
FAQs about Winter Tires
Some of the popular questions often asked about the use of winter tires include:
1. When Should I Install Winter Tires?
It is recommended you install your winter tires when temperatures start to dip below 7°C. It is at this temperature range and below that you start to notice the significant loss of braking power and traction with regular tires. Once the weather warms up in spring, remember to remove them and replace with all-season or regular summer tires.
2. How Do I store My Winter Tires?
Your tires should be stored in a cool, dry place where they are protected from extreme heat and cold, such as in a garage or basement. To make sure you get the maximum longevity from your tires:
- Clean tires before putting in storage
- Keep them out of direct sunlight
- Place them in a airtight plastic bag
- Store tires vertically
- Do not put them directly on the ground
3. Can I Get By With Just Two Winter Tires?
It is recommended that you change all four wheels to winter tires. Partial replacement with just two winter tires can actually worsen your driving experience and decrease performance.
4. What Is The Impact of Studs on Winter Tires?
Studs improve the grip and traction of winter tires especially in treacherous conditions like black-ice covered roads and packed snow. Although they come in handy in the most severe wintry conditions, they also have some disadvantages including:
- They increase the road noise from your tires
- They may cause damage to roads and driveways
- They may pop-out if not well installed
- Installing studs is an additional expense
5. Can I Use My Winter Tires All Year Round?
If they are not studded, there is no law preventing you from using your winter tires all year round. However, there are a few reasons for why you should swap your winter tires for all-season or summer tires as soon as the weather warms up:
- Winter tires are softer and wear out faster in warm conditions, meaning you will need to replace them sooner
- Braking distance increases on dry and wet surfaces, making your driving less safe
- Your fuel consumption increases
Winter tires are worth the additional expense for most regions in Canada. If you change them out promptly each season, you should be able to use them for 5 years or longer. While winter tires will improve your vehicles driving performance, you should still drive with caution and in line with road conditions.
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