Winter Tires Buying Guide
Winter tires are one of the best ways to say safe while driving in freezing weather. In fact in 2008, Quebec became the first province to legally require the use of winter tires during the winter months. Not just for snowy roads, winter tires use special compounds to improve your traction, stopping and handling whenever the thermometer dips below 7°C/45°F.
This comprehensive guide gives you detailed information on what to consider before you buy winter tires, and how to maintain your snow tires for your winter driving safety.
Winter Driving | Winter Tire Maintenance
Before You Buy – Choosing New Winter Tires
Who Needs Winter Tires?
If you regularly encounter ice, unplowed snow, or slush—or if you drive in temperatures that regularly dip below 7°C/45°F—you can benefit from winter tires, also known as “snow tires".
Regular all season tires lose elasticity when the temperature dips below 7°C/45°F. Winter tires are constructed with a special compound that allows them to retain more elasticity in cold temperatures. Technologically engineered tread designs prevent snow build-up and improve ice and snow traction more than ever before—so you get a better grip on the road and better control of your vehicle.
Winter tires provide better control for all vehicles—even 4WD vehicles—on snow and ice-covered roads. Whether you drive a car, SUV, pick-up or light truck, you'll find four winter tires help you get a better grip on the road in difficult driving conditions. Without winter tires you are more likely to fishtail on corners and spin out on that icy hill.
The numbers support the benefits of snow tires:
- A Quebec Ministry of Transport study showed that a proper winter tire can improve braking by up to 25% over an all season radial tire, and can improve collision avoidance by about 38%.
- We tested a vehicle equipped with Goodyear Nordic tires in winter temperatures, and found that (compared to all season tires) our stopping distance while traveling at 60 km/h (37 mph) was up to 18 metres (60 feet) shorter.
- Other tests on ice show that even at 24 km/h (15 mph), vehicles equipped with winter tires stopped from one half to a full car length shorter than identical vehicles driving on all season tires.
All Season Tires vs. Snow Tires
Many drivers wonder why some tires are called "all season" if winter tires are recommended for cold weather and icy conditions. It's very much like comparing everyday shoes to winter boots. While all season tires will continue to provide safe all-weather performance, snow tires are simply much better suited for snow and icy conditions.
All season tires are a compromise intended to perform well under a wide range of conditions—dry roads, wet roads and hot temperatures—as well as providing durability over long mileage. This compromise prevents them from being ideal for any one condition.
Snow tires are referred to many as snow tires because they deliver superior snow and ice performance. Their cold weather rubber compounds are only part of the difference. Channelling treads, a large number of tread sipes (tiny slits in the tread blocks), and an open tread block pattern all combine to provide improved traction in deep snow and slush.
|All Season Tires||Snow Tires|
|Designed to provide a quiet ride and good performance under most conditions.||Designed to grip the road better and prevent sliding in snowy, icy or slushy conditions with larger grooves and tread blocks.|
|Treads feature broad contact with road surface with channels to divert water.||Tiny razor-like "sipes" or cuts in winter treads provide a good bite into ice and snow to help avoid sliding. Unidirectional, V-groove tires move slush and water out of the way.|
|All season tires can start experiencing reduced traction at 7° C.||Winter tires such as Goodyear Nordic maintain gripping power to -35° C.|
|Engineered with compounds to provide long wear on dry roads.||Engineered with compounds that maintain elasticity in lower temperatures for better traction.|
|Mud and Snow (M+S or M&S) designation on all season tires is based on tread design.||Severe snow rating in winter tires is based on performance testing.|
2 Winter Tires vs. 4 Winter Tires
It's a common misconception that putting snow tires on just the vehicle's drive tires (ex.: the front tires in a front wheel drive) is almost as good as having four winter tires. The faulty logic behind this idea is that you'll have optimal traction where it is needed most: to start the car moving. But this "compromise" runs counter to the goal of improving your vehicle's handling in winter.
If you use dissimilar tires on your vehicle, you can find your overall handling declines in performance. Mixing tires with different tread patterns, internal construction and size degrades the stability of your vehicle and should be avoided.
With different tires at the front and rear of your vehicle, each end of the vehicle won't react and perform the same as the other in dry, wet, slushy and snow conditions. Especially in emergency situations, you'll find that your vehicle may understeer in one condition and oversteer in another. It is imperative to keep the same level of traction at all four corners of the car; otherwise, you'll lose the full benefits of ABS or traction control systems. By installing four winter tires, you maintain the most balanced and controlled handling possible, so you can accelerate, brake, handle and better steer your vehicle through winter's challenges.
For maximum safety, it is strongly recommend that you install four winter tires at the same time. Transport Canada recommends that snow tires are installed in sets of four. Every one of our tire manufacturers recommend four winter tires be used on rear wheel, front wheel or four wheel drive vehicles. And in the province of Quebec, the law requires that winter tires be installed on all wheels of passenger vehicles (cars, SUVs and light trucks) during the winter season effective December 15th until March 15th.
For all these safety reasons, it is Canadian Tire’s policy to install winter tires in sets of four.
How to Select the Best Winter Tire
It's important to understand the difference in snow traction between Mud and Snow branded tires and winter tires or severe snow tires.
|The Mud and Snow(M+S or M&S) designation you will see on many all season tires refers only to the tread pattern itself—not the performance of the tire on snowy roads. M+S tires have a "knobby" design with gaps between the treads designed to provide improved traction over the straight rib tires used on earlier vehicles.|
|In 1999, The U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) and the Rubber Association of Canada (RAC) agreed on a performance based standard for identifying tires that have been tested to perform better on snowy roads. Severe Snow 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 peaked mountain.|
|A mountain/snowflake symbol branded on the tire's sidewall identifies tires that perform a minimum of 110% better than a standard tire in a mandated snow traction test. Many winter tires achieve levels of 130-150% better, which provides drivers with significantly shorter stopping distance and better handling.|
|The mountain/snowflake symbol is the standard specified in Quebec for meeting winter driving requirements. While dedicated winter tires bearing the mountain/snowflake symbol are available in sizes for most passenger cars and minivans, there is a much larger range of tire sizes and load ranges used on crossover vehicles, SUVs, pickup trucks and full size vans. As a result, Quebec has temporarily expanded its definition of acceptable tires in order to implement this law. Starting December 15, 2014, the Highway Safety Code regulation specifies only tires bearing the mountain/snowflake symbol will be considered acceptable winter/snow tires in Quebec.|
The Importance of Winter Rims
While it's possible to have only one set of rims for your vehicle, purchasing separate rims for your winter tires can be a smart, economical choice that makes the seasonal switch quick and easy for years to come.
When you install your winter tires on their own set of rims, you only need to have your tires mounted once. Switching your tires for the season then requires little more than removing some wheel nuts and swapping out your tires.
Each season you save the cost of mounting and unmounting tires from your rims, plus you also eliminate the additional tire wear this can cause. If your car is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system, this can also avoid any damage to the system or its components. And by selecting specialized winter rims, you'll have your winter tires mounted to wheels that can withstand the rigours of Canada's harsh winter conditions.
Steel or Alloy Rims
Winter tires and rims aren't just about practicality—they can be about good looks too. There was a time where when you chose winter rims, there was pretty much only one standard to choose from. This is certainly no longer the case.
Steel rims are the standard rims you'll see on most vehicles during Canada's harsh winters. These practical rims are painted with a black finish and specially coated to resist corrosion. You'll find a complete selection of designs at Canadian Tire, including OE rims with an original factory fit, and Multi-fit rims, designed and guaranteed to fit multiple vehicles.
Winter alloy rims offer the aesthetics of performance vehicles, and are clear coated with a rust-free, resilient finish to withstand harsh weather conditions. By using alloy wheels, you not only improve the looks of your vehicle but also the performance. Alloy's extra strength provides longevity as well as positively affecting tire wear. Alloys are 15-20% lighter than steel, and the weight reduction will improve steering response and handling, as well as help improve acceleration and braking.
Winter Tires Sizes
Many drivers select their summer tires to maximize performance, choosing sporty wide, low-profile tires. The same features that make these tires ideal for warm dry roads make them less than ideal in a few centimetres of snow. The narrower your tire, the more easily you can get through snow.
Select a winter tire size based on the optional tire and wheel size for the base model of your vehicle, or by "minus sizing" (effectively plus sizing but performed in reverse to select a narrower wheel). Not only will this help you select a wheel more suited to winter, but you may also find the cost of a tire and wheel package is lower than staying with your vehicle's original specifications.
What if My Car Has...?
Recent advancements have made great improvements in vehicle control and handling in all types of weather. While these electronic driver aids can prevent you from over-braking or overpowering the tire's traction, they are limited by the grip of the vehicle's tires. These systems don't improve traction—they just allow you to better utilise the traction your vehicle already has.
- Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) help prevent your tires from locking and skidding by selectively releasing pressure and pumping the brakes. So while your anti-lock brake system helps maintain steering control and directional stability, your stopping distances may be longer. Better traction will improve your ABS effectiveness when you need it.
- Traction control helps prevent spinning your tires by reducing the engine's power and/or applying the brakes. So while traction control also helps maintain directional stability, your acceleration may be slower. Winter tires improve your vehicle's grip in colder temperatures, working with traction control for better control.
- Vehicle stability systems sense when your car deviates from your intended course (determined by your steering and braking input) selectively brakes any of the four wheels and/or reduces engine power to help correct oversteer or understeer. This system's ability to assist you is limited by the capabilities of your tires.
- Four wheel drive (4WD) and All wheel drive (AWD) vehicles distribute power to all four wheels, making it possible to accelerate more effectively when one or more wheels may have less than optimal grip. This will help you get started from a full stop more easily and will help you around corners, but offers no improvement in traction itself. As a result, your vehicle may lack the necessary traction for effective slowing or stopping—a dangerously deceptive situation..
So, whether your vehicle has anti-lock brakes, traction control, a vehicle stability system, four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, it is your tires that provide the real traction. The only thing you can do to increase traction—to get more grip and control—is install tires best suited for winter driving safety.
Winter Tires FAQ & Winter Driving Tips
When Should I Install My Winter Tires and Rims?
As soon as the temperature drops below 7°C, you should consider changing your winter tires in order to benefit from the increased traction, braking and handling they provide. Be sure to change your tires before it snows. For most people in Canada, this means you should prepare your car, pick-up or SUV for unexpected snowfalls by changing over to winter tires in October or early November.
Won't It Help If I Just Drive Slowly and Carefully?
You should always drive to road conditions, regardless of the tires you have on your vehicle. However, overcompensating for road conditions can also create a traffic hazard. If you aren't able to keep up with the flow of traffic as you accelerate from a traffic light or up a hill, you pose a risk to yourself and all of the other vehicles around you. Getting better grip and handling can reduce the sense of uncertainty you feel when bad weather hits. Improved traction from winter tires will give you a greater margin of control to avoid the unexpected—or dodge an accident.
Are New Winter Tires Expensive?
The mistake many people make is looking at the cost of purchase alone. Using winter tires will extend the life of your all season tires—they won't "wear out" sitting in the garage or basement while the winter tires and wheels are on the vehicle. Investing in winter wheels (also called winter rims) at the same time will eliminate additional mounting costs each season and protect your Original Equipment or aftermarket wheels from alloy-corroding winter salt, slush and grime. With this perspective, winter tires and wheels may be one of the most economical purchases you can make. We have excellent prices on tires, alloy wheels, steel wheels and complete Winter Tire & Wheel Packages.
What If My Car Has ABS Brakes?
ABS braking won't improve your tire's traction—it simply limits your vehicle's braking to keep you from locking up your tires. By using tires specifically designed for your driving conditions, you'll provide your ABS brakes with more grip to work with and maximize your vehicle's winter performance.
What If My Car Has Traction Control?
While traction control will help keep you from overpowering your tires, it doesn't actually improve your tire's traction; it simply limits your car's acceleration to the traction level of your tires. The only way to maximize your vehicle's winter performance is to provide your traction control with more grip to work with by using tires specifically designed for your driving conditions.
What If My Car Has Front-Wheel Drive?
Front wheel drive has become common because of the advantage it offers for acceleration. But its advantage can be multiplied by using winter tires designed for the road conditions you'll encounter. Part of a front wheel drive car's acceleration advantage is because it has 60% of its weight over the drive wheels. This helps you get started, but does very little to help you stop. A front wheel drive car's weight distribution is not the best for handling and cornering. Dedicated winter tires will enhance your car's braking, handling and cornering, making your winter driving more enjoyable.
What If My Car Has All-Wheel Drive?
With an All-Wheel Drive vehicle, more tires share the torque of your vehicle, which provides performance in getting your car moving, but does nothing to assist with braking. The ice and snow performance that winter tires provide will increase your vehicle's ability to start moving, and also help reduce its stopping distance in winter conditions.
Winter Tire Maintenance & Safety (Post-purchase)
Winter Driving Safety Tips
- Check your local weather forecast before driving to prevent getting caught in undesirable conditions.
- Test your brakes and steering when first heading out on wet or snowy roads.
- Watch for black ice, as well as unexpected ice on bridges, overpasses, and intersections.
- Don't use cruise control in the winter.
- Drive to weather conditions. Slow before corners or downhill slopes.
- Give yourself extra braking room; do not follow other vehicles too closely.
- For driving in excessive amounts of snow, you may need chains or studs for your tires. Studs are best suited for soft ice. Check with your local authorities about the legality of using such products.
- Be sure your vehicle has an winter emergency kit and is prepared for winter weather. See our winter driving checklist for more details.
Winter Driving Tips and Techniques
- When climbing hills, use higher gears to maintain better traction and avoid spinning your wheels.
- When driving downhill, put your vehicle in a lower gear before you begin your descent. If you must change to a lower gear while already descending a hill, do it very gently to prevent sliding.
- If you need to brake unexpectedly and don't have ABS brakes, avoid hard braking. Give the brake pedal a few soft taps rather than one hard push to avoid skidding.
- If your vehicle begins to skid:
- Release the accelerator and gradually steer in the opposite direction that you're skidding.
- 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. If this happens, gradually steer back the other way.
- Enter corners appropriately to avoid understeering or oversteering:
- Adjust your speed before you enter a corner.
- Coast and steer through the turn, without using the accelerator or brake.
- As you start to straighten your vehicle, gently accelerate out of the curve.
- If you are understeering, and begin to lose control of the front of your vehicle:
- Do not hit the brakes or adjust your steering angle.
- Lift your foot off the accelerator.
- Look ahead, and carefully decrease the steering angle to regain tire grip.
- Once you regain grip, steer smoothly back in your intended direction.
- If you are oversteering and begin to lose control of the back-end of your vehicle:
- Gently accelerate to transfer weight to your rear wheels while steering in the same direction your rear wheels are sliding.
- Don't steer back in your original direction until your car recovers.
- In rear wheel drive vehicles, be sure the oversteer isn't a result of simple wheel spin. If it is, release pressure on the accelerator to eliminate the wheel spin.
- Getting Unstuck: If your vehicle gets stuck and you think you can get it out on your own, follow these steps:
- Clear snow from around the tires.
- Place sand, salt or traction mats along the path you intend to take.
- Try to drive out very slowly. Avoid spinning your wheels, which will only create a deeper hole.
- If you cannot just drive out, you may want to rock the car with short taps of acceleration or driving back and forth.
- If you still cannot get unstuck, you may require the assistance of a tow-truck or another vehicle with a tow rope.
Breaking in New Winter Tires
AfAfter installing your new winter tires, your car will feel and sound different on the road. The tires are designed to provide more traction on snow and ice, with different tread patterns and different handling. When you've installed new winter tires of any sort, take the time to get a feel for your vehicle's new traction and handling.
Your new winter tires will have a deeper tread depth and more open tread space than your all season tires. This feature that gives you greater traction also make tires more flexible, which may make your tires feel less responsive in handling.
Tires are constructed from several layers of rubber, steel and fabric that require a break-in period before they reach maximum performance. To give these components time to fully integrate, for your first few hundred kilometres avoid any aggressive driving—stay with easy acceleration, cornering and braking.
New tires may also have a mold release lubricant on them as a residue from the production process. You should be aware your vehicle might initially have reduced traction before this thin layer is worn away from regular driving.
Winter Tire Maintenance
The distinctive tread patterns and softer rubbers used in winter tires make them more susceptible to irregular wear caused by a misaligned suspension or worn parts. The camber and toe settings, in particular, can influence tire wear.
Camber is the vertical tilt of your tires. A positive camber describes a tire whose top is tilting outward, and a negative camber tire tilts inward at the top. Improper camber settings can result in the outside or inside edges of your tires wearing unevenly.
Toe describes the angle of the tires at each end of the same axle, and the angle they are aligned to drive in. Toe-in tires are aligned to drive towards one another and Toe-out tires drive away from one another. These settings compensate for the competing forces of rolling resistance, drive torque and suspension movement.
Be sure your winter tires and wheels are set with your vehicle manufacturer's recommended settings for camber and toe. While your vehicle manufacturer may have preferred settings as well as tolerances for performance, only the vehicle's preferred settings should be used for aligning your winter tires.
For optimal handling and tire wear, it's wise to have your vehicle's alignment checked (and adjusted if necessary) twice a year. Your seasonal switch from winter to all season tires is an ideal time to do it.
Winter Tire Pressure
Underinflated tires can reduce your fuel efficiency. Maintaining proper air pressure in your tires is also key for handling, safety, traction and durability.
Your tire pressure will change based on the temperature of your tires. This is why you should always check for tire pressure when your tires are "cold" before driving your car more than a few kilometres. It's also why it's important to check your tire pressure regularly as temperatures get colder.
As the temperature drops, so will your tire's inflation pressure. The rule of thumb is for every 5.6° C (10° F) change in air temperature, your tire's inflation pressure will change by about 1 psi (up with higher temperatures and down with lower). Throughout the year, this can mean a variation of 5 psi or more—enough to affect performance, wear and fuel efficiency.
In fact, many vehicle manufacturers recommend using a higher psi when using winter tires. A higher inflation pressure can increase tire stability, offsetting any reduced responsiveness from the wider treads or softer compounds of winter tires. Check your owner's manual, and ensure your winter tires are inflated to the recommended pressure.
How to Check Winter Tire Pressure
We've all seen the occasional underinflated car tire, so it's easy to think that we should know what an underinflated tire looks like. However, a tire can lose up to 30% of its pressure and still look identical to a tire that is at its proper inflation level.
Tires lose pressure in lower temperatures and over time—most tires naturally lose pressure of 1 to 2 psi each month.
When checking your tires' pressure in the winter, follow the steps listed here, but also take note of the following tips for winter:
- Be sure to check tire temperature in the morning, before driving any distance. An afternoon reading, when tires may have been heated by the mid-day sun, will read higher than a true "cold' reading.
- Checking your tire's air pressure in a heated garage can be misleading. Your tire's pressure will drop by 1 psi for every 5.6° C (10° F) change in air temperature when you venture out into the cold. Calculate to adjust for the temperature difference. For example, if it's 0° C in your garage and -11° C outside, your tire's inflation pressure will drop by about 2 psi outdoors.
Remember to replace your valve caps when you're done. If left off, moisture can freeze in the valve and allow air to escape.
How to Measure Tread Depth/Wear
In addition to the tread pattern and the special compounds used in winter tires, your tire's tread depth is a fundamental feature that provides its special handling abilities in snow. With use, your tires will wear, reducing tread depth and over time, reducing your tires' effectiveness in harsh winter conditions.
Tires are considered to be worn out when only 2/32" (about 1.6 mm) of tread depth remains. There are several ways to check your tires' tread depth to see if it is time to replace them.
Indicator bars are narrow sections of rubber in the tire's grooves running from one side of the tread to the other, used to indicate when the tire has worn down to the legal limit.
Snow tires usually feature an additional wear indicator, indicating deeper tread depths. Winter Wear Indicators (also called Snow Platforms) identify when a tire's tread depth is no longer beneficial for performance on snow—when tread depth drops below 6/32" (about 4.8 mm).
|New Tire Tread Depth||Approaching Winter Wear Indicators||Approaching Tread Wear Indicators|
|Tread design, compound and depth to provide effective snow traction||Tire worn to about 6/32"—diminished snow traction abilities||While still legal at 2/32", the worn tire lacks the tread depth for beneficial snow traction|
Tire Tread Depth Gauge
Tire tread depth gauges come in a variety of designs, including measurements in 32nds of an inch, millimetres and light indicators. Typical gauges will measure up to 32/32nds or 26 mm because few cars and light trucks have tread depths exceeding 1"/2.5 cm.
Digital tire tread depth gauges will include instruction manuals outlining their proper use. To use mechanical tread depth gauges, first check the scale to determine your units of measurement. Then press the gauge against a flat surface to ensure it zeroes out correctly before pressing against your tire to measure tire depth.
Keep in mind that for winter tires to be effective on snow, you should have 6/32nds or more—a substantially deeper tread depth. At 2/32" of tread wear, your vehicle will have reduced resistance to hydroplaning and little to no efficient traction in snow. If you've purchased your winter tires to handle snow covered roads, consider replacing your winter tires when your tread depth reaches 6/32nds or less.
Remember to measure the tread depth in several places on your tires. If your results seem inconsistent, your tire may have uneven wear, which can indicate a mechanical issue.
How to Store Winter Tires
Clean and wrap your snow tires before storing them for the season to protect them from debris and rubber degrading elements like ozone. Tires can be laid flat or stacked up to four high, but should not be placed tread-down as they may develop flat spots.
The best place to store tires is in a cool, dry location such as a basement or climate controlled workshop. The temperature fluctuations in sheds, garages or other un-insulated areas can accelerate aging. Stored tires should be kept away from electric motors or welders as these produce ozone which will damage the rubber over time.
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