You don’t always need snow tires. But where you do, here’s what experts recommend
With winter weather hitting eastern Canada, the age-old question pops up once again this year — is it actually necessary to use winter tires?
In Quebec, it is mandatory to have winter tires between Dec. 15 and March 15, and in British Columbia, policy was passed that requires drivers to have all-season tires on most highways from Oct. 1 to March 31, especially in northern parts of the province.
In Ontario, it is law for insurance companies to provide a discount of two to five per cent for drivers with snow tires, and the New Brunswick Medical Society recently called on the province to make winter tires mandatory, like in Quebec.
Already, approximately 60 per cent of B.C. drivers now own winter tires, compared to 38 per cent in 2014, according to the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada.
WATCH: New Brunswick Medical Society calls for mandatory winter tires on all vehicles
According to Gord Lovegrove, an engineering professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in road safety, it is highly recommended for drivers to have winter tires, especially if you are the “least bit concerned.”
“If you are a novice driver or the least bit concerned, err on the side of caution and absolutely get snow tires,” he said.
Lovegrove said not to get any tires though, but to make sure you get snow tires that are certified, which is indicated by a small snowflake on the side of the tire, that they have “the right kind of rubber and tread.”
The difference between winter tires and all-season tires is winter tires have an advanced rubber compound, which means the rubber stays elastic and flexible at lower temperatures, according to the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada. They also have deeper tread patterns that are designed to get water away from under the wheel.
Snow tires should be installed when the temperature drops below 7 C, as below that temperature, all-season or all-weather tires lose their grip and need more braking distance.
Lovegrove said to make sure you ask for snow tires when shopping because companies that sell snow tires are then liable if they sell you anything that is “less than able to handle winter roads.”
Kristine D’Arbelles, a spokesperson for the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), also highly recommended snow tires.
“[CAA] highly recommend [snow tires], they definitely keep you safe in the winter,” she said.
Snow tires provide a lot more grip than regular tires, Lovegrove said, and when things are unpredictable on the road due to snow, high volumes of drivers and changing weather conditions, you’re better off safe than sorry.
WATCH: What to consider when choosing winter-safe tires
Snow tires are not only good for the snow, D’Arbelles said, but for really cold weather as well.
“The way the rubber hits the road and reacts with it, in cold weather such as minus 40, [with] all-season tires, the rubber gets really hard and it doesn’t stick to the road as much,” she said. “Whereas winter tires are a little bit softer, so even if it is minus 40, the traction with the road is going to be much stronger.”
However, both D’Arbelles and Lovegrove said that it is not a blanket “yes” to automatically get snow tires in Canada, but it depends on the place.
“There are many places in Alberta where roads are flat and straight and drivers are well accustomed to driving in winter conditions. They drive in all-season year-round [tires],” Lovegrove said.
“Various provinces have chosen to not make them mandatory because certain areas don’t make sense, like Vancouver probably doesn’t need winter tires,” D’Arbelles said. “I don’t think it is one size fits all, it is something that is discussed every year come first snowfall.”
D’Arbelles also pointed out that with snow tires, you can’t all of a sudden start driving like Superman, but they have to complement good driving as well, which she said is even more important than the tires you’re rocking.
WATCH: Is it time for winter tires? Tips on getting your vehicle winter-ready.
“[Winter tires] help when you have to brake suddenly in both snow and in cold weather, but you still have to be driving prudently and paying attention to the road,” she said.
She recommends giving yourself more time before leaving on your journey so you’re not rushing and have the mindset to follow best driving practices.
“If you give yourself more time, then it means less rushing, less road rage and not going at a speed that’s dangerous on slick and frozen roads,” she said.
“Just because you have winter tires, doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want.”
— With files from Cassandra Jodoin
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