Winter tires dramatically improve safety, control
It’s baaaaaaaack! November is upon us, which means that temperatures across much of Canada will soon hit the consistently-sustained seven degrees or lower where drivers are best to make the switch over to their winter tires.
Below are some notes and information to consider before you make your yearly tire swap, purchase a new set of winter rubber for your ride, or invest in a set of winter tires for the first time.
Not just for snow
It’s important to remember that winter tires aren’t just for snow and ice and that their use also dramatically improves safety and control in another commonly-overlooked situation — when the roads are bare, but cold. It’s not just a tread pattern that makes a winter tire a winter tire and special compounding means the rubber used in quality winter tires (unlike many knock-off, lowbudget brands) is specially-engineered to stay flexible when the mercury drops. This means increased grip and safety in the colder months, even when there’s no snow or ice passing beneath.
Inspect the tires
If you’ll make your seasonal tire swap at home, you’ve got a great opportunity to fully inspect your tires and wheels while they’re off of the vehicle and easier to examine. As you remove your all-season or summer tires and reinstall the winter tires and rims, be sure to check all surfaces of the tires (including the inner sidewall) for signs of dangerous cracking, splitting or bulging, or any other damage which could compromise the tire.
Examine the treads as well, noting that uneven tread wear across the width of the treads likely points to an alignment problem that you’ll need to address. If in doubt, ask a professional for an assessment, as driving on a damaged or compromised tire can be a huge safety risk. Be sure to also check the inflation pressure of all tires, noting that even in storage, a tire will typically lose pressure over time.
Support your new ride
If you’ve bought a new vehicle since last winter, chances are it has a network of safety systems designed to help it steer, brake, accelerate and maintain control at all times. Just remember that none of these systems can actually create more traction and that the effectiveness and performance of each is limited entirely by the traction available to it.
In winter, there’s only one way to physically increase the traction between the tire and the road, thereby giving today’s modern control systems more traction to work with. That way is to add a set of quality winter tires to the equation. Put another way, when the weather gets greasy, your ABS, traction control, stability control and AWD are only as good as the tires you install. Neither of the systems above is a replacement (or even a close alternative) to the use of proper winter tires.
Don’t forget the re-torque
During a seasonal tire swap, the lug-nuts which hold the wheels onto your vehicle need to be removed and reinstalled. This disturbing of the lug-nuts means it’s often necessary to re-torque (re-tighten) those nuts after the first 100 km or so of driving. In rare cases, failing to do so could result in the nuts backing off, causing the vehicle to lose a wheel. Be sure that you (or your favourite technician) re-torques the lug-nuts after a few day’s driving, for maximum safety. Your tire shop likely does this free of charge and it takes about 90 seconds.
Winter tires are best for winter
Beware of confusing nomenclature. Visit your tire shop or research online and you’ll see summer tires, winter tires, allseason tires, all-weather tires and more. More and more tires are hitting the market under that “all-weather” designation and these often amount to an all-season tire with some added winter-busting features built in. Designed for the shopper who wants to run a single set of tires all year round, they’re popular in some circles, but experienced winter-tire users know that most Canadians should run two sets — one for winter and one for the other three seasons. Put simply, winter tires are best for severe winter conditions because they’re designed solely for winter use with no compromises made for use in other seasons.
What tire is best
Selecting a set of winter tires is one of the most over-thought purchases in the automotive world. In general, the best advice is to seek out a tire in your budget from a brand you are familiar with and fond of. Avoid low-priced tires (you get what you pay for, to a point) and don’t be shy to consider more budget-friendly brands like Cooper, Kumho and Dunlop if that set of Pirellis or Michelins is out of reach. Also note that there’s arguably no such thing as the “best” winter tire, though certain tires are designed to perform better in certain conditions, so do a little homework first. If you switch from all-season to quality winter tires, you’ve made a huge step towards added winter traction. From that point, the variances between the performance of individual, quality-brand winter tires is relatively minor in comparison.
To stud or not to stud?
Some Canadians stud their winter tires religiously and others don’t. I’ve never studded a set of winter tires on my personal vehicles because, in repeated testing, I’ve noted that the studs tend to only make a significant difference (in measured stopping tests) on nearly glare ice, which I encounter very rarely. In my experience, switching from all-season to winter tires makes a much bigger difference to wintertime traction than switching from winter tires to studded winter tires. Your results, preferences and observed driving conditions may vary from mine.
What’s on my vehicle
What tires do I use on my own ride? Michelin X-Ice. Why? They’re just like most other winter tires from the driver’s seat, but over 10-plus years and thousands of kilometres of testing, I’ve consistently noted that they provide a touch better “bite” on initial braking in deep snow and slush on vehicles to which they’re equipped. They are relatively pricey, though. Other favourites include the BF Goodrich Winter Slalom and Hankook iPike.
In winter, there’s only one way to physically increase the traction between the tire and the road — add a set of quality winter tires.
If you switch from all-season to quality winter tires, you’ve made a huge step towards added winter traction.