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 com­mon­ly­over­looked 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, low-bud­get brands) is spe­cial­lyengi­neered 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 (retighten) 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 “all­weather” 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.


Stud­ded tires.

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