You will realize your need for winter tires when you skid into a busy intersection for the first time. It's terrifying, and should serve as motivation for your first set of winter tires. All-season tires, which most cars come with, do not offer the same breaking power and traction as winter tires.
Before you buy your first set of winter tires, there are a few things to know: winter tires have a logo on them indicating that they have been designed to meet specific snow traction performance requirement; in other words, they were made to work in snow and ice. The logo is a three-peaked mountain with a snowflake inside.
The rubber is softer as well. This is because as it gets colder, the rubber will harden just enough to work in cold weather. Another distinguishing feature of winter tires is that the treads are wider and longer so they can eject snow and ice.
That's why winter tires are different from all-season tires, but what else do you need to know?
What winter tires are right for my car?
Most cars will have a suggested list of winter tires that will work for the make and model, but you should also consider the severity of winter in your area. If you have a lot of snow and ice, then get a tire that can handle that amount of precipitation.
Most stores that carry winter tires will have experts who can suggest the proper tire for your car. Talk to your mechanic as well.
Can I get away with just one or two winter tires?
No, you really can't. Winter and all-season tires are made for different weather conditions. If you put winter tires in front, you can spin out. If you put them on the back, you may affect your cornering abilities.
How much will they cost?
On average, winter tires can cost up to $120 per basic winter tire. This doesn't include the cost to rotate the tires each season (up to $75) and the cost of rims. Some drivers buy separate rims to mount their winter tires while some use the same rims for their winter and all-season tires.
Most stores will have a variety of tires so you can compare the prices.
How often should I buy winter tires?
If you switch your winter tires out every season, you should get four to five years out of them. Do not keep your winter tires on all year. Just like all-season tires are not made for winter, winter tires are not made for summer conditions.
When should I buy winter tires?
Right now. Winter tires are available at the end of summer, but summer is relative across the country. It's still warm in Southern Ontario but a cold front is already creeping across the prairies. If you can see your breath outside, your winter tires should be installed and ready to roll.
When should I change them?
The short answer: before it snows. The longer answer: when the temperature starts to drop. The recommendation is to change your tire as the temperature falls to single digits. To be more specific, once the temperature drops to seven degrees Celsius, the rubber compound in all-season tires grows stiffer -- stiff enough to cause problems.
What about traction control/ABS brakes/All-wheel drive?
These can help, but they're not winter tires. Handling assistance and break systems can only work with the tires you’ve got. If you're driving in winter with all-season tires, they'll work with that, but if you've got winter tires, your car’s systems can provide a better driving experience. Everything works in concert to keep you safe during the winter months.
This sounds expensive…
The initial layout can be, but once you've spent the money, you're only paying for the change (twice a year) versus buying new tires (and possibly rims) every two to three years.
There's also the safety factor and for those who are watching their money, winter tires can lower your insurance rates. Finally, let’s be realistic: what’s more expensive, a life-threatening winter car crash, or a new set of tires? Be prepared by snowfall, and drive safe.