Gearing up for winter driving in Canada -- knowing you’ll be braving snow, sleet, ice or even rain -- can be daunting. Ensuring you’ve got the right tires for the right conditions is important; you want your vehicle to be safe. But how do you know which type to use? Here’s a breakdown to help you decide:
If you’re an urbanite who rarely leaves town in winter, you may be able to get away with all-season tires. They’ve traditionally been marketed for year-round driving in North America, but as Canadians know, winter conditions are different here than in the southern United States.
The all-season treads are closed, which allow them to work well in spring, winter, and fall to cling to the roads. However, closed treads can become clogged with snow, meaning they could pose a safety hazard.
Melissa Arbour, senior category business manager for tires and wheels at Canadian Tire, says that in recent tests conducted by the company, winter tires stopped 45 feet shorter on ice than all-season, so the difference is noticeable.
That said, if you rarely leave city streets, and it’s relatively warm and wet but not icy where you live (i.e. Vancouver or Windsor), the all-season may be enough.
Heavier snow: suburbs and rural Canada
Tire experts agree that the best tire for rural areas of Canada are winter tires.
Winter tires must be changed out each fall and again in the spring, so for some, it may be costly. But if you do invest, ensure that the tires you purchase bear the mountain snowflake pictograph on the side of the tire. This means they conform to Transport Canada standards. They are mandatory for use in Quebec and in some areas of B.C.
Generally, winter tires are softer and more pliable, which allows them to grip the road in ice or snow. They also feature chunkier tread blocks -- large spaces between the treads that act almost like a shovel in the snow, propelling it away from the tire -- and sipes, tiny dashes in the tread that help the tire grip the road.
There are two types of winter tires. One is the studless ice radial. It’s made of a soft, sticky compound and is heavily “siped.” The treads are also extra deep, which keeps them clear of snow and ice, and makes them ideal for all areas and weather conditions.
The Snowbelt: icy, hilly or unplowed roads
The other type of winter tire, the studded winter tire, provides more traction on snow and ice, and would be a better choice in snowbelt areas in northern parts of many provinces, and in the mountainous areas of Alberta, British Columbia, or Quebec.
Treads on studded tires have a heavy concentration of studs along with larger, open blocks that dig through snow. The studs provide traction on ice.
Studs are not approved in all regions, however; check with your provincial department of highways before you install them on your car.
A note about chains: they still may be useful on steep mountain passes, but modern studded tires work just as well in most conditions for non-commercial vehicles.
From urban to remote
There’s another alternative that’ll take you pretty much anywhere on Canadian roads this winter, in any condition -- the all-weather tire.
All-weathers are a hybrid of the composition and tread of an all-season and winter tire. And the tread patterns are not as aggressive, adds Arbour.
The composition is strong enough to get a vehicle through a winter snow, but not so soft tires wear out in summer.
One last note: Whatever tires you decide to go with, ensure that you’re driving with the same four. Don’t try to get away with two winter tires, for example. The difference in treads could cause the car to lose control.