There’s no need to check the weather forecast to know when the temperature is starting to drop! And for safety reasons, there’s no reason to wait until December 15 to have your winter tires installed.

Winter tires do more than just provide good traction on snow and ice: they also help your vehicle brake effectively, maintain stability when braking, and stay on the right trajectory in a turn.

With such a wide variety of tires on the market, though, choosing the right ones isn’t always easy. Here are a few points to guide you in your purchase decision.

Important: to benefit from their advantages, you need four identical winter tires.

Not any old tire
To properly choose winter tires, you need to ask questions—and, more important, answer questions when you visit a tire retailer.
Choose tires according to the road conditions you encounter most often. Consider the following factors as well:

  • On what type of surface do you want your tires to perform best: snow or ice?
  • Are you looking for good performance on asphalt or improved traction on a slippery surface?
  • Are you prepared to put up with tires that are a bit noisier to get better grip?
  • Do you need studded tires for better grip? In other words, do you regularly drive in rural areas, over hilly terrain, or on lightly travelled or infrequently maintained roads?
  • What is your driving style?
  • How many kilometres do you drive in winter, and over what type of surface primarily?
  • Do you use your vehicle to pull a snowmobile trailer?

Explain your needs to the retailer, who should then be able to offer you at least two choices of tire. Usually, a higher price is a good indicator of better tire quality and performance. Find out whether manufacturer rebates are available.

It’s also not a good idea to blindly purchase a model of tire recommended by a friend: it may not be right for your vehicle, depending on the latter’s geometry, suspension or weight.

The mandatory pictograph
The Highway Safety Code states the following:
“Between December 15 and March 15, the owner of a taxi or a passenger vehicle registered in Quebec may not put the vehicle into operation unless it is equipped with tires specifically designed for winter driving, in compliance with the standards prescribed by government regulation. The prohibition also applies to any person renting out passenger vehicles not equipped with that type of tires.”

In addition, all passenger-vehicle winter tires, including those for full-size pickup trucks, must bear the pictograph of a peaked mountain with a snowflake. This has been mandatory for all winter tires installed on registered passenger vehicles in Quebec since December 15, 2014.

Tread carefully

Three factors influencing the coefficient of friction between tire and pavement are the tire’s construction, tread design and rubber composition.
When it comes to construction, the facts are clear: radial tires offer the best friction. Their steel-belted design provides an excellent compromise between a smooth ride and superior performance. Each manufacturer, of course, has its own design secrets, but where the formulas differ most are in terms of tread design and rubber compound.

The only feature of a tire that can be seen and felt, is a determining factor in tire performance. The distinguishing feature of winter tires is a tread design that provides much better “bite” on various winter road surfaces while expelling as much snow and slush as possible. Over the past few years, almost all tire manufacturers have incorporated sipes into their tread designs. These thin slits enable winter tires to maintain their flexibility while ensuring good traction.

Moreover, a Finnish study on winter road accidents showed that 75% of fatal collisions result from loss of lateral control of the vehicle. That finding has led several manufacturers to incorporate open blocks into the tread designs of at least one of their winter tire models to improve grip in turns.
Tread design also determines the noise level generated by a moving tire. Engineers have noticed that smaller blocks generate higher frequencies, which means a lot of vibration and noise, whereas it’s the opposite with larger blocks: lower frequencies, hence less vibration and noise.

Lastly, every tire—even one with a highly specialized design, is a compromise. Therefore, by nature, an all-season tire is a double compromise. Generally speaking, all-season tires tend to lose elasticity at temperatures below –15°C: the rubber starts to harden as soon as the temperature drops to 7°C, and the process accelerates sharply beginning at –7°C.

On dry pavement, when the temperature drops below freezing, a winter tire is better because it preserves its elasticity. And it retains that elasticity down to impressively low temperatures, as cold as –40°C. This, among other reasons, is why it is clearly the superior choice when it comes to adherence and safety.

Useful information
You can find out more about winter tires by visiting the Transport Canada and betiresmart.ca websites.

© CAA-Quebec, October 2015.