As tire experts, we’re often approached in Kal Tire stores as well as hockey games or even the grocery line-up for answers about a very important subject: winter tires. So, we thought we’d answer in one post all of the top 10 questions about winter tires Canada asks every year.
How do winter tires work?
Tire engineers have spent decades evolving the science behind winter tires so that every generation is even safer than the one before. Winter tires use a unique rubber compound that helps them stay soft and grippy at temperatures below 7 C. In addition to using more natural rubber, many winter tires also contain the sand-like silica for extra biting edges.
You’ll also notice the chunkier tread blocks on a winter tire. The channels between the tread blocks are also deeper and wider as well to help push away slush and maintain a contact patch with the ground for safe cornering and braking. Learn more in our post How do winter tires work?
Do I really need winter tires?
This leads to another really common question we get asked from a certain city in Ontario: Do cars need winter tires in Toronto?
Here’s the short answer: Kal’s Tire Testing recently proved that, on average, winter tires stop 14.7 m sooner on ice than all-season tires. If you want the utmost safety in the winter, and you live in areas with heavy, hard-packed snow or black ice and you occasionally head up the mountain, choose designated winter tires.
If you live in a city with really mild winter weather (ie. Vancouver or perhaps even Toronto), you might consider all-weather tires, which bear the severe service emblem and which stay soft and flexible at temperatures above and below 7 C (unlike all-seasons), but more on that in a moment.
What’s the winter tire legislation in Canada?
Some provinces, such as BC, require vehicles to be equipped with winter tires at certain parts of the year, usually October through March, for use on many highways and mountain passes. Other provinces, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, do not require motorists to use winter tires at all.
Given how much of a difference they can make in preventing motor vehicle incidents, however, even provinces that don’t legally require winter tires, such as Manitoba, have provincial insurance bodies that offer discounts on winter tires to encourage their use. Read our post Winter Tire Legislation in Canada.
What’s the difference between winter, all-weather tires and all-season tires?
Kal Tire actually now calls all-season tires ‘3-season tires’ for good reason: They should be used in spring, summer and fall. After that, at temperatures below 7 C, they harden like a hockey puck. The tread blocks and the channels between them aren’t big enough to dig into snow or push away slush.
All-weather tires are a good happy medium for drivers who live in urban areas with mild winter weather, such as BC’s coast, because they’ll get strong performance at temperatures above and below 7 C, and they’ll have reliable ice, snow and slush performance for trips to the ski hill.
Winter tires have a special rubber compound to keep them soft at extreme lows and aggressive tread blocks to bite into snow, slush and ice.
Learn more in our infographic All-weather Tires vs. All-season Tires vs. Winter Tires.
When should I put on my winter tires?
If you really want to play it safe (and beat the line-ups at changeover season), you should have your winter tires installed when the temperature is 7 C at best. For many places in Canada, that means early October.
Is it OK to drive my snow tires when there’s no snow?
Yes. It’s always better to have winter tires on warm, dry roads than summer or all-season tires on snowy or cold roads. We call them winter tires because it’s more about the temperature than snow.
Do all four tires need to be winter tires?
Yes. All four tires should be matching to ensure not just optimal traction to get going forward, but also reliable cornering and braking. Remember that all-season tires can’t handle cold temperatures, and there’s a risk of sliding or even fish-tailing if two tires can stop and two tires can’t. The rubber compound of winter tires stays soft to grip the road, so for optimum braking and handling, all four tires need to be winter tires.
When should I replace winter tires?
Ideally, winter tires should be replaced when the tread depth reaches 5/32”. Read our post How to Check Your Tire Tread Depth to find out how much tread is left on your tires.
How are tires tested to earn severe service winter tire symbol?
To earn the mountain-snowflake winter tire symbol designating a tire for service in severe conditions, a tire must pass a tire test with standards defined by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Engineers measure several conditions, including air and snow temperature and snow density.
And then the test: The vehicle drives at a speed of 8 km/hr and the driver applies the brakes to three of the vehicle’s wheels to keep the vehicle speed constant while a control system causes the test wheel to accelerate from 8 km/hour up to 32 km/hour and spin out. This simulates what it might be like getting out of your driveway on a snowy morning.
While the tire is spinning out, its forces are measured and then these are compared with those measured for the control tire. The test is repeated over three different days and the tire manufacturer receives the average result.
What are the best winter tires? What are the best all-weather tires?
We get this question a lot, and it depends on a number of factors: where you live, where you drive, and what your budget is. But, thanks to Kal’s Tire Testing, we can now provide data that shows how nearly 20 of our tires actually performed in the rugged conditions Canadians face each winter.
We highlighted three star tires that performed the best in each category—all-seasons, all-weathers and winters. (Hint, Nokian tires crushed the tests!). Keep reading in our post Our Best Winter, All-season and Winter Tires of 2015.
Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2
There you have it, the answers to the questions about winter tires Canada asks every year. If you have specific questions about the best winter tires for you, visit one of our Kal Tire locations so you can talk to a tire expert in person, #TalkToKal online or over the phone!