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Winter Driving Guide

When is the best time to install winter tires?

Published October 24, 2012

Last year, Ontario had it relatively easy with the snow and cold. But, judging by the weather forecasts and farmers’ almanacs, winter is expected to return with a vengeance this year.

Although the first snowfall should be weeks away, now is the time to prepare your vehicle for winter driving.

Aside from a prewinter vehicle inspection, one of the most important considerations a motorist can make is their choice of tires. If you read the literature and observe the evidence, the only sensible conclusion that can be drawn is that winter tires should be the preferred choice.

A Transport Canada report from a few years ago concluded that all-season tires are adequate if temperatures remain above -10C. When temperatures drop below -10C, all-season tires are less effective and don’t have the ability to remain pliable.

Pliability is an integral factor with winter tires. The more grip that your tires have on snowy, icy road surfaces, the better your chances of maintaining control of the vehicle. Winter tires in good condition allow for better stability and a shorter stopping distance during braking, and help a vehicle stay on course while turning.

Unlike all-season tires, winter tires contain cold-weather rubber compounds, channelling tread patterns, tread swipes (for wet surface control), plus an open tread block pattern for better snow traction.

Transport Canada recommends installing four winter tires, not just two. Most new vehicles today are built with front-wheel drivetrain, and yet all four tires should be replaced. All tires require linear (forward) traction and lateral (sideways) traction in order to prevent loss of control.

Tests conducted by Transport Canada and the Canadian Rubber Association revealed that all-season tires veered off the testing track at speeds of 40 to 50 km/h; this wasn’t a problem with cars with winter tires.

Another study, conducted by Quebec’s transportation ministry, showed “a proper winter tire can improve braking by up to 25 per cent over all-season radials and can improve collision avoidance by about 38 per cent.”

These statistics are very persuasive. As a new car dealer, and as president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, I support the research of tire experts and strongly recommend that all vehicles be equipped with winter tires during the winter months.

As further proof of the benefits of winter tires, Quebec passed a law in 2008 that all tires of passenger vehicles (including taxis) must be specifically designed for winter, between Dec. 15 and March 15.

According to the Quebec government, mandating the use of winter tires had “a positive effect on the accident toll . . . the results (after two seasons of application) represented a five per cent net improvement in road accident victims.”

Fewer accidents would inevitably lead to fewer insurance claims, and would lower overall insurance costs. In fact, I’ve heard some insurance companies are prepared to discount car insurance if you install winter tires on your vehicle during winter months.

If you remain unconvinced of the value of winter tires, dozens of excellent research papers, reports and studies are available online to help shed light on this important topic.

Do you really want to compromise your safety when there is so much evidence supporting the benefits of winter tires? Shouldn’t your loved ones and others have as much protection as possible?

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