All-seasons hardly best choice in Ontario

If you want the quick read about this subject, just remember this and then go on about your business: in winter, the worst winter tire has better traction than the best all-season tire.

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If you want the quick read about this subject, just remember this and then go on about your business: in winter, the worst winter tire has better traction than the best all-season tire.

Period. Not disputable. End of story.

And now for the background for the rest of us.

“Snow tires not right track for Ontario” was the headline on a recent editorial in the Sudbury Star, reprinted in the Star. Well, I can’t find much fault with its conclusion – that they should not pass a law about it – but they sure slid down a slippery road to get to that conclusion.

A Wheels reader asks whether the editorial was getting into “an area in which they do not have the technical expertise.” You bet!

They are wrong, wrong and wrong when they suggest we don’t need winter tires in sunny southern Ontario. In winter, we all need winter tires.

For the record, I am not in favour of yet another law that will be ignored by many and enforced by few. It just creates disrespect for the law in general when governments introduce feel-good measures that have no measurable results.

Am I for winter tires? Yes, as is every Wheels writer I know. It really is a no-brainer to want the maximum traction during every season. Notice that I said winter tires, not snow tires – the word “winter” is the key.

Snow tires are a thing of the past. They were good at one thing: snow traction. They were noisy on pavement and did not stop or turn well once they were on asphalt, and they wore quickly, so unless you lived in the Great White North, they were hard to love.

But a modern winter tire throws me into spasms of delight. They have traction on snow, ice and that southern Ontario specialty, potholed pavement. Are they as quiet as all-season tires? Not quite but almost. Do they wear fast? Not at all.

What’s their downside – cost? I don’t think so. If you keep your car for a few years, your all-season tires can spend the winter resting in the basement.

But the best thing about winter tires is more traction on all surfaces covered with white fluffy or wet slushy snow and even bare, cold pavement. Traction, as with many things in life, requires flexibility. Rubber flexibility and elasticity grip cold, bare pavement better, even in the sunny south of our province, when temperatures are at the freezing mark.

All-season tires get stiff and lose their grip – they can’t grab the pavement.

When faced with a wall of stopped traffic in front of you, would you rather stop sooner or later? My vote is for sooner. I’m just a chicken about the sounds of crunching metal and airbags going off. With temperatures just below freezing temperatures, stopping distance on bare pavement using all-season tires could be 30 per cent longer. That’s longer than the hood on most cars I’ve seen.

Traction (that is, the tire’s grip of the road) is determined by the tire’s construction, materials and tread pattern, says Bill VandeWater, Bridgestone Tire’s director of consumer products. The all-season tire, he points out, “is the jack of all trades and the master of none. There is no season where the all-season tire has better traction than a summer tire or a winter tire.

“On snow, the winter tire has better traction at -40C than an all-season tire has at 4C.”

Lest you think he’s biased, I have found similar results in my own testing. Remove the snow from the pavement and the winter tire still is the grip winner. In serious below-freezing temperatures, the winter tire can have as much as 50 per cent more traction and when it really gets into the big minus degree numbers, expect the all-season tire to have just 15 per cent of the traction of the winter tire.

So winter tires – yes. Legislation – no. But let me use a weasel word here: “except.”

Here’s who should be mandated by law to use winter tires: all emergency vehicles – fire trucks, police cars and ambulances – and, last but not least, taxis.

The emergency vehicles need all the help they can get. They go out when we stay home, they save lives and they are always under budget constraints. It’s too simple for an accountant to cross out that expense line for winter tires. Right now, there are EMS vehicles in the heart of the snow belt driving on all-season tires. These life-saving people deserve better.

And taxis … what can I say? They slip, they slide, they spin around – and I’m talking in the heat of summer.

During the winter, I’d like to see the Toronto cops pull the plates off any cab that so much as wiggles out of its lane at an intersection. The public deserves a safe ride, too.

John Mahler writes Wheels’ TireTalk

advice column.

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