Winter tires: A guide for cars, minivans, SUVs and light trucks
Winter tires for passenger vehicles are generally designed for the combination of cars/minivans or SUV/light trucks. With most of the major tire manufacturers making a variety of winter tires, there is an abundance of choice - and it can be difficult to select the best winter tires to suit your needs. To help simplify the process, this guide will focus on the best overall winter tires available in Canada.
Canadians deal with some of the worst winter driving conditions so investing in a quality set of winter tires is important for winter driving safety and confidence. All-season tires work well in most weather conditions but when the ambient temperature drops below 7C, the rubber hardens and loses its ability to grip the contact surface.
Winter tires are made of rubber compounds that remain flexible in cold temperatures to enable better traction on snow, ice and slush. Look for the mountain/snowflake symbol on the sidewall to indicate that the tire meets the Severe Winter Traction Standard. All-season tires are marked with M + S which means mud and snow, however they provide inadequate traction in deep snow and on ice.
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Many road tests have been done to score how winter tires perform in various conditions. These tests measure the tires ability to stop on snow, ice, wet and dry pavement. They also measure acceleration grip, fuel consumption and take into account subjective attributes like control/handling, ride comfort and road noise. No single winter tire can be the best in every way so to help identify the best overall performers, I talked to tire expert Billy Lau, owner of Tires 23 in Mississauga. These are Billy's top recommendations.
Top winter tire recommendations:
Passenger car/minivan, Best overall performers:
1. Bridgestone Blizzak WS80
"Bridgestone is a pioneer in developing winter tires. Their Blizzak series combines all the attributes of a great winter tire; stop and go traction, handling and ride comfort, commented Billy Lau. "I have the older model Blizzak WS70 on my Honda Odyssey and they're fantastic in all winter conditions. The WS80 is this year's new flagship model for cars and minivans."
2. Michelin X-Ice Xi3
scored the best results for acceleration traction on snow and ice, in a test of top studless ice and snow tires, conducted by Tire Rack. Michelin's Flex-Ice full-silica compound maintains flexibility at low temperatures for incredible winter performance. It also maintains firmness at moderate temperatures, improving wear, grip and fuel efficiency. This is an ideal tire for a city commuter.
3. Yokohama iceGUARD iG52c
is a new model designed with the latest developments in Yokohama's winter tire technology with the mission to help Canadians safely conquer winter. Features include numerous three-dimensional saw-toothed sipes that increase control by providing more biting edges to cut into ice. Lateral grooves of different widths quickly evacuate snow, slush and water. This is a well-rounded winter tire that ensures ride comfort and control in a variety of conditions.
Best value for the budget conscious:
Kumho I'ZEN KW31
is Kumho's new winter tire, optimized for maximize ice braking and traction. The KW31 offers great performance in a variety of different winter driving conditions plus a comfortable ride and excellent durability at an MSRP significantly less than most of the highly regarded winter tires. The KW31 is available in many sizes for cars, minivans, SUVs and light duty trucks.
SUV/light truck, Best overall performers:
1. Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V1
combines superior grip on snow and ice with confident handling on wet roads and in slush. Designed with a focus on ice traction and braking, the DM-V1 is also excellent at wet road handling and hydroplaning resistance to provide wintertime driving assurance.
2. Michelin Latitude X-Ice Xi2
has a wide tread contact patch that generates acceleration and braking power plus cornering traction for outstanding winter manoeuvering. Michelin Comfort Control Technology helps deliver a comfortable ride by using computer-optimized design and precision manufacturing to offer greatly reduced vibrations and road noise plus tread wear longevity.
3. Continental ExtremeWinterContact
delivers outstanding performance in all winter weather conditions. It's engineered with an advanced tread compound and structured siping for superb ice and snow traction. It's well-mannered road characteristics make it a very capable winter tire that you can live with every day. Extreme Winter Contact is available in many popular sizes for most passenger vehicles. It's an excellent choice for those who do mostly highway driving.
Best value for the budget conscious:
Goodyear Ultra Grip Winter
is Goodyear's entry-level snow tire available in a wide range of sizes to fit cars, minivans, SUVs and light duty trucks. These snow tires offer reliable performance in winter conditions and retail for much less than the top-rated studless ice and snow tires. Ultra Grip Winter radials are designed to accommodate optional metal studs to increase traction on hard-packed snow and ice. Check with your local municipality before installing studs to see if they are allowed in your area.
Two more options for the budget conscious:
For another perspective, I asked my long time mechanic (and tire guru) Leo Nucci, co-owner of Mississauga Auto Repairs, for his top winter tire picks. Leo also recommends the same top three models (listed above) for passenger cars/vans and SUV/light trucks. For the budget conscious, Leo recommends Uniroyal Tiger Paw Ice & Snow II
(passenger cars/vans) and BFGoodrich Winter Slalom KSI
In talking to friends who drive on winter tires, the models that consistently came up with positive feedback are the Michelin X-Ice series and Bridgestone Blizzaks. This supports the above recommendations however bear in mind that personal impressions are subjective. Individuals have different driving styles and needs based on the winter conditions where they drive.
I do most of my driving in the greater Toronto area and deal with heavy city traffic. I have winter tires for both my cars; Michelin X-Ice Xi2 and Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice. Both are older models but still excellent in Ontario's winter conditions. I feel that winter tires are an important and necessary purchase for everyone's safety on the roads. Considering that most individual's insurance deductible is more than the cost of (a set of) winter tires, it's a worthwhile investment.
Where to buy winter tires:
Tire Rack is the biggest on-line tire retailer in the United States. Their website is a great source for model comparisons, tests and reviews. Keep in mind that all prices are in US currency. By the time you factor in conversion, shipping and installation, you likely won't save much (if any) money compared to buying tires locally.
Purchasing tires from a local dealer gives the consumer added piece of mind that they have somewhere to go if warranty or repair work is required. Plus many tire dealers offer storage for your other set of tires, for a nominal fee.
Regardless of which winter tires you choose, don't wait until the first snowfall to have them installed on your vehicle. I see the lineups every November at tire retailers and thank myself that I didn't procrastinate - get them on at your earliest opportunity. Winter will be here sooner than you expect.
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