Parking lot test tells dramatic winter tire tale

After the last few weeks, there can't be many doubters left about the usefulness of winter tires in providing superior traction.

After the last few weeks, there can’t be many doubters left about the usefulness of winter tires in providing superior traction.

But just in case, Paul Pillisch of Revolution Wheel and Tire in Barrie decided a practical demonstration might still be worthwhile. With help from Yokohama Tire, National Car rentals and the OPP Highway Safety Division’s Sergeant Cam Woolley, Pillisch arranged a simple demonstration for the media: stopping power on snow.

Every year after I write the annual winter tire article in Wheels, I get a raft of letters. The general tone of which is, “I’ve been driving on all-season tires for 20 years and have never got stuck.”

My philosophy of winter driving has always been that it is not about being able to get going; it is all about being able to stop and turn.

In a 70-metre long parking lot at Georgian College, two identical Buick Lucernes were used to compare braking ability.

One was fitted with new premium Yokohama all-season radials, the other with Yokohama’s IG 20 Ice Guard winter tire. Woolley had a great idea: outfit a third car with heavily worn, but still legal all-season tires and add it to the mix. The parking lot was hard packed snow.

The results were predictable, but the extent of the difference in braking distance was not. Accelerating to 60 km/h then doing a full ABS-assisted panic stop, the winter-tire-equipped car stopped on average 14 metres shorter consistently. The distance would be about three Lucerne car lengths – the body is 5.1 metres long.

The car with the well worn all-seasons, could not reach 60 km/h in the acceleration zone. It only managed to get up to 40 km/h. It managed to stop in roughly the same distance as the new all-season-equipped car, but its speed was a full 20 km/h less.

According to Woolley, he regularly sees cars equipped with these “Baldini” tires when investigating accidents along the 400 series of highways.

“While technically still legal by a few millimetres of tread, old tires like these are dangerous,” he said.

A second driving exercise involved braking in a straight line, then steering around an obstacle blocking the traffic lane.

At the same entry speed of 60 km/h, it was obvious the all-season equipped car was not able to turn around the obstacle even though the ABS was doing its best to slow the car. The car did not react to steering input and slid straight (understeer) until it scrubbed off more speed. Then it turned. But by then it had hit a couple of traffic cones representing a stopped car.

At the same speed, the winter-tire car slowed and made the turn in the allotted space with no drama whatsoever, and no understeer.

The Baldini vehicle again could not achieve 60 km/h and when it tried to turn, the rear of the car swung out (oversteer) and the car went sideways.

It was a very convincing demonstration of the power of good winter tires as safety insurance.

And a set of winter tires may be less than the cost of the deductible on your insurance policy after a metal to metal meeting with a guardrail.

Q: I currently lease a 2004 Subaru Forester XS Premium. We have snow/ice tires (P215/60R16) on steel rims for it. The Subaru lease is up shortly and I’ve bought a 2007 Saturn Ion 3 Quad Coupe (its all-season tires are P205/55R16). I was hoping to buy four steel rims for the Saturn (four-bolt vs. five on the Subaru) and use the winter tires on it. Is this doable?

A: Sorry, that switch will not work. Your old tires are too tall (by more than an inch) and too wide. If they are in good shape, take them in to a tire dealer and trade them in on a set of winter tires in the correct size.



MICHELINS: Michelin’s tire plant in Waterville, N.S. is commemorating its 25th year of manufacturing tires for the commercial truck and earthmover market, and it has also produced its 25 millionth tire – an XDA long-haul tire.

Email tire questions to John Mahler at


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