'Uncle Bob' dead wrong on Winter Tires
Research shows up to 30 percent shorter stopping distances.
We’ve all heard the same baloney – and usually from a well-meaning older relative.
“I’ve been driving 50 years and have never needed winter tires…”
And so it would start, along with the wag of a finger and stern visage: “If people would just slow down and leave enough distance, they wouldn’t need to waste money on more tires.”
“It’s about driving for the conditions…”
Talk about stating the obvious.
What he’s really saying is, “I’m in total control of my ride at all times, and the rest of you morons can’t be bothered.”
I have yet to meet a driver who can command the elements, predict within inches where their vehicle will halt on black ice, and somehow prophesy the actions of other motorists.
But maybe “Uncle Bob” is that guy.
In reality, most of these wisenheimers have been rolling the dice for decades. And it’s a matter of time before they eat their words.
No doubt I’ll receive a few emails from those who take offense, but I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument against buying a set of winter tires – other than “I spend winters in Florida.”
Safe cold weather driving is all about traction and, like it or not, you get far less of it with all-season tires when the temps drop below seven degrees Celsius.
At this point, their rubber begins to harden, whereas the specialized compounds in winter tires remain flexible well past minus-30, delivering up to 50 percent more traction.
I had a chat with Carolyn Goard, communications manager for the Rubber Association of Canada, who confirmed that it’s not just the tread – which is nonetheless more effective – but the tire’s elasticity that allows it to splay and grip the surface, enabling you to stop more quickly.
“All-season tires are a compromise,” she adds. “Winter tires are superior and will outperform them – even on bare asphalt.”
The Traffic Injury Research Foundation backs this up, citing 30 percent shorter stopping distances at temperatures just below freezing.
Of course, Ontarians can’t count on dry pavement – even downtowners who insist it never snows south of the 401.
So tread patterns do matter, and winter tires have noticeably wider, more aggressive grooves, along with efficient channels to drain water and eject snow. And don’t forget about the sipes – those deep slits in the tread that improve its flexibility and help it cut through water and slush.
Putting it all together, winter tires provide better traction in the snow at minus 40 degrees Celsius than all-seasons at plus four.
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Which could easily make the difference between stopping safely and crashing. And who hasn’t had some jackass cut in front, and then slam on the brakes?
Any savings from pooh-poohing winter tires will quickly evaporate once your insurer jacks up rates over the next several years.
Popping tires on and off today’s oversized alloy wheels can be pricey, not to mention hard on the rubber.
Instead, I’d suggest buying a set of smaller steel rims. Tires for 16-inch steelies are far less expensive than for 17- or 18-inch alloys, and they’re less prone to salt damage. Just be sure to get the correct substitute (with same outside diameter) or your speedometer will be off.
Some motorists cheap out by installing winter tires on just the two drive wheels. Which would be fine if you didn’t need all four to safely turn and stop.
On a FWD vehicle, the added traction in front – and not in rear – will cause oversteer. On a rear-driver, the opposite occurs as the back wheels push the less grippy front wheels through a corner and not around it.
Indeed, winter tires are a no-brainer, but tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) can be a hassle. Some use data from the ABS system, some are direct and use sensors on either the valve stem or inside the wheel. For the latter two, you’ll need sensors installed on the new rims or face a warning light all winter.
Either way, reminds Goard, TPMS is not a replacement for checking tires manually with an old-school pressure gauge.
Winter tires became mandatory in Quebec in 2008, and a follow-up study three years later saw a five percent drop in accident injuries. That may not sound like much, but keep in mind that roughly 95 percent of drivers in la belle province were already using them.
In Ontario, only 56 percent of motorists are doing the same, and rather than government using the stick for compliance, insurance companies are offering a carrot via small premium discounts (typically 2-5 percent) for vehicles shod in winter tires.
“Wait a sec,” you say. “I have all-wheel-drive, ABS brakes, traction control, stability control, torque vectoring and other techy stuff to help keep my vehicle from becoming a twisted wreck.”
All useless without grip.
Kind of like Uncle Bob’s advice.
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