Changing your tires at the right time will save you money and get you more mileage per set. Switching them out twice a year can feel like a hassle, but it’s well worth it for your wallet and safety. The last thing you want is to make a car insurance claim for an accident that winter tires could have prevented.
The right time to change your tires depends on where you live, but the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada recommends putting them on when the temperature consistently drops below 7°C. Colder than that, your all-seasons become stiff, which means less traction, extended braking, and poorer handling in winter conditions, including snowy, icy, and cold and dry pavement.
Dedicated winter tires are engineered to perform best on ice and snow in sub-zero temperatures. The rubber compounds soften in frigid temperatures, allowing them to stay flexible for better traction. In practical terms, winter tires can reduce braking distance by 25%1 on average compared to all-season tires. They’re simply better equipped for cold climates.
Choose your tread
Not sure what type of winter tire is right for you? Three main factors to consider are terrain, distance, and driving conditions.
Standard winter tires (non-studded) are an excellent choice for icy, snowy roads because of an aggressive tread design that improves traction.
Studded winter tires have embedded metal studs that provide extra traction by digging into wet, rough ice and heavy, hard-packed snow. The studs can damage bare roads, so check that these tires are legal where you live before purchasing.
All-weather tires can be kept on your vehicle all year but don’t perform as well below 7°C.
All-season tires won’t perform like winter tires in ice and snow, but their shape and tread design provide better traction than summer tires.
All tires that meet Transport Canada’s winter performance requirements are marked with the pictograph of a peaked mountain with a snowflake on the sidewall. Tires marked "M + S" (mud and snow) provide safe all-weather performance but are not always suited for severe snow conditions. Having four matching tires is essential to maintain secure vehicle handling. Never mix tires with different tread patterns, internal construction, or size.
Maintain your winter tires
Check your tire pressure often, especially before driving on the highway or on long trips. Proper air pressure extends tread life, improves safety, and reduces fuel consumption. Tire pressure decreases as temperatures drop, so check the pressure at least once a month when the tires are cold (after the car has been out all night).
Measure the depth of your tires’ tread by looking at the built-in wear indicators inside the grooves – these small, raised bars mark the minimum permitted tread depth. The tire should be replaced if the tread is flush with the indicators. When your tires are worn below 4 mm of tread depth, they shouldn’t be used on snow-covered roads. The shallow grooves in worn tires reduce your wet-braking traction and increase your braking distance.
When the weather starts to warm up again, it’s time to switch back to all-seasons. Driving with winter tires on dry pavement in warmer temperatures will wear them out faster, which means buying a new set sooner. You’ll also notice that winter tires are more flexible in the summer, compromising your vehicle’s handling and increasing braking distances.
Once you’ve made the swap, clean off your winter tires before you store them. You’ll especially want to wash away any remnants of salt, which can eat into the rubber and damage the tires while they sit in storage. Covering your tires isn’t essential but wrapping them up can help protect them from excess moisture. Use one large plastic bag for each tire, remove as much air as possible, and wrap them up tightly with tape. After that, stack the tires, laying them flat on one another, and keep them in a cool, clean, and dry location.
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