As we brace ourselves for one of the snowiest winters in recent history, you may be thinking about how your daily commute will be affected? Are your tires up to the test? If you are still on the fence about if your car needs an upgrade in the tire department or have always wanted to know more about your winter investment, let’s take a look at some of the most asked questions about winter tire maintenance.

How do winter tires work? 

Winter or snow tires are designed for prolonged winter conditions, including snow, ice and slush. The tread compounds in those tires stay softer and more flexible in cold weather. Winter tires have a deeper tread depth than summer tires in order to allow more space for the snow and slush to escape; keeping your wheel closer to the road. The deeper tread also creates much better grip on ice! 

Will snow tires help me drive better?

Whenever the temperature drops below 7°C (45°F), winter tires do a better job of sticking to the asphalt and, in turn, improve acceleration, handling and most importantly, braking distances.

Can I keep them on all year long?

When it comes to winter tire maintenance, you should only use winter tires in the winter, as they are not designed for the mild conditions of other seasons (above seven degrees Celsius). If you choose to keep them on past the winter, the tread will wear out much faster than normal which will result in you having to spend more money, sooner.

Should I get them for my SUV?

Despite the rugged design of most modern SUVs, they still require winter tires in order to maintain proper traction in slippery conditions. As mentioned above, the tread compounds in winter tires stay softer and more flexible in cold weather. They have a deeper tread depth than summer tires to allow more space for the snow and slush to escape, improving controllability.

Do I need them if I have AWD?

Yes. The Tire and Rubber Association of Canada and the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada clearly indicate that all-wheel drive vehicles need winter tires for safe driving in the winter. Their jointly published infographic on safe winter driving is a great resource.

What is the difference between winter vs all-season tires?

When the temperature drops below seven degrees Celsius, the rubber compounds used in all-season tires get hard, slippery and give up traction.  Though all-season tires are acceptable in light snow, winter tires have superior starting, stopping and cornering ability in temperatures below 7°C, as proven by Consumer Reports.

When to put on winter tires in Ontario?

When is the best time to switch over to winter tires? The general rule of thumb is that between Thanksgiving and Easter, you’ll need winter tires. These holidays are common markers to examine your need for winter tires. These holidays fall during the start and end of the time of year when it’s likely that the temperature will regularly be at or below 7°C. Compounds used in winter and summer tires begin to lose the ability to do what they were designed to do, so swap them when temperatures hit that mark in order to promote proper winter tire maintenance.

Should I get two or four winter tires for my vehicle?

Transport Canada recommends installing the same brand and model of winter tires on all four wheels to maximize control and stability. This also aids in winter tire maintenance because it will help them last longer, as they will wear out evenly.

There are those that believe using only two winter tires out of four can be better than four all-seasons. This is partially true; however, the report does conclude that it can have serious consequences, such as:

  • If you were to mount two winter tires in the front, you would feel secure traction going into a corner, but as forces start shifting through the turn, your back end may not be able to keep up and could cause you to spin out.
  • if you mount two tires on the rear of your vehicle, you may have better acceleration with a rear wheel drive vehicle (RWD), but the non-winter tires in the front may not be able to grip enough to direct the car around a turn and you could end up in a ditch.

However, if you can only afford to install two winter tires, the general rule is that you want them on your rear wheels, regardless of whether the vehicle is FWD, RWD or AWD.

Should I downsize my winter tires?

Although many drivers downsize for winter tires because smaller tires cost less to purchase, the overall circumference must stay within a few percentage points of the original. You can use a rim and tire that are slightly narrower than your summer tires because according to Tire Rack, narrower tires are better in deep snow as they are able to slice through the snow more easily. Check with your mechanic or licensed professional for more information on downsizing, including how to choose the proper size.

What pressure should winter tires be?

Tire pressure is determined by vehicle, not by tire. The recommended tire pressure for your car is on the information sticker inside the driver’s door and in your owner’s manual. For winter driving in colder temperatures, several manufacturers recommend that you inflate your tires three to five PSI (pounds per square inch of air pressure) higher than your car’s recommended level for summer driving. The recommended tire pressure is typically between 30 and 35 PSI. Anything less will affect fuel economy and how the vehicle handles.

How often should you check air pressure?

As with any tire, check the air pressure once a month. Be sure to check the pressure when your tires are cold, since pressure increases after driving. Keeping your tires at the right pressure is important so that the tire performs as it should, and so that the tires wear evenly. An over-inflated tire will wear faster in the middle of the tread, while an under-inflated tire will wear faster on the outside of the tread.

Rotating tires: How often should it happen?

Tires should be rotated when installed each season or every 8,000 to 10,000 km. If storing your own or changing them yourself, be sure to use a tire pen or marker to mark where they were on the car before you store them.

How should tires be stored?

Place the tires in a cool, dry location. A basement or climate-controlled space works best, whereas a standard garage, shed or attic often see a wide range of hot and cold temperatures, as well as precipitation and humidity. Make sure to store your tires away from things like electric motors, furnaces, switches and sump pumps because they are sources of ozone.

If possible, store tires vertically rather than stacking horizontally to reduce stress and tire distortion. Also, place on a piece of clean wood and not directly on the ground.

How long do winter tires last?

With proper winter tire maintenance, rotation and storage, you can expect them to last four to five seasons or 30,000 to 40,000 km if you drive the Canadian average of 20,000 to 25,000 km per year and use them four months per year. Making sure you have them put on/taken off when the temperature crosses the 7°C mark will greatly help longevity. Tires should be inspected regularly once they are five years old and should not be used at all after they are over 10 years old.

Are winter tires worth the cost?

While the initial investment in the tires may seem a bit steep, after factoring in all installation and maintenance costs, you will see that having two sets of tires that both last for six to eight years (each used 50% of the year) isn’t much more than only having one set of tires that’s used 100% of the time and last three to five years. You also get peace of mind during winter driving season, meaning the benefits of that far outweigh the additional cost for many drivers.

Is it a good idea to buy used winter tires?

This option will take some time and research, but it can pay off. If you know what you’re looking for in terms of winter tire brands and size, looking for lightly used snow tires could save you about half of the money you’d typically spend on brand new winter tires. One trick to keep in mind is that people who have recently purchased new vehicles sometimes forget that their winter tires are no longer compatible with their new ride. They will often then post them for re-sale, which is win for you!

Buyer beware! Check the tread wear of the tires for yourself and don’t trust the description given by the seller. Using The Toonie Test can help you determine wear-and-tear of the tires, as well as rim fit.

Put the outside edge of the toonie in your tire’s tread

  1. If the tread reaches the bear’s paws, your tires are probably pretty new.
  2. Should it reach all the way across the silver, they’re about 50% worn.
  3. If your tire tread reaches only about half-way into the letters, it’s time to shop for new tires.

Ask the seller about any potential problems.

Is there a speed limit when driving with winter tires?

The maximum safe speed limit of your tires should be on the tires themselves. When you go faster than this speed, you increase the risk of an accident while driving. The faster you go in excess of the speed limit, the less traction your tires will offer.

How long will they last with proper winter tire maintenance?

There are multiple factors that can affect how long your winter tires remain effective, including the overall condition of the roads you travel on. A standard set of winter tires should last at least four seasons with the proper winter tire maintenance.

Why are winter tires so loud?

Winter tires are made of softer compounds that remain pliable when temperatures drop and allow them to stay soft enough to expel snow and slush and maintain grip in colder weather. This traction and handling increase comes at the price of excess road-noise, but this is an acceptable tradeoff for most.

Can buying winter tires save me money on car insurance?

If you purchase winter tires and live in the province of Ontario, you are most likely eligible for a winter tire discount from your insurance company. That’s right – having snow tires can save you money! By law, insurance companies are required to offer you a 2-5% discount once informing them that you have winter tires. Be sure to hold on to purchase and installation receipts, just in case! All of our isure-approved insurers offer tire discounts – check with an isure broker today for the best percentage (insurers offer different discounts and qualification criteria differs.)

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