This is Canada. We pride ourselves on being able to endure the most miserable winters everywhere. We giggle (to ourselves, politely) at tourists wearing down coats before the Christmas decorations are in shops.
A number people still think winter tires are for snowflakes, so the yearly debate has begun in several of the nation’s major metropolitan areas: Are winter tires actually required?
“We have heard everything from ‘The company is just trying to sell more tires’ to ‘I do not need them since I’ve all-wheel drive,’ ” said Michelin Canada driving specialist Carl Nadeau.
Nobody is really sure how a lot people use winter tires — polls vary. In a 2016 Michelin poll of motorists in Ontario, 43 percent did not possess winter tires — tires with the mountain snowflake symbol on the side — and 50 percent believed all-season tires were just fine for Canadian streets. In a nationally that same year from the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada (TRAC), about 68 percent of Canadians said they use them nearly two times as many as two years ago. The TRAC poll reported use was 100 percent in Quebec, where winter tires are required by legislation from Dec. 15 to March 15. But use generally reduced from east (80 percent in the Maritimes) to west (49 percent in British Columbia).
“The bicycle industry invented this notion of this all-season, and people said, ‘Great, I do not need to buy additional stuff in the winter,’ ” stated Geoff Wiebe, a Regina-based tire expert for Kal Tire. “All-seasons say M S [snow and sand] on the side but actually do not hold up on ice and snow once we test. We call them three-season tire”
The 7-degree alternative?
Beginning at 7 C, the rubber in all-seasons begins to get tougher — such as a hockey puck — which means they lose traction and begin sliding.
“It is perhaps even tougher than it was. A whole lot of the all-season tires today are promoted as being long-lasting — up to 130,000 kilometres,” said Raynald Marchand, general director of applications with the Canada Safety Council. “To do so, and to increase fuel economy, the rubber has to be harder.”
While winter tires have biting edges to traction on ice and snow, the actual distinction is the rubber. They’re made from a softer compound that’s supposed to stay better to cold streets — and keep supple down to minus-40 C.
“People often buy winter tires since they want a bicycle to help them get going, so that they do not get trapped,” said Gene Petersen, head of tire testing for Consumer Reports. “But it’s just as important to keep control and stop — and that is where winter tires really stick out.”
When some all-seasons are getting better on ice and snow, Consumer Reports tests show that winter tires provide better grip on ice and snow.
“In our tests, all of them do the job — they do what they’ve claimed,” Petersen said. “It is one of those few products people buy that they are entirely happy with.”
In Consumer Reports tests, winter tires stopped six feet (1.8 metres) shorter, typically, than all-seasons on ice. And winter tires took a shorter space — 22 ft (6.7 metres) less than all-seasons — to speed from five to 20 miles per hour (eight to 32 km/h) on reasonably packed snow. In Kal Tire tests conducted by an independent company, winter tires ceased over six metres shorter on loose snow and nearly nine metres shorter on arctic conditions at 30 km/h.
And all-wheel drive does not make a difference in stopping — in actuality, heavier all-wheel-drive vehicles can take much longer than a two-wheel-drive vehicle to stop on all-seasons.
“All-wheel drive is a performance characteristic, not a security feature, and it has nothing to do with braking and cornering,” Nadeau said. “With all-wheel drive it is possible to accelerate pretty great on snow from a stoplight, but if you must stop, physics always wins.”
So why don’t we just keep winter tires all year? Because in warmer weather, the softer rubber wears quicker and they could take more time to stop.
“All tires appear to be some type of compromise,” Petersen said. “They do not have the exact same stopping ability on dry and wet roads.”
There’s also a newer category — all-weather tires — which are made from a harder rubber compared to winter tires and are intended to be left on all year.
“We have only tested two. They do actually provide pretty good winter grip,” Petersen said. “But there’s some compromise concerning wet and dry grip.”
Should all Canadians maintain winter tires?
Tire companies today urge Canadians to put on winter tires once the temperature hits 7 C. In the majority of Canada, that will be in October. This means you’re not just ready for the first snowfall, you are avoiding lineups — along with a restricted supply of winter tires — in the tire shop.
“If you wait till the first snow, then you may not have the ability to find tires,” Kal Tire’s Wiebe said.
But does everyone, everywhere, want to wear winter tires?
“I look at it this way: If you reside in a place where it does not snow a whole lot, you can probably get away with a fantastic pair of pedals that are secondhand,” Petersen said. “Or in case you’ve got the type of job where you can sit at home and await the snow plow to come around.”
But that is not most of Canada. And even though Vancouver has had snowless winters, last season it saw nearly 70 centimetres — with neighboring Abbotsford becoming over 128 cm.
“Vancouver has ice, and almost anywhere you drive out Vancouver other than south south has large weather,” said George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association . “People in Vancouver and Calgary rely on all-wheel drive for winter, frequently eking out three or four winters in their initial tires if they are leasing. Winter grip will be acceptable for accelerating, but they are unaware of how much steering and braking have degraded since the tires were brand new.”
At the end of the day, “people have to use their heads,” Marchand said.
“I used to live in Victoria, and if there was snow, people could not go anywhere,” he said. “There is no question that winter tires provide better traction in cold weathe”