Are snow tires good for winter?

6 minute read Published on Feb 14, 2023 by BrokerLink Communications

Winter tire on ice.

If you live in an area where you know to expect snow and ice throughout the winter season, then chances are good you know how important it is to prep your car for the cold weather. Things like a basic maintenance check-up, swapping out your wiper blades, making sure your windshield washer fluid is topped up with freeze-resistant fluid and double checking your emergency kit is fully stocked, and having your car insurance policy are just some of the common ways to prepare your car for winter.

Another way is to swap out your summer or all-season tires for snow tires. You have likely heard people debating the difference between snow tires and all-season tires. After all, why would you need to change them during the winter season if they are called all-season? If you are on the fence about it, read on to learn why snow tires are the best for tackling winter road conditions.

What are snow tires?

Winter or snow tires are built specifically to perform better on wet, snowy and icy roads. Even with all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, you need tires with extra grip and turning ability to handle the colder temperatures and wintry road conditions.

The truth is, it doesn’t have to be snowing or reach below-freezing temperatures for snow tires to be effective. Once the temperatures drop below 7°C, these tires far outperform all-season tires and summer tires. Snow tires not only improve your vehicle’s grip but also shorten your vehicle’s braking distances, which can be crucial in helping to prevent collisions.

Why are snow tires better in colder temperatures?

Having the right tires to help you manoeuvre safely in winter conditions is essential. Snow tires have several design features that make them ideal and often necessary when you need to drive through inclement winter weather conditions:

1. Tread rubber

Unlike summer or all-season tires that harden under cold temperatures, snow tires are built with a softer rubber compound that maintains its flexibility to allow your tires to grip the road in slippery conditions.

2. Tread depth and pattern

Winter tires have special tread patterns that are open and deep with a high void ratio, meaning they have an increased ability to displace slush and melting snow. They are also more narrow between the tire and the tread to help them move through deeper snow more efficiently.

3. Biting edges

Their design includes shoulder blocks along the outside of the tire tread to help increase contact with the snow. The hydrophilic softer rubber compounds of winter tires combined with these thin slits in the rubber help them grip better on wet roads.

When should I put on my snow tires?

It’s important to know when to install your snow tires. Installing them too early can cause them to wear out sooner and damage their unique winter tire tread pattern. Since the weather throughout Canada is diverse, the time to swap out your other tires for winter tires ones will vary.

All-season tires vs winter tires

Whether you need winter tires or snow tires depends on where you live and the different types of road conditions you face throughout the year.

All-season tires are made with rubber that is meant to last longer under a wide range of road conditions. So if you only get a small amount of snow each year, chances are good that your all-season or all-weather tires are more than sufficient. Especially if icy roads are rare. This is because all-season tires perform best in temperatures above 7°C.

On the other hand, winter tires are designed more for traction and not longevity. If you live somewhere where snow and ice are commonplace throughout the winter months, mounting winter tires is essential to ensure your vehicle is prepared to handle dangerous winter road conditions. In fact, some provinces in Canada have mandatory winter tires for drivers.

What provinces have mandatory winter tires?

While all Canadian drivers are encouraged to use winter tires, only two provinces have mandated them: Québec and British Columbia.

Mandated provinces

  • Québec - In Québec, winter tires are mandatory between December 1 and March 15. Drivers caught without winter tires during this time can receive a $200-$300 fine. However, snowy conditions in Québec, especially further north, can begin long before December 1, so it is recommended you mount your winter tires long before then.
  • British Columbia - In British Columbia, winter tires are mandated on specific highways that pass through the mountains from October 1 to April 30. For highways that do not or areas known for less snowfall, the winter tire requirement ends on March 31. However, depending on the weather, the date may be extended.

Other provinces

Throughout the rest of Canada, including the Territories, winter tires are not mandated, but their use is strongly recommended. Generally, the temperatures across Canada reach 7°C around late October, so it is recommended to swap your tires sometime between mid-October and mid-November. However, if you know that the temperatures around you drop to 7°C before mid-October, you should mount your winter tires in accordance with your weather.

Do I need four winter tires?

Yes. It is essential that when you mount snow tires, you have a full set of winter tires. Driving on only two winter tires can be extremely dangerous. Why? Because you put yourself at risk of spinning out and sliding with only two snow tires or even going straight when you are trying to turn. Even with better power transmission from all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, your snow tires are what provide road traction. Without four winter tires, you run the risk of an overall loss of control of your vehicle.

When should I swap out my snow tires?

Continuing to drive on winter tires as the temperatures and roads warm up is bad for your tires. This is because the softer rubber compound is designed for colder weather conditions, not warm ones. As such, your tire treads will wear down much sooner and you will lose traction in the winter, resulting in purchasing a new set of winter tires much earlier.

Unless you live in one of the mandated provinces for winter tires, you can swap out your winter tires in the spring when the temperatures in your area return to 7°C, which is generally around March or April.

How do I qualify for a winter tire car insurance discount?

In Ontario, all insurance companies are required to provide an insurance discount for customers who install snow tires between specific dates. Other provinces who also provide discounts for winter tires may have different dates than Ontario. These dates vary but are generally between December and March.

While the discount varies between insurance providers, most drivers need to meet the following conditions to be eligible:

  • You must purchase a set of four winter tires (ensure they are winter tires by carefully checking that they have the winter tire emblem — a snowflake inside a mountain peak)
  • You must install the winter tires on your car before your insurance company’s specified dates
  • You must notify your insurance provider that you’ve bought and/or plan to install winter tires (keep a copy of the receipt or invoice)

How much can I save on car insurance with a winter tire discount?

Ontario drivers who qualify for a winter tire discount can save up to 5% on their car insurance coverage. For example, you could save $75 on a $1,500 car insurance policy, which over the years, can quickly add up.

Snow tire safety tips

Before purchasing a new set of winter tires for your vehicle, read the tips below to ensure you make the most of your new winter tires and also to drive safely on icy roads:

  • Install four winter tires on your vehicle: Installing only two snow tires on the front can cause your vehicle to oversteer. Meanwhile, installing only two on the back will cause your vehicle to understeer. A full set of four tires ensures maximum safety.
  • Avoid mixing tires: The winter tires you install on your vehicle should all be the same. Mixing tires with different tread patterns or of different sizes can impact stability and make them less safe to drive.
  • Check the wear of each tire before installing: If you’re installing an old pair of winter tires on your car, be sure to check the wear. Winter tires become less effective and even unsafe once the tread has worn to a certain level.
  • Inflate your tires properly: Tire pressure drops fast in the winter, so remember to check your tire pressure monthly. Proper tire pressure can not only make your car safer to drive but can also increase the lifespan of your tires.

Contact BrokerLink to find out if you’re eligible for the car insurance winter tires discount

Still have questions about the winter tire car insurance discount? BrokerLink can answer all your questions, including how to qualify for it and what discount you might be eligible for. Plus, as auto insurance experts, we can let you in on some other money-saving tips. We can be reached by phone, email, or in person at one of our many locations across Canada. You can also request a free car insurance quote using our online quote tool now.

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