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Winter tires: Everything you need to know to drive safely this winter

Published on September 28, 2021


Your tires are the only parts of your car that make contact with the ground. That means that if you want to ensure your safety and that of your passengers, you need to carefully choose and maintain your tires.

Winter tires are indispensable

Winter tires are specially designed to be used in the winter, on snowy and frozen surfaces.

They are mandatory in Quebec between December 1 and March 15, with a few exceptions, and are recommended elsewhere in Canada.

They provide better control and traction than four-season tires that, despite their name, do not perform well enough to handle Canadian winters.

Primary features:

  • The tire tread is designed in such a way that it becomes one directional, repelling snow and ice. This applies to studded tires as well.
  • The depth of the tread, which is more pronounced than with four-season tires, improves traction on snowy surfaces.
  • The rubber used for these tires is softer than the type used for four-season tires, making them more flexible. That’s how they’re able to cut through snow and ice, even when temperatures dip to -40 oC.

How to select snow tires

1. The official pictogram

Your winter tires must bear the pictogram of a mountain covered by a snowflake. If it doesn’t, you could be subject to a fine varying between $200 and $300, plus administrative costs.

2. The type of tires suited for your vehicle

Check the manufacturer’s documents to see which type of tires is most suitable for your vehicle.

You wouldn’t be purchasing the same type of tires for a sedan as you would for a sports car.

3. Your driver profile

Do you drive more in the city? Do you live in a rural area? Do you take long journeys on the highway?

Your tires should be adapted to the road conditions you’re most likely to be driving in. Think it through before committing to a purchase.

4. Number of tires

For maximum efficiency and security, install four winter tires on your car.

Two winter tires combined with two summer or four-season tires do not provide optimal performance, and you will no doubt have more trouble handling and controlling your vehicle.

5. Look for fair quality-price ratio

Can’t afford four winter tires? Get quotes from a few sources, negotiate and buy tires when they go on sale, if possible.

Research the types of tires, their features and the conditions in which they excel in magazines or websites dedicated to cars. You’ll be better equipped when discussing tires with retailers and be able to decide whether you should buy the tires they suggest.

6. New or used tires

If you wish to purchase used tires, be smart about it:

  • Verify the year the tires were manufactured, indicated on the tire sidewall (DOT code). The first two digits are the manufacturing week and the last two represent the year. Therefore, code 0818 means the tire was manufactured during the eighth week of 2018.

The year of manufacture helps you determine the age of the tires, but does not necessarily mean you need to dispose of them. It depends entirely on how often the tires were used.

  • Verify the wear and tear on the tires using a depth gauge. If the grooves are 4.88 mm (6/32 inches) or worn out unevenly, don’t purchase the tires.
  • Make sure the rubber isn’t dry or cracked.
  • Find out where they were stored.

How do you maintain your winter tires?

Check the air pressure on a regular basis because as the temperature dips, so does the tire pressure. Adequate air pressure extends the life of your tires, reduces gas consumption and keeps you safe.

Verify the wear and tear on your tires: uneven wear and tear means you could be facing wheel alignment, balancing or suspension problems.

Store your tires in a cool location, away from the sun, and stack them one on top of the other, horizontally.

Check the condition of your winter tires before having them installed. If you’re not sure whether they’re safe for the coming winter, consult a specialist.

Remember, you could install the best tires available on the market on your car, but your safety on the roads still depends on how you drive. Be careful out there.