Winters in Canada can be downright terrible for your car. Never mind all the stress added to getting your car ready for winter and making sure everything else is good to go. But your car’s tires need to be up for the task of making sure you stay safe and get from Point A to Point B, even if you get caught out in the middle of a winter storm.
While there are no ways to truly guarantee that you’ll be able to drive through snow and ice in the winter, having the right tires will make it far easier and much safer. Luckily, with the creation of winter tires, manufacturers have come up with a solution to the problem. In this article, you’ll learn about what they are, why you should buy them, and how to keep them properly maintained.
Here’s our simple guide to buying and maintaining winter tires.
What Are Winter Tires?
Winter tires, as the name suggests, are tires specifically designed to work and operate in winter, providing traction and grip in conditions that no other tires can. Also known as snow tires, these tires were created to offer drivers the ability to gain traction on snow and ice, something that was never possible before. Well, not without adding metal studs to your tires.
Modern winter tires are studless, meaning you don’t even have to add metal studs; they are just so well designed that they perform in the worst conditions on their own. With special tread designs and unique rubber compounds, winter tires can bite into snow and even ice to offer traction in slippery conditions.
If you’ve driven in the winter before, then you know how treacherous the roads can get when they’re covered in snow and ice. All-wheel drive helps to some degree, but even the most advanced all-wheel drive vehicles struggle on snow and ice. Snow tires alone, on any vehicle will provide better winter traction than any all-wheel drive car. They’re really that advanced!
What Are All-Season Tires?
If winter tires are designed for winter, you can probably guess what all-season tires are designed for. These are by far the most common and popular types of tires that people have on their cars year-round. If you go to the shop to get your tires replaced, there’s almost a 100% chance that they’ll install all-season tires unless you specifically state otherwise.
Designed to perform year-round, all-season tires do several things great. They perform exceptionally well in most conditions, including dry, wet and even light snow. But they are not designed to really be able to provide reliable traction in snow and ice, or else they wouldn’t be long lasting and perform so well at other times of the year.
In short, all-season tires are what you want to have on your car for most of the year. But if you want traction and grip during the cold winter months, then winter tires are a must.
Benefits of Snow Tires vs All-Season Tires
Now that you have a much better idea of what both winter tires and all-season tires are, let’s look at why you want to purchase a set of winter tires. After all, if all-season tires are really all-season, shouldn’t they be able to handle the winter on their own? Not exactly. Here are some of the major benefits that winter tires offer over all-season tires:
- Since they’re specifically designed for it, winter tires offer far superior traction on ice and snow covered roads. All-season tires do fine when it’s wet or in very light snow, but winter tires are needed when there is actually snow or ice on the roads.
- The special rubber compound used in winter tires can resist the frigid temperatures of winter, unlike the rubber used in all-season tires. The compound used in all-season tires can freeze and harden, which then offers no traction on snow or ice. Since winter tires stay flexible, the tread continues to grip even in freezing conditions.
- Winter tires also come with significantly more biting edges throughout the tread design. These are basically thousands of additional cuts and grooves in the tread that enable grip in the worst winter conditions.
How Much Do Snow Tires Cost?
We all know how expensive tires can be if you’ve ever had to replace them on your car. Special winter tires that can drive through snow and ice are no exception. But there’s good news! In reality, winter tires are no more expensive than regular tires. In many cases, you’ll actually pay less per tire than you would for a high-quality all-season tire of the same size.
You can expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $200 per winter tire for your car. This amounts to around $600 to $800 for the full set installed on your car. The price depends almost entirely on the brand and the size of the tire, but this is the typical price for most vehicles.
Maintaining Winter Tires
Deciding on the perfect winter tires for you and your car is the first step. While maintenance of any kind of tire is important, maintenance of winter tires is even more important to make sure they last and perform the way they should.
So, let’s take a look at the main things you need to keep in mind to correctly maintain your winter tires.
When to Put on Winter Tires
As the name implies, winter tires should only be used during the winter. In a worst-case scenario where you just left winter tires on your car year-round, they would wear out incredibly quickly and your car would ride a bit less comfortably than you’re used to during most of the year.
That said, you also don’t want to wait too long and not have them on your car when you need them! The industry standard is to have your winter tires installed when the outside temperature is consistently around 7°C (~45°F) or below. This way, you should have them on your car before the bad weather hits, but you won’t be causing excessive wear to them in warm temperatures.
Check the Tread
Of course, while the tread is important on any type of tires that you have on your car, it’s the most important part of your winter tires that really makes them winter tires. The tread on winter tires is designed specifically to cut through snow and ice and provide traction. If the tread is in bad shape, they won’t be able to offer the traction you need when road conditions are bad.
Winter tires don’t typically last as long as normal tires, especially if they’re driven on in warm temperatures that eat away at the tread. Pay attention to your wear bars on the tread to see if they’re getting worn down. If your winter tires are close to being too worn down, we strongly recommend that you get a fresh set. Bald winter tires won’t do anything to help!
Check the Air Pressure
Checking the air pressure in your tires should be one of the normal things you do on a monthly basis—if not more often—throughout the year. But in the winter, the issue of tire air pressure becomes even more impactful. This is because, as the temperatures drop, you will lose pressure in your tires naturally. The general rule of thumb is about one PSI of pressure for every 5°C of temperature variation.
So, let’s say you have your winter tires put on your car when it’s 7°C out as recommended. A few days later, a cold front moves in and the temperature drops to -13°C overnight. That will result in a loss of about 4–5 psi in your tires, which is substantial. You want to ensure that your winter tires have the right air ressure, so they perform as expected and power through snow and ice.
When to Remove Winter Tires
Essentially, for the same reasons we discussed above about when to put winter tires on, you also want to make sure you remove them at the right time. When the winter weather has come to an end and the outside temperatures are back above 7°C (~45°F) consistently, you can remove your winter tires.
When you do, we recommend installing some high-quality all-season tires for the majority of the year or at least until next winter!
How to Store Winter Tires
As you read above, winter tires are made with a different tread compound than standard tires. And while all tires should be stored properly, the importance of storing winter tires in the right way is even more apparent due to their different composition.
There are three main things to keep in mind when storing winter tires: sunlight, moisture and temperature. You want to keep them out of the sun in a cool, dry location. The best way to store your winter tires is to wrap them in black trash bags and put them in your basement or garage. This will protect them from the elements and prevent dry rot and other potential issues.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Here at CarDigest, the most important thing to us is the safety of our readers out there on the roads and at no time during the year are the roads more treacherous than winter here in Canada. When the roads get covered in snow and ice, there is often nothing you can do except hope for traction out of your tires or just stay off the roads.
That’s where winter tires come in. We strongly suggest that you invest in a set of winter tires for your car if you live anywhere that gets snow in the winter. When the road conditions get bad, winter tires are far and away the single best way to upgrade your car to improve safety, control and the ability to even drive at all.