Automotive Safety & Rules of the Road, Road Test Special, Winter Driving

Road Test Special: Have You Switched Over To Your Winter Tires Yet?

Winter Tires Vs. All-seasons Tires, Iain Shankland,

With temperatures already dipping to the freezing point and some areas of the country already experiencing snow – have you switched over to your winter tires yet?

Remember – there’s no such thing as a good “all-season” tire – just a no-season tire. All seasons tires become suspect when temperatures dip below 7°C – that’s the point where winter tires start to come good.

Winter tires aren’t “snow tires” – that’s a term that tire manufacturers are trying to avoid using, because people think the winter tire is only for snow. Not true, winter tires are for cold, snow and ice – they give you superior grip and stopping power.

A very common misconception among drivers of SUV’s and other 4WD vehicles, is that a 4 wheel-drive/AWD vehicle provides them with the safety measures they need when driving on ice. This deadly misconception has no grip on reality (pun intended) whatsoever –a 4WD/AWD vehicle will help you get started from a full stop and will partially help you around corners, but will certainly not help you to stop or slow the vehicle down any faster than a RWD or FWD vehicle.

Winter tires will give you that extra traction, braking and handling you’ll need to confidently drive on snow and ice. They have specialized rubber compounds and tread designs to handle the cold temperatures. The tread remains flexible to prevent snow build-up and help with traction on ice. Tests that have been conducted on ice show that even at 24 km/h (15 mph), vehicles equipped with winter tires stopped from 1/2 to a full car length shorter than identical vehicles on all-season tires. Without winter tires you are more likely to fishtail in corners and spin out on that icy road and end up in a ditch. ABS (Anti-Lock Brake System), traction control, and vehicle dynamics control systems are limited by the grip the tires can provide. These are all safety features you don’t want to fail under emergency circumstances.

If you have winter tires, are they up to the task of getting you safely through this winter?
A tire with a tread that has worn too thin simply will not deliver the minimum performance required for safe driving in cold, snowy and icy conditions.

A good rule for ensuring a tire is in proper condition at the start of the season, is that its tread must be at least five millimetres (or 6/32“) thick, to guarantee proper grip during the entire winter. You can use a tread-depth gauge – have your tires inspected at a garage you trust (in most cases a tire shop will happily do this for free- it takes only a minute), or use the “quarter trick.” Take a quarter, with the elk side facing you, and stick it into one of the channels in the centre of the tire tread, with the elk’s snout pointing downward. If you can’t see the tip of the snout, then your tread is thick enough to last the season.


Choosing the right tires
Not all winter tires will deliver the same performance. In reality, there are no “bad tires,” only tires not properly suited for a specific situation. When it comes to tires (summer or winter), generally speaking – you get what you pay for.

Considering that a driver must invest a fairly large amount of money – at least $500 for a standard-size, name-brand set of tires, it is important to choose wisely. Consider it an investment or an insurance policy against damage to your car – or life. And remember: you will be using them for ½ the year, so you’re not buying new tires every year, most likely every 5 years or so and your ‘all-season’ tires will last longer too… 5 years or more

In Quebec, starting on December 15, 2014, all passenger-vehicle winter tires – including those for full-size pickup trucks, must bear the pictograph of a peaked mountain with a snowflake. Tires designated LT (for Light Truck) will no longer be allowed after December 15, 2014 unless they have the pictograph or are equipped with studs.

Unfortunately, the rest of the country isn’t as diligent, but it would go a long way to reducing collisions in the Toronto area during the winter if it were also mandatory in Ontario. When the first snow-fall arrives in Toronto, it’s not unusual to have more than 400 collisions around the city.

Planning to change tires at home? Be careful
Many motorists do their own tire changes, but it’s important to remember that using the right tools is strongly recommended to avoid nasty surprises. Over-tightening, with too much force applied to the nuts, can result in bolt breakage – which in turn can cause the wheel to fly off. Using an adjustable torque wrench is imperative. The correct manufacturer-recommended wheel-nut torque is found in the vehicle owner’s manual.

Also, don’t forget to properly inflate the tires to the auto manufacturers’ recommendationsNOT the inflation number on the tire!

Related Articles:
Road Test & Beyond: Time For New Tires – Should You Buy From The TIRE RACK Or Buy Locally?
Does Your Vehicle Have A Winter Emergency Kit?
Winter Reminders & Tips

Copyright © 2016 by Iain Shankland
Text: Iain Shankland

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