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Winters in Canada are for real. Partly sunny skies can turn into “grab your shovel” in a heartbeat and driving conditions can become slippery rapidly. Some people swear by “all-season” tires but when the roads are snow-covered it’s hard to compete with tires built specifically for the job.
Benefits of winter tires
Winter tires don’t just differ in tread design and tread depth (when new), they also utilize special compounding in the rubber that helps to make them “stickier” in cold weather conditions than standard tires.
You can expect better traction, of course, but also better grip in turns and — this is the big one — decreased stopping distances. Your snow tires can bring your car to a halt in up to 30 to 40% less distance. Anyone who has ever slid into something slowly because their standard tires gave up on grip knows the difference a shorter stopping distance can make.
A matched set of snow tires is best
For decades, the tire industry went back and forth on whether to install winter tires on the drive axle or on the steering axle. Here’s the real answer: put matching snow tires on all four wheel positions. Grip at the front while slipping at the rear is called oversteer. When the vehicle “pushes” through a turn without really turning at all, it’s called understeer. Both conditions can be tricky to correct while driving and having four matched winter tires can help prevent loss of traction at one axle or the other.
When to replace your winter tires
Snow tires maintain their “gription” through special compounding and because of their tread depth. Check your tires for cracks and look for the treadwear indicator, which is a raised rubber bar that spans the width of the tire. When the tread is worn down to the treadwear indicator, your tires can clog with snow and ice and may not work as well as you need them to perform in the slippery stuff.
Replace worn or cracked tires as soon as possible. It’s also recommended to replace your tires if they are 10 years old, based on the date of manufacture.