Having the right tires on your vehicle is crucial for safe driving, and at no other time are the right tires more important than during winter. Is it good enough to keep your all-seasons on during winter, or should you be switching to winter tires?
The truth is that, in Canada, all-season tires are just not up for the job. The cold, snowy, and wet conditions that drivers face from coast to coast require tires that are specially made to deal with such conditions.
All-season tires offer perfectly good performance during the warmer months of the year. From when it begins to warm up in the spring time to when it starts to cool down in the fall, all-season tires can help you safely navigate a variety of roads and road conditions.
The main issue with all-season tires is that their performance sharply declines once temperatures dip below 7°C. Once it falls below 7°C, the rubber in all-season tires becomes much more rigid. Driving with a rigid tire means driving with far less traction, as the tire can no longer grip the road very well. All-season tires are much better thought of as warmer-season tires.
Winter tires are unique because they remain flexible even when temperatures reach below 7°C due to being made of a softer rubber compound. This increased flexibility means increased traction on the road. A softer and more malleable tire is able to splay out and get a better grip on snow, ice, and pavement. The increase in traction, in turn, translates to reduced braking distance, especially in slippery conditions. Vehicles equipped with winter tires are 40% less likely to be involved in a collision than are vehicles equipped with all-seasons.
Winter tires and the traction they provide can enhance other vehicle features, such as traction control, vehicle stability assist, all-wheel drive, and anti-lock braking systems. When compared to all-season tires, winter tires are also less likely to hydroplane. Hydroplaning occurs when a thin sheet of water lies between a tire and the pavement. Winter tires have special groves which are designed to siphon water out from under the tires and direct it away. They are also narrower in design than other tires, which allows them to keep better contact with the pavement by essentially “slicing” through any slow, water, or slush which may be in the way.
All Wheel Drive
Switching a front-wheel-drive car to winter tires may actually offer superior traction than a vehicle with all-wheel-drive and all-season tires in the same conditions. A study conducted by the Quebec Ministry of Transport showed that a proper winter tire can improve braking up to 25% over an all-season tire, and can improve collision avoidance by approximately 38%. Of course, combining all-wheel-drive with winter tires will give you the best traction of all in the winter months.