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Winter tire tips for safer seasonal driving

Winter tires are an essential part of safe winter driving. For top performance, they must be in good condition and used at the right time of year.

When to put them on

The Tire and Rubber Association of Canada recommends putting them on when the temperature drops below 7 C.

Why? Unlike summer and all-season tires, which lose elasticity at temperatures below 7 C, the rubber compounds of winter tires soften in frigid temperatures, allowing them to stay flexible for better traction.

In Quebec, it’s mandatory for passenger vehicles to have four winter tires installed from Dec. 15 to March 15.

How to check the tread on your tires

You can measure tread depth by checking the built-in indicators inside the grooves; these small raised bars mark the minimum permitted tread depth. If the tread is flush with the wear indicators, the tire should be replaced. You can also insert a quarter in one of the grooves with the caribou nose facing down; if you can see the tip of its nose, the tire is worn and should be replaced.

When your tires are worn down below 4 mm (5/32”) of tread depth, they shouldn’t be used on snow-covered roads. The grooves in worn tires are shallower, which reduces your wet-braking traction and increases stopping distance.

Which type of tires to choose

The amount of winter driving you do and the roads you regularly use will determine which type of tires are your best option.

Standard winter tires (non-studded) are a good choice for icy, snowy roads because of an aggressive tread design that improves traction.

Studded winter tires are embedded with metal studs that provide extra traction by digging into wet, rough ice and heavy, hard-packed snow. The studs can damage bare roads, so check that these tires are legal where you live before purchasing.

All-weather tires can be kept on your vehicle all year, but don’t perform as well below 7 C.

All-season tires won’t perform like winter tires in ice and snow, but their shape and tread design provide better traction than summer tires.

All tires that meet Transport Canada’s winter performance requirements are marked with the “Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake Symbol” on the sidewall. Tires simply marked M+S (mud and snow) may not provide adequate grip to handle severe winter conditions.

How to use winter tires properly

To maximize control and performance of your vehicle:

  • Immediately replace tires that have worn treads.
  • Always install your winter tires in a set of four, not two.
  • Don’t mix tires with different size, tread or construction.
  • Check air pressure at least monthly to improve safety and reduce wear.

For more information, check out our winter tire cost vs. performance analysis and our tips for safe winter driving.

Not sure which tires to get? Here are some top winter tire brands to consider.