Winter Tires – Yay or Nay?

Posted on: Oct 02, 2018

Winter has a way of sneaking up on us in Alberta – no matter how early we expect the snow, it always comes earlier.

While Alberta has no laws requiring drivers to change to winter tires during the season of snow and ice, more and more Albertans are choosing to make the switch every winter. According to a 2014 survey conducted by the AMA, just over half (52%) of Albertans choose to switch to winter tires every year. These drivers value the improved traction and decreased stopping distances which a good snow or ice winter tire can provide.

In Quebec, winter tires are mandatory from December to March, and drivers who don’t switch out their tires can be fined $200 – $300. Since the law requiring winter tires was brought in back in 2008, winter collisions have decreased by 17% in that province. Similarly, BC drivers on highways are now required to have winter tires (or chains for commercial trucks) from October through March. It doesn’t look like Albertans support following in the path of Ontario and BC, though – according to the AMA, 58% of Albertans surveyed in 2018 do not agree that winter tires should be made mandatory.

But what exactly is the difference between all-weather and winter tires? Well, to start with, winter tires are designed so that the rubber stays softer at lower temperatures, providing better grip. The treads also have much different patterns. All weather tires are designed to clear water quickly and to perform well on wet or hot pavement, but the straight and smooth treads do not provide traction on snow or ice as well as the more blocky, zig-zag treads on winter tires. Winter tires stop an average of 25% faster on snow or ice compared to all-weather tires. In a recent Cal-Tire road test, a car equipped with winter tires stopped 15 metres before the same car equipped with all seasons. Anyone who has ever driven in snow can appreciate that 15 metres can make all the difference in a real driving situation.

Having said all of that, there is an upfront cost to owning and switching out tires twice a year. While the tires you have will last twice as long, it still costs money to change the tires (unless you have the ability to do it yourself). If you do want to change your own tires, you will likely want to consider a second set of rims, which reduces the work and cost involved in switching out the tires. A lot of people will opt for a set of steel rims for their winter tires, which provide better stability to improve performance on snow and ice but may not look as high-end as a set of alloy rims.

At the end of the day, it may come down to your driving needs. One question to ask yourself is this:  do I have to drive every day, regardless of road conditions, or am I able to avoid driving completely when roads are particularly bad? If your job or other commitments make snow day driving an absolute requirement, you just may want to consider making this the year that you switch to winter tires, if you haven’t already.