Everything I Know About Winter Tires
The wet. The cold. The slush. The snow :(
In Ontario, we're used to the nasty conditions that winter brings. We can prepare ourselves with coats, mittens, and boots, but what about our cars?
Winter tires are like a good set of boots for your car - giving your vehicle good grip and confidence in slippery conditions, making sure you can safely get where you need to be. As winter approaches, I’ve created this guide to tell you everything I know about winter tires. If you have other questions, feel free to reach out at Dennis@Wheel-Easy.ca.
What’s different about winter tires?
Tread/sipes - the patterns of the tread blocks help channel water and snow away from the tires, and added smaller channels called “sipes” amplify this effect.
Rubber material - the rubber compound in winter tires is different from all season tires. It’s softer - in cold weather, it becomes stiffer. All season tires will stiffen too, becoming too hard. That’s also why we’d advise taking off your winter tires in the spring as well.
Three-peak mountain snowflake rating - the US Tire Manufacturers Association and the Rubber Association of Canada have created the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol to designate tires that have proven to perform better on snow.
When should I put on my winter tires?
The “snow tires” moniker is something of a misnomer - winter tires shouldn’t be used just in snow, it’s about the temperature too! We’ve discussed the different rubber compound used in winter tires - they’re designed to retain traction as the temperature drops. As such, you should put your winter tires on when the weather is below +7 degrees Celsius - the temperature at which winter tires perform better than all-season tires.
You should put your winter tires on when the weather is below +7 degrees Celsius
An important thing to consider is the time of day you are doing most of your driving! While days might continue to have highs over 7 degrees, if you are driving in to work at 8am and leaving around 6pm, the temperature is much lower than the daily high. Keep this in mind when deciding when to make the swap.
All season tires - aren’t these ok for winter?
All seasons don’t perform as well as winter tires in the low temperatures, ice, and heavy snow like we have in Ontario. Winter tires are specifically built for winter performance.
What are “all weather” tires?
A good compromise, while not being the best in either condition.
All weather tires have earned the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol by meeting the safety standards for winter driving. They also have characteristics that make them better for summer/all-season driving than actual winter tires.
If you can get two sets of designated tires (one set for summer, one set for winter), you should! They are designed to be the best at their respective conditions.
Winter tire rebates are on now!
Most major tire manufacturers offer mail-in rebates for winter tires in the fall. In Fall 2022, Michelin, Goodyear, Bridgetsone, Toyo, Kumho, and Continental (and many others) are all offering rebates for when you purchase a set of four winter tires.
Check with us to see what is available, and see the full list here: http://www.tirepromotions.ca/en/TireLink
I have Four-Wheel Drive / All-Wheel Drive (4WD/AWD) - isn’t this good enough?
Definitely good, but the increased grip from the tires themselves is not replaced with these systems. Having control over your wheels during winter is important - give yourself as many advantages as possible.
Can I put on two winter tires instead of four?
No, not a good idea. Your vehicle has been set up to expect the same level of traction on all four wheels. Having different types of tires on different axles can cause issues controlling your vehicle, which can be especially problematic in inclement weather.
Transport Canada recommends four tires of the same size and tread pattern: https://tc.canada.ca/en/road-transportation/stay-safe-when-driving/winter-driving/winter-tire-safety-tips
Can I get used winter tires?
Yes you can. Used winter tires can be a great economical option if you prefer. Since winter tires are typically only used for half the year, and only in cold weather, they wear down a bit slower than all-season tires.
What to look for with used tires (winter or otherwise):
Tread depth - 2mm is the safety standard, and you'd like to have much more than that.
Wear patterns - tires can wear unevenly if there is a problem with the vehicle's suspension system or the tires are over/under inflated. Ensure that used tires are worn evenly across the tread, with all tread blocks uniform in height.
Date code - all tires have a four-digit date code in an oval, located near the inner edge (the bead). The first two numbers are the week, and the last two numbers are the year - the pictured tire with 0408 as a date code was produced in the 4th week of 2008 - it's very old. Be wary of tires more than five years old - they may not be worth using.
Our team is more than happy to have a look at used tires that you are considering, or finding high quality used tires for you.
Winter Tire Report
This is a 2021 report on winter tire use in Canada. Lots of interesting insights, including the fact that over 76% of Canadians use winter tires.
I’ve been asked if my winter tires are “on rims” or “not on rims” - what does this mean?
This photo shows the difference. The middle, metal part of your wheel is the rim. The black rubber part is the tire. On the left is a tire “not on rim”, and on the right is “on rim”.
If your winter tires are not on rims, then your current all season tires will have to be removed from your rims on your car, and the winter rubber tires will have to be put on. This takes longer and costs more.
Should I get rims for my winter tires?
Yes, we would recommend designated rims for your winter tires for a few reasons:
First, the cost. Based on the price comparisons we’ve conducted, it costs about $60 more for an “off-rim” tire swap compared to an “on-rim” tire swap. With two swaps a year, this is a difference of $120. For a 2020 Honda Civic, a set of steel rims costs about $360. So over the course of three years, the steel rims would have paid for themselves.
Next, the speed. Swapping tires on rims is much quicker than off rims, so the swap can be completed faster. As well, you or your service provider can complete the swap without tire machines and balancers.
The tire’s health - removing and reinstalling the two sets of tires on the same set of rims means that the tires must be stretched over the rims repeatedly. While this shouldn’t really be an issue, the repeated on and off can add unnecessary stress to the sidewalls of the tires, accelerating wear.
Finally, protecting your factory alloy rims - snow, slush, and salt can damage your nice original wheels that came with your vehicle. Using a designated set of winter rims means that your factory wheels stay safe from the nasty weather.
Ok, I want rims, do I need to get the black ones?
Definitely not! You can get any type of rims that you like for your winter tires, including factory rims, if you prefer that look.
Some folks who get alloy wheels for their car will put the winter tires on the factory rims and then the all-season tires that came with the car on to the new set of fancy rims to upgrade the look during summer.
Visit https://www.ykwwheels.com/en and search by car to get an idea of the rims that are available through our suppliers.
Can I get a different size rim and tire for my winter set?
Yes you can. The primary reason to do this is to save on costs - if your factory wheels are 20” diameter, getting 17” or 18” winter tires and rims are much less costly than a set of 20” winter tires and rims.
The major consideration is to ensure that the smaller diameter still fit properly over your vehicle’s brake calipers (inside the wheels). Sometimes, factory rims must be a certain size to accommodate brake components. Please reach out and we can chat about the right solution for your vehicle.
In Ontario, your insurance company is required to give you a discount if you are using winter tires
Report that you are using winter tires, and you should receive a discount in the neighbourhood of 2-5%