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Winter Tires & Getting Out of Snow

Where to use winter tires

If you often find yourself needing to drive in snowy or severe winter conditions, winter tires should be installed on all four wheels. But if you only use two winter tires, install them on your vehicle’s drive wheels. Check your vehicle owner’s manual, or with the vehicle manufacturer, for more information.

When you need winter tires

The right tires for you depend mainly on when, where and what you drive. Most of us only encounter winter conditions such as ice, slush, or hard-packed snow on a limited basis. With this in mind, good quality all-season tires may be fine for you.

However, if you live in an area that regularly receives snow, or if you go skiing often or enjoy other winter sports, your vehicle should be outfitted with four winter tires.

Identifying and buying winter tires

A performance-based standard (mutually agreed upon by the U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association and the rubber Association of Canada) specifically designates passenger and light truck winter tires that provide a higher level of traction in harsh winter conditions. Winter tires that meet these standards are identified by a snowflake on a mountain symbol next to the M&S symbol on the tire sidewall. An M&S designation means the tire is rated by the manufacturer for use in mud and snow.

When you’re buying tires, remember to tell your local tire retailer what kind of road and weather conditions you drive in, so you get tires that are best suited for your needs.

For more information on M&S designation please visit the Rubber of Association of Canada website.

Tips if your car gets stuck in the snow

Having the right tires can make a difference when you’re driving in winter conditions. Beyond the right tires, here are some tips in case you get stuck in the snow:

  • Be aware of traffic as you get out of your vehicle
  • Determine if you can get your vehicle unstuck on your own or if you will need help
  • Clean the snow away from the drive wheels
  • Increase the traction in front of your drive wheels using traction mats, old carpets, salt, sand or cat litter
  • Make sure it is safe to attempt to get unstuck.
  • Accelerate the vehicle gently. Hitting the accelerator will cause the tires to spin and will only make the situation worse
  • If this doesn’t work, try gently rocking the vehicle back and forth by shifting from forward to reverse, gradually increasing the distance travelled with each rock
  • Check your owner’s manual — if the instructions are different from what is written above, you should follow the steps as outlined in the manual.

Keeping your tires in top condition

1. Monitor tread

As a tire’s tread wears away, its traction, cornering and braking is less reliable. Most tires have tread wear indicator bars moulded into the tread face. It’s time to replace your tires when the tread wear indicators in any two adjacent grooves of the tread are contacting the road. Tires that are worn more than 50 per cent shouldn’t be used in severe winter conditions.

2. Check tire pressure

Keeping your tires properly inflated is the single most important part of tire care. That’s why we recommend you regularly monitor the air pressure in your tires. The tires on your car were engineered to work best with a certain amount of air pressure. A tire that is improperly inflated is prone to irregular wear, poor handling, traction loss and reduced tread life.

The maximum inflation pressure can be found on the side of your tire. This is not necessarily the correct inflation level for your tires. Always refer to the inflation level recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. This can usually be found in your owner’s manual, posted on the edge of the driver’s door, or inside the glove box door.

Only check your tire pressure when the tires are cold. You should also take into account the temperature outdoors when you operate your vehicle, as this directly affects tire pressure. A change in temperature means a change in tire pressure.

Use a good quality tire gauge and check the tire pressure every few weeks, prior to any long trip, when moving a heavy load, and when towing a trailer or other vehicle. Your spare tire should be checked at the same time.

3. Properly store winter or spare tires

Properly storing your winter tires will ensure they last longer and are ready to go for the next season. Winter tires should be placed in a cool, dark, and dry indoor location. Store them away from electric motors, since the ozone produced by electric motors can damage the tire rubber. If you are going to store tires while they are still mounted on wheels, the tire pressure should be reduced to 15 pounds per square inch and reinflated when you mount them on your vehicle.

Differences among tires

Summer tires

Most standard summer and wide, high-performance summer tires are not recommended for snowy or icy conditions. They are designed to provide optimum dry-condition performance and good handling in wet conditions.

All-season tires

All-season tires are not designed to excel in any one condition - these tires are a compromise for all conditions. They are adequate at best in wet, dry, or snowy conditions.

Winter (or snow) tires

Specifically designed to provide better traction and braking in deep snow conditions, winter tires also help with greater stability and control on slushy roads. Rubber on winter tires stays softer and grips up to -30C. Their deep grooves are designed for snow and slush, and they brake 30 to 60 feet shorter than all-seasons on ice when travelling at 50 km/h.

The use of studded tires is permitted in British Columbia between October 1 and April 30. But, remember that when studded tires are used on the front wheels of a vehicle, the law requires you to also use them on the rear wheels.

Wide, high-performance tires are not suitable for use on snow-covered roads, other than those that are specifically designed as winter tires.

Tires for All-Wheel Drive, Four-Wheel Drive and Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs)

Acceleration, braking and cornering require a coordinated effort from all four tires. Substituting tires that differ in design, construction or their intended use (i.e. summer, winter or all-season tires) can upset this balance. Maintain the same type of tires on all four wheels — particularly for all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive and SUVs.

If you are unsure what conditions the tires on your vehicle are designed for, check with your local tire retailer.

It would be great if a combination of all-season and winter tires on an all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive or SUV gave us the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.