Are Winter Tires Worth It?

Can snow tires really be a lifesaver when slushy, sleety weather hits? Find out here.

When it comes to winter driving, we tend to fall into two camps this time of year: drivers who switch to snow tires and those that swear by all-seasons. With the cost of winter tires and installation running few hundred dollars at minimum, it’s no small decision as to whether or not to buy them. But are they really worth the investment in time and money?

According to Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, the answer is a resounding yes. Its brochure on Winter Driving states that although all-season tires may be adequate in some areas, they’re not suitable for driving in the snow-belt regions of southern Ontario and throughout the north. The ministry further states that winter tires provide better traction, braking and handling during frost, snow, and slush – and especially under icy conditions.

While not mandated in Ontario, winter tires have been mandatory in the province of Quebec since 2008. Their value has been driven home by a dramatic reduction in winter collisions: crashes causing serious injury or death are down by 36 per cent and winter collisions have fallen by 17 per cent since the requirement for winter tires came into place.

It comes down to cold, hard science: the rubber compound that makes up a winter tire is designed to stay soft in sub-zero temperatures, minutely moulding itself to all the tiny imperfections in the road to provide greater traction – even when that road looks like a perfectly smooth pane of icy glass. Meanwhile all-seasons can fail in their efforts to be all things to every season because they are designed to work in weather conditions that include the extreme heat of high summer. As the temperature falls, the rubber in all-season tires can therefore become rigid rather than pliable, decreasing the ability to stop quickly and safely.

As a result, all-seasons are considered no match for winter tires when it comes to hazardous weather performance. On snow, ice or cold pavement, the stopping distance of a car with snow tires can be up to 40 per cent shorter than one with all-seasons. In another test, cars going 50 kilometres an hour with winter tires are able to stop between seven and 13 metres sooner than cars without them. Sometimes jokingly referred to as “no-season” tires, there’s nothing frivolous about the fact that these differences in performance can literally be the difference between life and death.

So while there’s no denying the initial expense of purchasing winter tires, or the investment in time and money that it costs to switch them twice yearly, the increase in safety far outweighs additional costs. What’s more, the provincial government is helping Ontarians drive down the cost of winter tires by mandating that insurers provide a discount by January 1, 2016 to those that use them; something that CAA Insurance already does with its 5% discount for snow tire-installing drivers.

Members can also receive a 15% discount on seasonal tire changes in the Ottawa area, simply by showing their valid Membership card. Appointments can be booked online or by calling 1-855-899-TIRE. Click here for more information.

And until December 15, CAA Members can also receive up to 130 CAA Dollars when they purchase four Pirelli tires from authorized Pirelli retailers in Quebec (excepting purchases made at Costco and Canadian Tire). At any other time of the year, Members receive 30 CAA Dollars when they purchase a set of four tires.