When to Take Your Winter Tires Off

Canadian springs are unpredictable. With the changing weather conditions that mark the season, when is it best to take off winter tires?

by Mary Wimmer

The weather is slowly warming up, and with the change to fairer temps comes the age-old question; when should we take off our winter tires? According to CAA North and East Ontario’s resident auto expert Michael Shore, Automotive Services Road Service Manager, the answer lies in just how high the mercury is climbing.

“Winter tires work best in snow and icy conditions, at a maximum temperature of 7°C and below,” says Michael, “So when the temperature is steady above that, it would be a good time to swap out your winter tires.”

But with notoriously fickle springs in Ontario, it’s important that car-owners keep an eye on temperatures for at least several consecutive days before making the swap. March and April are transition months during which there is much climactic instability, and the vacillation between winter and spring-like weather conditions can be wild and intense. If uncertain about how the weather will bear out, it’s better to hold off on taking off your winter tires.

Michael says car owners should also look at their auto insurance policies to help them decide when to swap their winter tires. “Many insurance companies offer discounts in Ontario if you have four winter tires on your vehicle,” he explains. “With this, there is usually a time window that the tires must be on the vehicle; usually it runs from November to April.”

Check to see if this is part of your auto insurance policy. If it’s not, then a good time to swap winter tires would be mid-April – “weather-permitting, of course,” adds Michael.

Keep an eye on the mercury in your thermometer, check the forecasts, read your insurance policy and above all, take your time before deciding to remove your winter tires. Just don’t wait too long. “The hotter it gets, the harder it is on winter tires, so the longer you wait, the more your snow tires could be affected,” says Michael.

That’s because winter tires are designed to maximize traction in the snow and ice, so they usually have more “sipes” (thin slits across the surface of a tire, often in a zig-zag pattern) and tread blocks. “The hotter it gets, the more you may start to lose traction due to the extra siping and tread blocks on your snow tires, resulting in a ‘greasy’ feel,” says Michael. “Losing traction may affect braking efficiency and collision avoidance abilities.”

Don’t be tempted to keep your winter tires on year-round. You could be more at risk by driving with winter tires on hot pavement. Instead, change your tires to match the appropriate weather conditions. When swapping out your winter tires, remember to note sustained daily temperatures of a minimum of 7°C, checking longer-term forecasts to ensure that there isn’t a drop in temperatures or a freak snowfall on its way, and review your insurance policy.