Debunking Nine Winter Tire Myths

We debunk nine winter tire myths before the snow flies

Just because you have all-wheel-drive, doesn’t mean you don’t need winter tires


winter tires

Whether the season means you can’t wait to hit the slopes, or your favourite snowy-weather sport is reading by the fire, winter is coming to Canada. That means it’s time for winter tires, and also the return of some of the myths about why they’re not necessary. If you use any of these for excuses, it’s time to think again.

“There’s hardly any snow anymore.”

They’re winter tires, not just snow tires, and they do more than just give you traction on the white stuff. They’re engineered for wetter weather, with tread that’s designed to channel water and slush out from under them, which helps avoid hydroplaning — a dangerous situation where your tire’s tread fills with water and “floats” on top of the puddles, and you lose control.

Rubber naturally hardens in cold weather, which reduces its grip. Winter tires are made of a specific rubber compound that keeps them supple at lower temperatures. Tire grip is important not just for acceleration, but also for lane changes and braking. The general rule is that when the temperature drops below 7°C, winter tires grip better than all-season tires.

“I have all-season tires, and winter is a season.”

“All-season” tires are a compromise. Summer tires get too hard in the cold, while winter tires become too soft in the heat. The compound in all-season tires ranges between those two, which means they can’t provide that superior grip that winter tires give you at colder temperatures.

Some tire companies offer “all-weather” tires. These have the mountain-and-snowflake logo that indicates a winter tire, and they have a more aggressive tread than all-season, but are intended for year-round use. They’ll get you through, but you’ll probably find dedicated winter tires still do a better job.

“I only need two winter tires on the wheels that need traction.”

Nothing could be further from the truth! If one set of tires has more grip, that means the other has less when you’re turning or braking — and that can cause it to skid or slide. You need the same type of tire at every corner of your car.

“I can’t use winter tires because I have nowhere to store the extra set.”

Many tire retailers will now store your second set of tires, either at a small extra charge or maybe even rolled into a package deal when you buy. Ask about storage when you’re shopping for winter tires.

“Winter tires are too noisy when driving.”

That used to be the case, and may still be with some super-aggressive winter tires for hardcore pickup truck fans. But tires are always being improved, and that includes optimizing the tread and construction. Most now provide the driving benefits but with far less noise than most winter tires made in the past.

“I have all-wheel drive, so I don’t need winter tires…”

All-wheel drive can send power to all four wheels, not just two of them — but that doesn’t mean anything if the tires on those wheels aren’t gripping the pavement. And all-wheel drive won’t stop you any faster than two-wheel drive. You need the grippiest tires possible for the best braking possible.

“…and I have all the high-tech safety features.”

Anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control help to prevent collisions by helping to keep your vehicle from sliding. But we’re back to the essential role of the tires: No matter what your safety features are doing, they still require your tires to grip the asphalt. Quite simply, your safety features will work better — and keep you safer — if you have winter tires on your wheels.

“Winter tires are just too expensive.”

You will be buying an extra set, of course, but as with other types of tires, the winter variety comes in a range of prices. If you use winter tires, you may be eligible for an insurance discount — ask your agent if you qualify. In Manitoba, drivers can apply for a low-interest loan through their provincial insurance to buy winter tires. And in Quebec and specific areas of British Columbia, the law requires drivers to use them.

“I can just drive slower in bad weather.”

It’s always a good plan to slow down when the roads are bad, but it’s not a substitute for using winter tires, especially because you’re not just the only driver out there. If you need to brake or steer to avoid a collision, tires make the difference. Remember, they’re the single most important safety feature on your vehicle, because they’re the only thing in contact with the road. Everything else, from seatbelts to airbags to stability control, is there to help get you out of trouble when your tires lose their grip.