Winter Tires Buying Guide

Winter tires are one of the best ways to stay safe while driving in freezing weather. In fact in 2008, Quebec became the first province to legally require the use of winter tires during the winter months. Not just for snowy roads, winter tires use special compounds to improve your traction, stopping and handling whenever the thermometer dips below 7°C/45°F.

This comprehensive guide gives you detailed information on what to consider before you buy winter tires, and how to maintain your snow tires for winter driving safety.

Who Needs Winter Tires      All Season vs. Winter Tires      The Benefit of 4 Winter Tires     
Breaking in New Winter Tires      Tire Differences      The Importance of Winter Wheels     
Sizing Winter Driving      Winter Tire Maintenance & Safety      How to Store Winter Tires     



Who Needs Winter Tires

Regular all season tires lose elasticity when the temperature dips below 7°C/45°F. Winter tires are constructed with a special compound that allows them to retain more elasticity in cold temperatures. Technologically engineered tread designs prevent snow build-up and improve ice and snow traction—so you get a better grip on the road and better control of your vehicle.

Winter tires provide better control for all vehicles — cars, SUVs, pick-ups and light trucks — on snow and ice-covered roads. Without winter tires you are more likely to fishtail on corners and spin out on that icy hill.

The numbers support the benefits of snow tires:

  • We tested a vehicle equipped with Goodyear Nordic tires in winter temperatures, and found that (compared to all season tires) our stopping distance while traveling at 60 km/h (37 mph) was up to 18 metres (60 feet) shorter.
  • Other tests on ice show that even at 24 km/h (15 mph), vehicles equipped with winter tires stopped from one half to a full car length shorter than identical vehicles driving on all season tires.
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    All Season Tires vs. Winter Tires

    While all season tires provide safe all-weather performance, snow tires are much better suited for snow and icy conditions.

    All season tires are designed to perform well under a wide range of conditions—dry roads, wet roads and hot temperatures—as well as providing durability over long mileage. This prevents them from being ideal for any one condition.

    All Season TiresSnow Tires
    Designed to provide a quiet ride and good performance under most conditions.Designed with larger grooves and tread blocks to grip the road better and prevent sliding in snowy, icy or slushy conditions.
    Treads feature broad contact with road surface with channels to divert water.Tiny razor-like "sipes" or cuts in winter treads provide a good bite into ice and snow to help avoid sliding. Unidirectional, V-groove tires move slush and water out of the way.
    All season tires can start experiencing reduced traction at 7°C.Winter tires such as Goodyear Nordic maintain gripping power to -35°C.
    Engineered with compounds to provide long wear on dry roads.Engineered with compounds that maintain elasticity in lower temperatures for better traction.
    Mud and Snow (M+S or M&S) designation on all season tires is based on tread design.Severe snow rating in winter tires is based on performance testing.

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    The Benefit of 4 Winter Tires

    It's a common misconception that putting snow tires on just the vehicle's drive tires (ex.: the front tires in a front wheel drive) is almost as good as having four winter tires.

    If you use dissimilar tires on your vehicle, you can find your overall handling declines in performance. Mixing tires with different tread patterns, internal construction and size degrades the stability of your vehicle and should be avoided.

    With different tires at the front and rear of your vehicle, each end of the vehicle won't react and perform the same as the other in dry, wet, slushy and snow conditions. Especially in emergency situations, you'll find that your vehicle may understeer in one condition and oversteer in another. It is imperative to keep the same level of traction at all four corners of the car; otherwise, you'll lose the full benefits of ABS or traction control systems. By installing four winter tires, you maintain the most balanced and controlled handling possible, so you can accelerate, brake, handle and better steer your vehicle through winter's challenges.

    Transport Canada recommends that snow tires are installed in sets of four. And in the province of Quebec, the law requires that winter tires be installed on all wheels of passenger vehicles (cars, SUVs and light trucks) during the winter season from December 15th until March 15th.

    For all these safety reasons, it is Canadian Tire's policy to install winter tires in sets of four.

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    Breaking in New Winter Tires

    After installing your new winter tires, your car will feel and sound different on the road. The tires are designed to provide more traction on snow and ice, with different tread patterns and different handling. When you've installed new winter tires of any sort, take the time to get a feel for your vehicle's new traction and handling.

    Your new winter tires will have a deeper tread depth and more open tread space than your all season tires. This feature that gives you greater traction also make tires more flexible, which may make your tires feel less responsive in handling.

    Tires are constructed from several layers of rubber, steel and fabric that require a break-in period before they reach maximum performance. To give these components time to fully integrate, for your first few hundred kilometres avoid any aggressive driving—stay with easy acceleration, cornering and braking.

    New tires may also have a mould release lubricant on them as a residue from the production process. You should be aware your vehicle might initially have reduced traction before this thin layer is worn away from regular driving.

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    Tire Differences

    It's important to understand the difference in snow traction between Mud and Snow branded tires and winter tires or severe snow tires.

    All Season TiresSnow Tires
    The Mud and Snow(M+S or M&S) designation you will see on many all season tires refers only to the tread pattern itself—not the performance of the tire on snowy roads. M+S tires have a "knobby" design with gaps between the treads designed to provide improved traction over the straight rib tires used on earlier vehicles.
    In 1999, The U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) and the Rubber Association of Canada (RAC) agreed on a performance based standard for identifying tires that have been tested to perform better on snowy roads. Severe Snow Tires are specifically designed for severe snow conditions and meet snow traction performance requirements. Tires meeting this standard are marked with a pictograph of a peaked mountain.
    A mountain/snowflake symbol branded on the tire's sidewall identifies tires that perform a minimum of 110% better than a standard tire in a mandated snow traction test, which provides drivers with significantly shorter stopping distance and better handling.
    The mountain/snowflake symbol is the standard specified in Quebec for meeting winter driving requirements. Starting December 15, 2014, the Highway Safety Code regulation specifies only tires bearing the mountain/snowflake symbol will be considered acceptable winter/snow tires in Quebec.

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    The Importance of Winter Wheels

    While it's possible to have only one set of wheels for your vehicle, purchasing separate wheels for your winter tires can be a smart, economical choice that makes the seasonal switch quick and easy for years to come.

    When you install your winter tires on their own set of wheels, you only need to have your tires mounted once. Switching your tires for the season then requires little more than removing some wheel nuts and swapping out your tires.

    Each season you save the cost of mounting and unmounting tires from your wheels, plus you also eliminate the additional tire wear this can cause. If your car is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system, this can also avoid any damage to the system or its components. And by selecting specialized winter wheels, you'll have your winter tires mounted to wheels that can withstand the rigours of Canada's harsh winter conditions.

    Steel or Alloy Wheels

    Winter tires and wheels aren't just about practicality—they can be about good looks too. Steel wheels are the standard wheels you'll see on most vehicles during Canada's harsh winters. These practical wheels are painted with a black finish and specially coated to resist corrosion. You'll find a complete selection of designs at Canadian Tire, including OE wheels with an original factory fit, and Multi-fit wheels, designed and guaranteed to fit multiple vehicles.

    Winter alloy wheels offer the aesthetics of performance vehicles, and are clear coated with a rust-free, resilient finish to withstand harsh weather conditions. By using alloy wheels, you not only improve the looks of your vehicle but also the performance. Alloy's extra strength provides longevity as well as positively affecting tire wear. Alloys are 15-20% lighter than steel, and the weight reduction will improve steering response and handling, as well as help improve acceleration and braking.

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    Sizing

    The narrower your tire, the more easily you can get through snow. Select a winter tire size based on the optional tire and wheel size for the base model of your vehicle, or by "minus sizing". Not only will this help you choose tires more suited to winter, but you may also find the cost of a tire and wheel package is lower than staying with your vehicle's original specifications.

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    Winter Tire Maintenance & Safety

    Maintenance Inspections

    The distinctive tread patterns and softer rubbers used in winter tires make them more susceptible to irregular wear caused by a misaligned suspension or worn parts. The camber and toe settings, in particular, can influence tire wear.

    Camber is the vertical tilt of your tires. Improper camber settings can result in the outside or inside edges of your tires wearing unevenly.

    Toe describes the angle of the tires at each end of the same axle, and the angle they are aligned to drive in. These settings compensate for the competing forces of rolling resistance, drive torque and suspension movement.

    Be sure your winter tires and wheels are set with your vehicle manufacturer's recommended settings for camber and toe. While your vehicle manufacturer may have preferred settings as well as tolerances for performance, only the vehicle's preferred settings should be used for aligning your winter tires.

    For optimal handling and tire wear, it's wise to have your vehicle's alignment checked (and adjusted if necessary) twice a year. Your seasonal switch from winter to all season tires is an ideal time to do it.

    Winter Tire Pressure

    Underinflated tires can reduce your fuel efficiency. Maintaining proper air pressure in your tires is also important for handling, safety, traction and durability.

    Tire pressure will change based on the temperature of your tires. This is why you should always check tire pressure when your tires are "cold". Morning may be the ideal time—before driving any distance. An afternoon reading, when tires may have been heated by the mid-day sun, will read higher than a true "cold' reading. Similarly, tires in a heated garage may give a different reading than those outside. Tire pressure will drop by 1 psi for every 5.6°C (10°F) change in air temperature when you venture out into the cold. Calculate to adjust for the temperature difference. For example, if it's 0°C in your garage and -11°C outside, your tire's inflation pressure will drop by about 2 psi outdoors.

    As the temperature drops or rises, so will your tire's inflation pressure. Throughout the year, this can mean a variation of 5 psi or more—enough to affect performance, wear and fuel efficiency. Tires also lose pressure over time—most tires naturally lose pressure of 1 to 2 psi each month.

    A tire can lose up to 30% of its pressure and still look identical to a tire that is at its proper inflation level, so it is important so check tire pressure regularly. Be sure to check your owner's manual, and ensure your winter tires are inflated to the recommended pressure. Remember to replace your valve caps when done, as moisture can freeze the valve and allow air to escape.

    Measure Tread Depth/Wear

    In addition to the tread pattern and the special compounds used in winter tires, your tire's tread depth is a fundamental feature that provides its special handling abilities in snow. With use, your tires will wear, reducing tread depth and over time, reducing your tires' effectiveness in harsh winter conditions.

    Tires are considered to be worn out when only 2/32" (about 1.6 mm) of tread depth remains. There are several ways to check to see if it is time to replace your winter tires.

    Indicator Bars

    Indicator bars are narrow sections of rubber in the tire's grooves running from one side of the tread to the other, used to indicate when the tire has worn down to the legal limit.

    Snow tires usually feature an additional wear indicator, indicating deeper tread depths. Winter Wear Indicators (also called Snow Platforms) identify when a tire's tread depth is no longer beneficial for performance on snow—when tread depth drops below 6/32" (about 4.8 mm).

    New Tire Tread DepthApproaching Winter Wear IndicatorsApproaching Tread Wear Indicators
    Tread design, compound and depth to provide effective snow tractionTire worn to about 6/32"—diminished snow traction abilitiesWhile still legal at 2/32", the worn tire lacks the tread depth for beneficial snow traction

    Tire Tread Depth

    Keep in mind that for winter tires to be effective on snow, you should have 6/32nds or more—a substantially deeper tread depth than the minimum required. At 2/32" of tread wear, your vehicle will have reduced resistance to hydroplaning and little to no efficient traction in snow. Consider replacing your winter tires when your tread depth reaches 6/32nds or less.

    Remember to measure the tread depth in several places on your tires. If your results seem inconsistent, your tire may have uneven wear, which can indicate a mechanical issue.

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    How to Store Winter Tires

    Clean and wrap your snow tires before storing them for the season to protect them from debris and rubber degrading elements like ozone. Tires can be laid flat or stacked up to four high, but should not be placed tread-down as they may develop flat spots.

    The best place to store tires is in a cool, dry location such as a basement or climate controlled workshop. The temperature fluctuations in sheds, garages or other un-insulated areas can accelerate aging. Stored tires should be kept away from electric motors or welders as these produce ozone which will damage the rubber over time.

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