This column could have been titled ‘Everything you always wanted to know about winter tires, but were afraid to ask!’ or again ‘Winter tires for dummies’ as goes the famous series of self-learn books. I chose to keep it straight and serious, for it is a very serious matter and decision indeed. Since legal regulations are different between Ontario and Quebec, let’s get this fact cleared first before moving on: in Ontario, winter tires are not legally required, but however recommended, while in Quebec, they are required by law from December 1st to March 15th and drivers are liable to a fine of up to 300$ if they do not comply; since we Eastern Ontarians live in a border town and travel to Quebec regularly, Ontario-plated vehicles will not be fined and do not have to comply with the Quebec regulation.
Ontario Ministry of Transportation explained the logic behind their decision by stating that the goal is ‘to promote road safety without imposing unwarranted burdens on consumers and businesses: the additional cost of two sets of tires, their interchange twice yearly, their storage and the impact on the environment by discarded tires are all factors that influenced our decision, plus the fact that not all vehicles require winter tire use’. While in Quebec, in theory, 100% of its 6.6 million registered vehicles have to switch to winter tires, in Ontario, only 70% of its 9.9 million vehicles use them; death rate is comparable between the two provinces, as Ontario’s rate dropped by more than 60% between 1980 and 2010, something to be very proud of !
Here are some COLD HARD FACTS, gathered here, there and everywhere, that may help you understand what this issue is all about:
– As soon as the temperature stands consistently at or below minus 7 degrees C, you should consider changing to winter tires to benefit from increased traction, braking, handling in snowy, icy, cold or dry pavement
– Insurance companies may offer a rebate of up to 5% if you equip your vehicle with winter tires; make them aware if this is your case
– Studded tires were banned in Ontario in 1972 when technical tests demonstrated extensive damage to roads; the occasional use if chains is permitted when circumstances require, but continuous use is illegal
– Winter tires cannot be used year round: they underperform in warm weather and wear much faster; winter tires are made of softer rubber compounds and can prove to be dangerous on wet roads at highway speeds
– Winter tires requirement do not apply to spare tires
– Whether your vehicle is front or rear-wheel drive, it is a bad decision to change only two: winter tires are best applied to all wheel positions
– Alignment and balancing is always recommended as part of the process
– Language-wise, the use of the new wording WINTER TIRES as a replacement for SNOW TIRES was made to ensure consumers know not to wait for snow to get the right tires: the actual trigger to do so is consistent minus 7 degrees temperature
– You can check the date the tires were made, especially when buying them, because the thread on older tires is harder and less effective: on the tire wall, you should find the DOT identification number that ends with a four-digit: for example, 3613 means the tire was produced on the 36th week of 2013
– Since 2014, only tires with the ‘snowflake’ pictogram are considered winter tires
As reported by multiple garage owners and specialized tire shops, the shortage of qualified labor force is slowing down operations this year and they foresee that they will be fully booked until the Christmas holidays; as of purchasing new tires in these times where imports are unpredictable and cross-country transport is slowed down, market analysts noticed a 15-20% price increase on most north American manufactured brands, 30-40% on Chinese imports.
Finally, whenever you have tires changed, it is VERY IMPORTANT to have the wheel nuts re-torqued as you reach the first 1000 kilometres: if you own a torque wrench, you can do it yourself in ten minutes or so; if you don’t, some garages/dealers/tire shops INCLUDE this service with their installation. And whenever you are not comfortable driving in winter conditions, DON’T: you put yourself in a situation of stress and danger AND of endangering other drivers. Stay safe, stay home, call a cab, … there are other options! Have a great winter season!