On the importance of winter tires

This last weekend a friend and I entered a heated discussion about winter tires - see what I did there? :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

This friend is one of the many people here in Quebec who waits until the last days before winter tires are mandatory by law to change his car. I’m one of those who changes sooner rather than later. We clashed - amicably, we’re still friends.

By law, Quebec car owners are required to have winter tires installed by December 15th. Regardless of the weather situation, no police officer can give you a ticket if you don’t have WT before it. There’s a discussion to bring this date earlier - a move I completely agree on - but unfortunately there’s a lot of people who think like my friend. So, I thought it would be nice to have a more comprehensive list of arguments on the importance of winter tires and why you should install them according to the weather, not to the law.

First things first: this discussion will be completely lost on anyone living on a place where the thermometer never goes below 7ºC. I remember the days when, living in Brazil, the only reason to change the tires on a car was damage or severe use.

The confusion about winter tires are, in part, a market’s fault. The non-winter tires are called either all-season tires or 4-season tires. That’s the main argument my friend have to not install his winter tires before the lawful date. In my friend’s words:

"They are called all-season! Winter is part of this! I’m sure we don’t even really have to change the tires, it’s all a conspiracy between the tires industry, the garages and government!

But it really isn’t. It comes down to three main factors:

  • Temperature: The rubber compound is different in winter tires and all-season tires. Specifically, the rubber on all-season are harder than on winter ones, because this provides greater tread life - meaning, it’ll take longer for the treads to disappear. But that also means all-seasons get even harder in cold temperatures. Below 7ºC, they get so hard they become stiff. And why does it matter? The tire should have a healthy surface contact with the ground to provide proper grip. A harder tire will flex less, keeping more of its round shape, and touching the ground less. It will not only make it harder for your car to transform the tire movement into traction - increasing your fuel consumption - but it will also make it more difficult to stop and turn the car. Imagine that in a snowed road, which already have less grip than normal, and you can see the recipe for disaster. This is also why it’s so important to keep your tires properly inflated. Too much and you’ll lose surface contact. Too little and the surface contact will be so large it will demand more energy to move the car - thus more fuel being burned.

  • Tread depth: The treads on all-seasons are designed for dry and wet roads. They are shallow, because most roads are already very good in keeping a low water layer. The treads need only to get a little water out of the way so most of the tire touches the ground. Winter tires have deeper treads, to try and “eat” as much snow as possible when it’s the case - since snow doesn’t really leave the roads unless human action is taken or the weather warms, allowing the tire to touch the ground if possible. If not, the pressure on the higher parts of the tire will grip better.

  • Tread design: Treads on all-seasons are designed for evacuating water. They are basically useless in snow. Winter tires have treads designed to grip the snow - some claim to be able to evacuate snow as well, but that’s debatable. The treads on winter tires must provide good traction on snow.

Montreal had its first snow of the season around mid-November. Temperatures have been below 7ºC for several weeks now. We just had a black ice situation and the winter isn’t even officially here yet. I was able to convince my friend, who promised to change his tires this week - which is still only one week earlier than what he intended to do, but still.

So, whatever the law demands where you live, pay closer attention to the weather, because it’s the real gauge for when to change your tires.

Keep safe out there!

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Ahh I love having these arguments with folks who don’t know any better. I personally prefer studded snow tires, I did after all live up the mountains in Vermont and if you didn’t have studs you wouldn’t always make it up the mountain.

Last year even with snow tires, non studded, I couldn’t make it up one mountain to get home. I went back down and speed through only to get a few feet farther, but in the end luckily my son’s basketball coach and her husband saw me and offered to pull me up with their truck. After that it I got some studed tire wraps since I didn’t have the money to get new tires. It worked for the season and I’m glad I didn’t get new tires cause now I’m in North Carolina

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I never knew that. One more step to wisdom!

So if there is a law to fit winter tires, why is the law not to force change of name of 4-season to 3-season or non-Winter name to reduce this confusion?

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One of the few benefits of being in the UK, weather never get’s that bad for the need to switch to (or own) winter tyre’s (at least where I am)…plus when it is that bad…it’s a work from home snow day :grin:

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Work from home, that’s a benefit of me moving here to North Carolina. If we get any amount of snow everything shuts down, if work closes I still get paid

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We change tires every year from summer to winter ones in autum and versus in spring.

That’s quite normal in Munich Bavaria.

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I had heard of places in the world insisting on proper winter tyres.

I’ve known friends who have been caught out by early snow, and crashed quite badly…they were ok.

The date is fixed by a hell of a lot of statistics, maybe as time goes by and the average date changes, the law may change the date. However, what about this global warming? Won’t that change things?.. Discuss (Hahahaha)

I think if you live somewhere where you get shit loads of snow every year, then you need snow/winter tyres. That’s common sense.

Whether you get studs or not, would again depend on the area.

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I always change tyres - mostly due to my driving style. (Prob need to remember it’s not a racetrack lol)

But all jokes aside, family / friends can’t understand why I always change / get premium tyres. I do this as it’s they are the only thing in contact with the road and I want as much grip as possible. I always do a lot of research into which tyres get good reviews in certain conditions before I make my mind up.

Better to be safe than sorry

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My ex bought premium tyres (Michelin something) as it was the low profile tyre that was on the car, when we bought it.

Her mentality… If they designed the car to perform in a specific way, they did so with those tyres, so it’s best to keep the same.

It was “by chance” a great tyre with great scores from those in the know. Even Porsche used the same make n model (obvs a lot bigger varient) as came on our car.

Cos the car was brand new, she’d service it bang on 9k as the handbook says, and even used the main dealer… Saying it might cost a couple hundred more, but they can’t argue if needed to claim under warranty, which could cost a lot more.

Anywho, driving ability is the only thing I’d praise her for… She could reverse down a narrow road a lot faster than some drove forward!

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