How to shop for winter tires

Une route bordée de neige

The most important part of your car to help you stay on the road are your tires. More so during winter, when your tires need to grip onto slippery surfaces. That’s why you need to take the time to shop around and make sure you find the right model.

High-quality tires are important!

In Quebec, it’s mandatory to have winter tires installed by December 1 and keep them until at least March 15. This is advised everywhere else in Canada, too.

The tires’ shape and the material used are designed to improve the control and traction of their grooves. They’re also better adapted to react to cold temperatures, even in the absence of snow or ice. Despite their name, four-season tires do not provide the same type of grip during Canadian winters.

Winter tires are better because:

  • The tire tread contains blocks and grooves that form a pattern specifically designed to repel snow and ice.
  • The grooves on the tire surface – which make up what is called the tire tread – are deeper than those on four-season tires. This improves traction on snowy surfaces.
  • The materials that make up the tires are better suited for cold temperatures. They provide better traction when temperatures drop below 5 degrees Celsius and can grip onto the snowy or icy roads in up to -40 degrees Celsius.

Choosing the right winter tires

See the official pictogram

On the winter tire sidewall, you’ll find a small drawing of a mountain above which is a snowflake symbol. If this pictogram doesn’t appear on your winter tires, you could be fined between $200-$300, plus fees.

Take into account the type of vehicle you drive

Whether it’s a sports utility vehicle or a compact sedan, the type of tire will vary. Check the manufacturer’s documents to see which type of tires is best suitable for your vehicle.

Where do you drive most often?

Do you spend more time on country roads or city streets? Do you usually make short trips at low speed or longer trips on the highway? The answers to these questions will help you determine which tires are best suited for you. For example, some tires are better suited for snow, while others perform better on ice.

Change them all in one shot

For safety purposes, it is recommended you have all four new winter tires installed at once. Winter tires coupled with four-season tires will not provide the same traction on the road.

Compare brands and models

Wait for sales and don’t hesitate to ask for quotes from several sources to give you a good idea of how much winter tires typically cost. If you need more information, consult reliable sources like the Canadian Automobile Association. You can have a better discussion with the seller if you know what's available on the market.

If you go with used tires...

Buying used tires will save you money, but only if you know which used tires are right for you! Check which year they were manufactured by checking the DOT code on the tires’ sidewall. The last four numbers indicate the week and year they were made, i.e. 0818 means the eighth week of 2018.

You should then check for wear and tear. First, make sure the rubber isn’t dry or cracked using a depth gauge. If the grooves are 4.8 mm (6/32 inches) or less in depth, don’t purchase the tires. The wear and tear should be even on all your tires. Also be sure to ask the owner where the tires were stored.

Take good care of your tires

Check the air pressure on a regular basis. Experts say you should do it once a month. During winter, the colder it gets, the more the tire pressure drops. If the pressure is too low it will cause premature wear and tear of your tires and the loss of traction. It could also increase your fuel consumption.

Check the condition of your tires as soon as they’re installed. Uneven wear and tear means you could be facing suspension or alignment problems. Excessive wear and tear means it’s time to shop for new tires.

Don’t forget: a vehicle may be equipped with the best parts the market has to offer, but your safety on the road mostly depends on your driving skills. Drive carefully.