Snowstorms and icy roads make it harder to control your car and to safely reach your destination. Snow and ice limit traction; Potholes damage wheels and tires. However, there are ways you can protect yourself on the roads this season. Drivers who don’t use winter tires rely on the provinces and municipalities to clear roads to bare condition so they can drive. In turn, provinces and municipalities have relied on salt to help create a road surface where drivers without winter tires have some minimal mobility.

Currently, winter tires are not mandatory for passenger vehicles in Ontario. Still, this year’s tough winter with colder than average temperatures and far more snow than past years, has underlined just how important winter tires are.

Winter tires are not the same as all-season tires, all-weather tires, or mud & snow tires. Winter tires are not only different in their profile, but also on the rubber they are made from. Made with a different compound than all-season tires and summer tires, winter tires remain softer during extremely cold weather which ultimately leads to better handling and traction, even in the absence of any snow or ice. Winter tires are not just designed to aid in snow and ice traction, even though that is how they are all marketed by the manufacturers. Winter tires are essential for safe driving on slush, snow and wet roads and increase the driving safety dramatically.

Although winter tires are optimized for snow and ice they are not magic tires; even with winter tires, your car will still handle worse on slick roads than dry ones. They are recommended for those that live in snow and ice for several months of the year. They are engineered with deeper tread to allow for better control in snowy, icy and slushy weather. Winter tires are not inexpensive, but they are necessary for driving safely in the winter months. If budget is a concern, buy four cheaper winter tires rather than two better quality tires.

Why not just use Summer and All-season tires? Winter tires provide safety and control in snow, ice and cold weather because they are specifically engineered to deliver a substantial increase in traction over all-season radials – by as much as a 25 to 50 percent. All-season tire performance drops off dramatically starting at about 5C and worsens as the mercury drops. Summer tires under these conditions start to harden and lose their road-holding ability. Summer and all-season tires just aren’t built to hold the road in the same way that winter tires do. All-season tires do provide safe all-weather performance. But remember, in severe winter snow conditions, they are not the safest choice. All-season tires are a design compromise. As good as they are in most conditions, all-season tires are not optimized for winter conditions in the same way that severe snow tires are optimized.

Front Vs. All Wheel Drive Front-wheel and four-wheel-drive vehicles handle noticeably better with winter tires too. Front wheel drive is certainly an advantage as long as one is using winter tires designed for the road conditions ahead. Front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive none of it does any good if there is not good adhesion between the tires and the road. Modern safety features such as Traction Control and anti-lock brakes are nearly useless without good tires.

Wear and Maintenance To get the optimal performance from the tires on your vehicle you should use the products as they are intended. Winter tires are different from regular tires in their performance and appearance and material. Tread wear can also be an issue with these tires, which explains why the tire manufacturers will not give warranties for early tread wear. In the spring when roads are clear, they should be removed. Today’s winter tires are designed to have a tread that can maintain a smoother and safer ride compare to their predecessors and are designed drain water and expel snow at the same time. Winter tires are just as important for icy conditions as they are for snow.

Proper maintenance and responsible driving can maximize the mileage from a set of tires. Monthly tread inspections can inform when the tires warrant replacement, well in advance of the Ontario’s mandated tread wear indicators. In case of a puncture, proper repair is critical and the puncture must be repaired on both the inside and the outside of the tire. And remember, proper braking is also crucial to extending the mileage out of your winter tires.