The days are shorter, the air is crisp, and your car feels like a refrigerator when you turn it on in the morning. Welcome to another winter in Canada. Now before you hit the road in that warmed-up vehicle, you need to think about road safety during this longest of seasons.
Winter tires are four pieces of rubber that not only give you peace-of-mind but also much-needed grip and stability on those snowy, icy roads. These tires outperform all-weather and all-season tires when temperatures drop below 7 degrees Celsius. But does that mean you change over to winter (or snow) tires the day that mercury hits 7 degrees?
Knowing when to change over to winter tires depends on various factors including temperature and provincial regulations. We’ll help you get a grip on when to swap on (and out) your winter tires and if there are any provincial rules that you should know about.
While winter tires are recommended and encouraged for all Canadian drivers, there are only two provinces where winter tires mandatory by law – Quebec and British Columbia.
Under the Highway Safety Code, winter tires are mandatory from December 1 to March 15. Failure to outfit your vehicle with winter tires can lead to a $200-$300 fine, plus costs. Even though December 1 is the cut-off point, winter often comes sooner in La Belle Province, which means it helps to install those tires sooner rather than later.
In a province known for mountainous peaks, it’s no surprise that winter tires are compulsory for certain highways from October 1 to April 30.
These highways include Highway 3 (Crowsnest), Highway 5 (Coquihalla), Highway 20 (Chilcotin-Bella Coola), Highway 26 (Barkerville), and Highway 37 (Stewart–Cassiar) among others.
For highways that don’t pass through mountainous passes or high snowfall regions, winter tire requirements end on March 31, but this date could be extended. The list of highways with a March 31 date includes (but is not limited to) Highway 99 (Sea to Sky), Highway 3A (Castlegar-Nelson-Creston), Highway 12 (Lytton-Lillooet), and all highways on Vancouver Island.
Highway 1 (Trans-Canada) is one such example of a highway that has a March 31 requirement in some parts and an April 30 requirement in others.
Signs are posted on these designated roadways to let you know when you’re on a winter tire-mandatory stretch. Vehicles not equipped are prohibited and failure to obey this law can lead to a $109 fine.
Besides Quebec and BC, all other provinces recommend the use of winter tires. However, in Manitoba, a snow-heavy province with mostly flat surfaces, you can receive a low-interest loan from the government to purchase qualifying winter tires and associated costs. As for when it’s time to put them on, temperatures usually hit around 7 degrees on average around late October, according to The Weather Network.
Ontario also offers an incentive to get you driving on winter tires. This comes through lower insurance premiums rather than a loan like in Manitoba. This could be as much as a 5% reduction in your premium. The average point when temperatures hit 7 degrees in Ontario varies because it’s such a large province, but usually, it’s from late October to mid-November.
In Alberta and Saskatchewan, winter tires are not mandatory but both governments recommend their usage during severe weather conditions. The same goes for New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and, perhaps surprisingly, the Territories. It’s a good idea to change your tires around early November in these areas when temperatures begin to hit around 7 degrees. Interestingly, a report concluded that 94% of Atlantic Canada drivers opt for winter tires despite not being regulated.
Driving on winter tires when the thermometer starts to head north can be destructive. Winter tires are designed to perform best on ice and snow, not when the asphalt is hot from the sun. It’s not only unsafe, but it will also cost you money because the winter tires will degrade faster. Therefore, it’s imperative to change back to your normal tires at the right time.
Unless you live in Quebec (March 15) or areas of BC (March 31), use the 7 degrees Celsius rule to know when to change back to standard tires in the spring. If the temperature heads above 7 degrees, go to your automotive specialist for a changeover or possibly do it yourself if possible.
According to Transport Canada, to qualify as a “winter tire” in Canada it must be labelled with the 3-peaked mountain/snowflake (“Alpine”) logo:
This symbol indicates that the tire is certified to meet certain performance criteria in snow testing. This means the tire should provide snow traction that’s better than M+S (mud + snow) all-season tires. That means you can expect to see this symbol on the side of winter tires and all-weather tires, but not all-season tires.
Don’t let the name confuse you, all-season tires are most suitable for spring, summer, and fall. That’s why some companies have changed the name to 3-season tires.
And although all-season tires (aka mud + snow tires) are legal on some BC highways with winter tire requirements so long as they have a tread depth of 3.5mm, it’s recommended—and mandatory in places—to have winter tires or all-weather tires on your car before it starts getting really cold.
Therefore, if you use all-season or summer/performance tires, you might want to invest in a good set of winter tires as well.
Another option is to purchase all-weather tires, which can be kept on your wheels all year round. All-weather tires also feature the Transport Canada-authorized 3-peaked mountain/snowflake (“Alpine”) logo.
So, is it cheaper to go with all-weather tires or swap between a set of winter tires and all-season tires?
Generally, a set of four winter tires will cost you between $400 and $800. The same can be said for a set of all-season tires and a set of all-weather tires.
If all three sets cost approximately the same, you might think that a set of all-weather tires is the right choice since you’ll only have to purchase one set and forget a tire change schedule altogether. The problem is, since you’ll be driving with them for all 12 months of the year, all-weather tires have a shorter lifespan.
On the other hand, swapping out winter tires for all-season tires every six months means both sets of tires will last a lot longer. So, even though you’re paying for two sets, you won’t have to replace those tires nearly as often!
Get more information on the differences between winter, all-weather, and all-season tires here.
If you’re the DIY type and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, then changing over your winter tires can be a fun project. While it’s technically possible to use the tire changing tools that come with your car, it’s safer to use the proper gear:
If you’re like most people, getting down on your hands and knees with a lug wrench doesn’t sound too appealing. Getting your winter tires changed is a service you can easily find at places like Canadian Tire, Costco, and Kal Tire or pretty much any automotive garage. The price varies because you are paying the installation of each tire, plus the balancing of the tires and pressure checks. The whole process could set you back between $60 to $100.
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