What Are Studded Winter Tires & Are They Legal in Canada?
What separates studded winter tires from regular snow-rated tires? How do they work, are there any disadvantages to tires fitted with studs, and are they even legal on public roads across Canada? Here's an in-depth look and explanation.
First, winter conditions warrant the right set of tires
Canadians are no strangers to snow. According to Environment Canada, more than 65% of the country receives snowfall for more than 6 months of the year. And yet, when it comes to driving in those same snowy and icy conditions we’re all so familiar with, it seems we could use a little extra help.
On average, there are around 160,000 car accidents in Canada each year—30% of which occur during snowy or icy conditions. In December and January alone, car accidents typically increase by 3 or 4% Canada-wide.
With conditions and statistics like these dominating winter driving life in Canada, it’s no wonder so many Canadians put winter tires on their vehicles every fall. But are winter tires enough? What about studded tires? Are they better than winter tires? And are they legal in Ontario, Alberta, BC, and the rest of Canada?
Here’s a quick rundown on everything you need to know about using studded tires in Canada. If you’re buying new winter tires, here are some simple tips to keep in mind.
What are studded tires and how do they work?
Studded tires are specially designed winter tires that have up to a hundred metal studs embedded into each tire. Each stud only protrudes about 1/32 of an inch from the tire’s surface but under the full weight of the car, these studs claw at ice and snow on the road like tiny pickaxes.
As the tires rotate, the studs break into layers of ice on the road and grip into packed snow. This gives the tires greater traction and control than studless tires.
Studded tires vs. winter tires
Aside from snow and ice, the biggest risk factor when it comes to winter driving is the cold, especially when it comes to traction in particular.
Standard summer or all-season tires are made from rubber compounds that stiffen in low temperatures, which lessens their ability to grip. Winter tires, by contrast, are made from special rubber compounds that don’t stiffen in low temperatures, allowing them to stay more elastic and maintain their grip.
What’s more, winter tires feature specially designed treads that improve flexibility and their ability to maintain traction on snow.
If your winter driving is all done on paved and well-maintained streets that are regularly plowed and salted, winter tires are a great choice and likely all you need.
Here’s a breakdown of the differences between all-season, all-weather, and winter tires.
What conditions are studded tires best suited to?
If you live outside major cities or urban areas—or regularly find yourself driving on less-travelled roads that aren’t always fully paved, plowed, or salted—winter tires may not fully cut it. In these conditions, you might want to consider studded tires.
Icy roads in particular are where studded tires really shine. They can break through layers of ice on the road to deliver superior grip and traction that far exceeds anything a set of winter tires can provide.
In light snow or wet conditions, the benefits of studded tires are more marginal and can sometimes even result in reduced traction.
Two main downsides of studded tires
Studded tires are extremely effective in the proper conditions but they also have their drawbacks.
1. Reduced traction in certain conditions
For starters, if you’re using them in the wrong conditions—such as on a clear road with no ice or hard packed snow—studded tires deliver reduced traction. This is because the studs are then the primary point of contact with the road surface, so the treadblocks are making less contact with the road.
2. Damage to paved roads
Likewise, studded tires can take a considerable toll on paved roads. Just as they can break through layers of ice, they can damage pavement and wear down roads, leading to divots and rutting. For these reasons, studded tires aren’t allowed in some regions of Canada.
Are studded tires legal in Ontario?
In Ontario, studded tires are allowed between September 1st and May 31st each year, but only on vehicles that are registered in Northern Ontario. This area includes Algoma, Cochrane, Kenora, Manitoulin, Nipissing, Parry Sound, Rainy River, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and Temiskaming.
In Southern Ontario, studded tires aren’t allowed on any vehicles, except those visiting from out-of-province.
Are studded tires legal in Alberta?
In Alberta, there are no restrictions at all on the use of studded tires. They can be used by any vehicle throughout the year. However, there is legislation in place that makes damage to roads by studs and chains an offence.
Generally, the province of Alberta recommends the use of studded tires only when conditions warrant their use.
Are studded tires legal in British Columbia and the rest of Canada?
In British Columbia, the rules for studded tires are very specific. They’re only allowed on BC highways between October 1st and April 30th. As well, if you’re using studded tires on the front of your vehicle, you must use them on the back as well.
Each province in Canada has slightly different rules around the use of studded tires. In some regions they’re not allowed at all, while in others they’re permitted during certain months of the year. Some provinces, such as Quebec, also have specific regulations for commercial vehicles using studded tires.
Before you consider purchasing a set of studded tires, be sure to check out the usage rules in your province and area. Even if studded tires are permitted where you live, they should only be used in conditions where they provide greater traction.