This article has been updated from a previous version.
If you drive in Canada, chances are you probably have a strong opinion on winter tires, whether you want to or not. Do you really need them? And if so, which ones best fit your lifestyle?
While all provinces in Canada recommend the use of winter tires, they are only mandatory in Quebec and British Columbia.
In Ontario, there have been efforts to incentivize the adoption of winter tires, and insurance discounts for winter tire equipped vehicles have become mandatory.
There are a lot of people with legitimate concerns about how much value winter tires bring, but I prefer not to look at the value of these tires by how much money is or is not saved. Instead, I’m more interested in safety as I drive on difficult winter roads. The best winter tires can mean the difference between life and death.
All-Season vs. all-weather: What’s the difference?
All-season tires are the most common tires people drive with. They don’t provide the best grip or performance across different temperatures or weather conditions but they do a pretty decent job no matter what’s going on – until winter arrives. While all-weather tires perform adequately in mild to hot dry and wet weather, the rubber used in these tires starts to lose elasticity as temperatures drop below 7C. Less elasticity means reduced grip. This means they may not be the best winter tires.
Don’t be fooled by the “M+S” symbol that stands for mud and snow; that symbol is entirely unregulated, meaning any manufacturer can just slap it on any tire they want.
Why even call them all-season? Well, that’s because they were called that for a long time and the name has stuck. When it comes to true year-round tires however there is a solution: all-weather tires.
All-weather tires are designed to retain elasticity in cold temperatures, just like the best winter tires. Also, like winter tires they have been tested and certified for snow traction performance by the Rubber Association of Canada. Look for the snowflake in a mountain symbol to verify the status of the tires. While they don’t perform as well as true winter tires in heavy ice or snow, they hold their own well enough. Plus, unlike winter tires that suffer reduced performance on clear or wet asphalt, all-weathers actually provide increased grip. Also unlike winter tires, they can function well in warmer temperatures.
Here’s a handy guide by Kal Tire explaining the differences.
Living in or near urban centres
I live in the GTA and most of the time even if it’s cold and crappy outside, the roads get cleared relatively quickly. That means you need to worry more about driving in milder, wet, and icy conditions than trying to plow through heaps of snow. Those conditions lend themselves to all-weather tires because they provide better performance in less severe winter conditions.
Our top all-weather tire pick: Nokian WR G3
The WR G3 pioneered the idea of a truly year-round tire. It takes the top spot for providing a great all-around drive that gets the job done in the majority of conditions, whether roads are dry, wet, or snowy. At the same time, the WR G3 is respectably durable for the price and comes in a truck/SUV variant.
Rural areas where snow plows are scarce
If you live in a place where seeing pavement is a rarity during the winter months, you need slightly heavier-duty tires to get the best performance out of your vehicle. Depending on where you live, you may be allowed to use studded tires to get the ultimate traction on ice and deep snow. Unfortunately, in a lot of places, studs are illegal due to the damage they do to roads. Non-studded tires can still provide excellent grip and traction on deep snow and ice. While pricey, these tires will keep you on the road when things are at their worst.
Best Winter Tires (non-studded): Bridgestone Blizzak WS80
These tires are universally acclaimed for a reason. A close runner-up is the Michelin X-ice Xi3. Both tires have received some of the best in class ratings possible. Which one is better for you is a personal preference, but for me, the Blizzak’s slightly better stopping distance and acceleration traction on snow and ice give it the edge.
If you drive in Canada from December to about March, chances are you’ll need to use some good winter tires. Driving on all-seasons in the snow is like trying to play hockey in soccer gear. Somebody’s going to get hurt and nobody’s going to have a good time. Use the right equipment, stay safe, and keep your auto insurance low. You’ll end up in better shape overall.