Winter tires, also known as snow tires, are used by 76% of Canadians, or 69% outside of Quebec (where winter tires are mandated) to give them better traction and control on snowy and icy roads – with 79% of owners believing that they have saved them a potentially hazardous situation.
All Canadian provinces recommend using them during the winter months, but they they are only mandatory in British Columbia (in certain areas) and Quebec (between December 15th to March 15).
How we picked
We spent hours determining everything you need to look for to find the best winter tires in Canada.
First, we made a list of tires reviewed and recommended by trusted publications including Canada Drives, The Car Guide and the Automobile Protection Association.
Then, we narrowed it down to tires with good tire quality grades, from brands and model lines with proven track records and are highest rated by drivers across multiple retailers including Kal Tire, Canadian Tire, 1010 Tires, Blackcircles, and the Tire Rack.
For background information, see our comparison table and buying advice.
Best winter tires comparison table
The information and prices in the table below is based on the size 205/55R16, a very common passenger car size suitable for the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra. The only exception is for the SUV tire, as SUVs more commonly use the size 225/65R17.
|Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3||Michelin X-ice SNOW||Bridgestone Blizzak WS-90||Continental VikingContact 7||Pirelli Ice Zero FR||General Altimax Arctic 12||Yokohama BluEarth Winter V905||Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 SUV||Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9|
|Best for||Overall||Runner-up||Runner-up||New||Value||Budget||Performance||SUVs & Trucks||Studded|
|Average price per tire||$186.42||$188.42||$170.23||$164.61||$156.93||$139.34||$176.77||$205.89||$198.70|
|Size range (in.)||14″ to 21″||14″ to 22″||14″ to 20″||15″ to 22″||14″ to 20″||14″ to 19″||16″ to 21″||16″ to 22″||14″ to 20″|
|Warranty (workmanship and materials)||5 yrs||6 yrs||5 yrs||6 yrs||until 2/32″ left||6 yrs||5 yrs||5 yrs||5 yrs|
|Warranty (mileage)||No||60,000 km||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
Warranty information includes workmanship and materials, which refers to protection if the tire has a flaw from manufacturing or wears out prematurely as long as records of the required maintenance can be provided. Coverage is typically prorated.
Winter tires do not usually come with mileage warranties, which back a tire for a certain number of km traveled. And no tire remains protected by warranty when less than 2/32” (1.6 mm) remains as that is the legal limit.
It is important to remember that no specific tire brand or model is the absolute right choice for every vehicle and every situation. The road tests that have been conducted test all aspects of winter tire performance including; stopping and starting on snow, ice, wet and dry pavement. These tests also provide feedback on fuel consumption, changes in control and handling and overall ride quality attributes like road noise.
Best overall – Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3
- Compound: silica, rapeseed oil, natural rubber, and Cryo Crystal 3 particles
- Size range: 14” to 21”
- Warranty: 5 years/no mileage
- Studdable: No
- Manufactured in: Finland
Only available through Kal Tire outlets in Canada, Nokian winter tires have earned a reputation for handling everything winter can throw at them.
The Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 has deep tread blocks with an arrow-like design that channels water and slush away from the tire to prevent slipping and sliding. Other innovative features are small crystal particles that act like tiny studs and 2 different types of sipes (small grooves in the tire tread) that combine to create relentless grip on icy and snowy roads.
It is made of a special compound that includes silica, rapeseed oil, and natural rubber. These materials generate excellent handling in winter conditions because they keep the tire flexible. Still, it rides comfortably and is very quiet, increasing every day driving ease.
2 types of treadwear indicators are built right into the tread. The Winter Safety Indicator (WSI) is a snowflake symbol that wears off at a depth of 4/32” to indicate the tire should be replaced. The Driving Safety Indicator (DSI) is a series of numbers on the tread that indicate the depth of the main groove in millimetres. This patented technology makes knowing when to replace the tire very simple and easy.
- What sets it apart: simply the best overall winter tire
Runner-up – Michelin X-Ice Snow
- Compound: FleX-Ice 2.0 with high silica content
- Size range: 14” to 22”
- Warranty: 6 yrs / 60,000 km
- Studdable: No
- Manufactured in: Canada
The Michelin X-Ice Snow is the newest tire in the X-Ice family, with improved hydroplaning resistance and improved durability. It even comes with a mileage warranty, making it the only winter tire that does.
The deep, v-shaped tread pattern comes with a high void ratio (a high void ratio means there is a lot of space in the large grooves of the tread). Water and snow move into the tread and then away through the v-shape instead of getting trapped between the tire and the road, so slipping and sliding are reduced.
The full silica-based compound is a unique rubber mix that stays flexible even in severe cold, and the tread contains 2 types of full-depth, interlocking sipes so that the tire will grip the road for excellent accelerating, braking, and cornering all winter. Michelin even says that it outperforms all other winter tires in brake tests on ice and snow.
- What sets it apart: mileage warranty of 60,000 km
Runner-up – Bridgestone Blizzak WS90
- Compound: Multicell, silica-enhanced compound with bite particles
- Size range: 14” to 20”
- Warranty: no tread-life/mileage 5 years / no mileage
- Studdable: No
- Manufactured in: Japan
Bridgestone claims the Blizzak WS90, which replaces the WS80, is improved so much that it will last an extra season. Enhancements in the tread design increase the contact area of the tire so that it stops confidently on ice and snow. It stops so well that Bridgestone claims it leads other winter tires in stopping distance.
The tread is made of a multicell, silica-enhanced compound that contains bite particles specially made to grip ice, making the tire a leader in control and handling on icy roads. The tread is stiffer and has more interlocking sipes than in the past, which means the tire handles and corners well on dry, wet, and snow-covered roads.
Bridgestone’s winter wear bars that indicate when the special ice-gripping compound has worn off. Comfort remains good through the tire’s life, though noise levels are about average for a winter tire.
- What sets it apart: the best winter tire for icy conditions
Best new winter tire – Continental VikingContact 7
- Compound: Active grip silica and rapeseed oil composition
- Size range: 15” to 22”
- Warranty: 6 years / no mileage
- Studdable: No
- Manufactured in: Germany
The newest Continental winter tire (on sale since 2019) is the VikingContact 7, a tire Continental has designed to challenge the leading winter tires from other manufacturers. The tread compound contains active grip silica that helps with grip and braking, as well as rapeseed oil that keeps it flexible for superb adjustment to icy and snow-covered roads.
Continental has designed the tread blocks to link together to create precise handling in all weather conditions. Also, the criss-crossing groove pattern reduces hydroplaning and improves wet road performance. The tire is a bit firm, which reduces comfort but benefits precision handling.
Noise levels are about average for a winter tire. Though it is not quite as good overall as the winner and two runners-up on this list, it offers confident handling and strong grip on winter roads.
- What sets it apart: combination of good winter grip and good winter handling
Best value – Pirelli Ice Zero FR
- Compound: special compound in an arrow-shaped, directional pattern
- Size range: 14” to 20”
- Warranty: until 2/32” tread remains / no mileage
- Studdable: No; studdable version available
- Manufactured in: Russia
Pirelli makes winter tires that can be expensive. The Pirelli Ice Zero FR offers good stability, confident control, and exceptional driving comfort, all at a low price.
Pirelli’s new interlocking 3D sipes keep the tread stable for a comfortable ride at high speeds on clear roads. A design feature that distributes air pressure evenly throughout the tire works with the sipes for even greater stability, as well as . effective and predictable braking. To add to the impressive levels of comfort, the tread pattern has been designed to lower road noise.
A second type of siping is angled across the tire to gather water from the road surface, force it into the tire, and then push it away. The arrow-shaped tread pattern improves this wicking effect, creating good grip and handling on wet and icy roads. A special tread compound allows the tire to stay flexible at lower temperatures resulting in good grip in all conditions.
- What sets it apart: Pirelli design and quality at a good price
Best on a budget – General Altimax Arctic 12
- Compound: innovative polyester casing and polyamide cap
- Size range: 14” to 19”
- Warranty: 6 years / no mileage
- Studdable: Yes
- Manufactured in: Germany
This tire offers solid winter performance without a high price tag. It even has the option to add studs for improved grip on icy surfaces.
The tread compound is more traditional, though General says it is an innovative material that stays flexible in colder temperatures for good winter grip. The design has high void angled grooves to channel water away from the tire, making sure that grip is maintained on wet roads.
The tire has a rigid, interwoven centre rib that offers good steering response and dry road handling. Also, the design provides balanced air pressure distribution so that the tire is safer for a longer time. This feature also creates a comfortable ride.
Noise levels are average for a winter tire.
- What sets it apart: all that a winter tire should be for a low price.
Best performance – Yokohama BluEarth Winter V905
- Compound: high-silica compound infused with orange oil
- Size range: 16” to 21”
- Warranty: 5 years / no mileage
- Studdable: No
- Manufactured in: Philippines
This is one of the best winter tires in Canada because it is eco-friendly, it offers excellent winter traction, and it is performance oriented.
It is eco-friendly because it is lightweight, which lowers fuel consumption. Also, the tread compound contains orange oil, a product that makes the manufacturing process more environmentally friendly.
Winter traction is excellent because of the high-silica and orange oil tread compound that keeps the tire flexible and grippy in cold temperatures. The triple 3D sipes in the tread design have many edges which generate even more grip when the road is slippery.
The wide, slanted tread block design moves water away from the tire to limit hydroplaning, enhancing traction. Two reinforced steel belts run through the tire creating comfort, excellent handling, and stability at high speeds. The combination of excellent traction, handling, and stability make this tire the best for performance cars.
- What sets it apart: eco-friendly winter performance
Best for SUVs and trucks – Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 SUV
- Compound: silica, rapeseed oil, natural rubber, and Cryo Crystal 3 particles
- Size range: 16” to 22”
- Warranty: 5 years / no mileage
- Studdable: No
- Manufactured in: Finland
The tread compound and design for the Hakkapeliitta R3 SUV tire are similar to that for the passenger car version at the top of this list. The tread design is the same arrow-like pattern, and the small crystal particles are a feature of the tread. As with the passenger car version, the grip on icy and snowy roads is excellent.
What is different is Nokian’s Aramid fibre sidewall technology. The material is the same material used in the aerospace and defence industries, resulting in a very durable and puncture-resistant sidewall. A damaged or punctured sidewall means a tire cannot be repaired, it must be replaced, so this innovative technology will save drivers hassle and money.
The Hakkapeliitta R3 SUV is a superb winter tire for the road. If you need an all-terrain tire for off-road use, check out the Nokian Rotiiva AT.
- What sets it apart: new sidewall technology to protect you and your tires.
Best studded – Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9
- Compound: silica, canola oil, and natural rubber
- Size range: 14” to 20”
- Warranty: 5 years / no mileage
- Studdable: Yes, they come with studs
- Manufactured in: Finland
This tire is older than the Hakkapeliitta R3, but it maintains superb winter performance. As with other Nokian tires, it is only available through Kal Tire. Also, it comes with studs.
The tire has 2 distinct studs, one for the centre of the tread and a separate one for the shoulder areas. This unique double stud grip creates traction on icy roads, on straight stretches, and on curves better than any other tire.
The tread compound is similar to the Hakkapeliitta R3, but it does not have the crystal technology because it is studded. Along with the compound, the tread pattern offers balanced and stable handling in all weather conditions.
Studded tires are quite loud, and some Canadian provinces and cities have restrictions on their use. Make sure to be informed before purchasing studded tires.
- What sets it apart: unique double stud design
Top winter tire brands
The following are the top winter tire brands in order of tire-related revenue along with their associated budget labels.
|Selling rank||Company||Country||Budget labels|
How to buy winter tires
- Look for a snowflake inside a mountain
- Know the tire size and speed rating
- Consider the Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG)
- Check the age of the tire before buying
Look for a snowflake inside a mountain
As recommended by Transport Canada and the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada, winter tires should have a snowflake inside a three peak mountain on the sidewall of a tire is the indicator that a tire has met or exceeded industry-established severe snow traction performance testing. These tests simulate typical Canadian winter driving conditions – not blizzard-like conditions.
Alternatively, all season tires are often marked with an M & S (mud and snow) but that does not mean that they are off road capable – not a winter certified tire. They are typically only able to handle light snow.
Know the tire size, speed rating and load index
Confirm the proper tire and rim size for your car before making a purchase.
There is a placard found inside the driver’s door jamb that states the factory size of the tires on the vehicle when it was purchased new. However, if you bought the car used the tires and rims may have been changed from the originals. The placard also includes recommended tire pressures.
A tire’s size is also imprinted on its sidewall. Here is what they mean:
A letter may appear in front on the tire size that will be a P, LT or ST. These stand for Passenger, Light Truck and Special Trailer. It is possible to get a P rated tire for a truck or SUV but the load range (weight restrictions) will not be as heavy.
The first number indicates its width in millimeters (205 mm), the second is the height of the tire as a percentage of the width, or aspect ratio (height divided by width). The sidewall height of the tire above is 113 mm (205 x 55%).
The letter R is the construction type, in this case Radial – the current industry standard for most tires.
The last number refers to the diameter of the wheel needed to mount the tire on – in this case 16 inches.
Your owner’s manual might list multiple possible tire size options. For example, a Toyota Corolla Hatchback lists the following:
- 195/65R15 91S – a smaller wheel (15″) with a narrower tire (195 mm) and taller sidewall (195 x .65 = 127 mm)
- 205/55R16 91H – OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) size
- 225/40R18 88V – a larger wheel (18″) and wider tire (225 mm) with a shorter sidewall (225 x .40 = 90 mm)
Which one you use depends on the type of ride and appearance you’re looking for.
In general, downsizing to a smaller wheel:
- Better traction during winter
- Smoother ride (better at dealing with bumps and potholes)
In general, upsizing to a larger wheel:
- Most often done for the improved aesthetic
- Better 3-season handling, but harsher ride
- More expensive
- Larger wheels are heavier and wider tires’ larger contact patch increases rolling resistance, which may reduce fuel economy
If price and availability are primary concerns, switch to the most common wheel and tire size, which is typically 16″ for cars.
The load index indicates the load carrying capacity of the tires. You can look up how many pounds of capacity the numbers indicate in this chart.
The speed rating is the fastest speed a tire can safely maintain for an extended period of time.
|Speed Rating||Miles per hour||KM per hour||Application|
|L||75||120||Off-road and light truck tires|
|M||81||130||Temporary spare tires|
|N||87||140||Temporary spare tires|
|Q||99||160||Studless and studded winter tires|
|R||106||170||Heavy duty light truck tires|
|S||112||180||Family sedans and vans|
|T||118||190||Family sedans and vans|
|H||130||210||Sport sedans and coupes|
|V||149||240||Sport sedans, coupes and sports cars|
|W||168||270||Exotic sports cars|
|Y||186||300||Exotic sports cars|
Consider the Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG)
The UTQG is a set of standardized tests developed by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to help consumers become more informed before purchasing tires. When tires are designed and built, they are tested to measure their durability, traction, and the heat resistance.
The rating can be found on the side of the tire, or on the manufacturer’s website, and is displayed as a three digit number followed by two letters:
Treadwear grade (durability)
The three numbers (eg. 800) denotes the durability of the tire (treadwear rating). The higher this number, the longer the tread will last.
The grade is determined by comparing the wear rate of a tire relative to the wear of Course Monitoring Tires (CMT) sold by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) when under controlled conditions.
A convoy of vehicles that have the tires being graded and the CMTs are driven on a 400 mile government course for 7200 miles and tread groove depths are measured, tires rotated, air pressure checked and wheels aligned every 800 miles.
A tire graded 400 would last 4 times as long on the government course as a tire graded 100. However, actual performance of tires depends heavily on real-world conditions including personal driving habits, maintenance performed (wheel alignment, tire rotation & balancing) and road characteristics and climate.
Traction grade (safety)
The two letters that follow are the grades given to the tire’s traction and heat resistance (temperature) respectively.
The traction grade is the tire’s ability to stop on wet pavement as measured under controlled conditions on specified government test surfaces of asphalt and concrete. It does not take ABS braking systems, acceleration, cornering or stopping on a dry surface into account. Traction grades, from highest to lowest, are AA, A, B and C.
Temperature grade (heat resistance)
The temperature grade is the tire’s ability to dissipate heat when tested under controlled conditions on a specified indoor laboratory test wheel. High temperatures can cause a tire to deteriorate faster and extreme temperatures can cause sudden tire failure. C is the minimum acceptable grade required by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 109. Temperature grades, from highest to lowest, are A, B and C.
For example, a tire with a traction and temperature rating of “AB” would mean it tested as the best possible ‘A’ traction rating and the second best possible ‘B’ temperature rating.
Ask about the age of the tire before buying
The compounds in tires degrade as they age, dry out and harden whether they are driven or not and the process can be accelerated by exposure to heat and light.
Retailers can legally sell tires that are several years old as new without disclosing when they were manufactured and unless they were stored correctly, may have lost some of their useful life. Some difference between manufacture date and time of sale is to be expected and is acceptable – especially for less popular sizes or specialized versions.
Manufacturers recommend that tires be replaced after 6 years, even if they have hardly been used as age impacts safety and stability of tires. If they are over 10 years old, they should not be used.
Check the age of a tire by looking for what is called the DOT code on the sidewall – every tire made since 2000 will have one. Once you find it, there is a 4 number code that indicates the week and the year it was manufactured (e.g. 2118 means the 21st week of 2018).
Plant codes of Canadian-made tires include:
- 0X – Minto, NB
- 4B – Napanee, ON
- 9B, XY, VN – Joliette, QC
- AU – Kitchener, ON
- B3 – Bridgewater, NS
- BH – Kitchener, ON
- DC – Whitby, ON
- D3 – Cobourg, ON
- D9 – Etobicoke, ON
- HN – New Glasgow, NS
- LV – Barrie, ON
- M5 – Kentville, NS
- PC – Medicine Hat, AB
When should I change to winter tires?
When temperatures drop below or rise above 7°C in Canada, it is time to switch to winter tires.
Winter tires are not designed for summer temperatures anymore than summer tires are made for cold winters. Above or below 7°C the compounds used in winter and summer tires began to lose the ability to do what they were designed to do, so swap them when temperatures hit that mark.
How much do winter tires cost?
In general, the cost of a typical size for a passenger car (205/55/16) is $140 to $200 per tire. Tires priced below $100 each should probably be avoided. Kal Tire recommends that you buy the best tire that you can afford that fits your needs.
Like any product, prices vary a lot based on manufacturer, retailer, purpose, and quality. Also, size and price have a clear relationship – the bigger the tire, the higher the price. Any approved winter tire will give you better traction in winter conditions than any all season tire. Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra on winter tires to get the best performance.
Are winter tires worth the cost?
The initial investment in winter tires may seem a bit steep, after factoring in all installation and maintenance costs, you will see that having two sets of tires that both last for 6 to 8 years (each used 50% of the year) isn’t much more than only having one set of tires that’s used 100% of the time and lasts 3 to 5 years.
Plus thanks to the braking and handling improvements they provide, you also get peace of mind during winter driving – benefits that far outweigh the additional cost.
How do winter tires work?
Rubber gets harder as temperatures drop, reducing traction and grip with the road. It gets softer as temperatures increase, and if warm enough they act like a pencil eraser used on paper – rubber peels away onto the road.
Winter tires are made of softer compounds designed to stay soft and flexible at colder temperatures to maintain grip in cold weather (eg. below 7°C).
They include materials like silica to help them grip, and they have softer tread blocks and deeper tread grooves to help push away snow and slush.
They also have small, thin grooves called sipes to increase the number of biting edges which helps with traction. Some winter tires can be purchased with metal studs, which help with grip on icy surfaces.
Do you need winter tires if you have AWD?
Yes. The Tire and Rubber Association of Canada and the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada clearly indicate that all-wheel drive vehicles need winter tires for safe driving in the winter. Their joint infographic on safe winter driving is a great resource.
What is the difference between winter vs all-season tires?
Tire manufacturers design tires’ tread pattern, tread depth, and tread compounds to excel in certain conditions – wet, dry or snow – or in certain ways – fuel economy, traction or ride quality – but there are tradeoffs between these qualities.
While all (3) season tires offer fair handling characteristics above 7°C, when the temperature drops below that threshold, the rubber compounds used in all-season tires get hard, slippery and give up traction.
Though all-season tires are acceptable in light snow, at temperatures below 7°C winter tires have superior starting, stopping, and cornering ability, as proven by Tire Rack, Consumer Reports and Kal Tire.
Winter tires are made of softer compounds that remain pliable when temperatures drop and allow them to stay soft enough to expel snow and slush and maintain grip in colder weather. This traction and handling increase comes at the price of excess road-noise, but this is an acceptable tradeoff for most.
Why do you need winter tires?
You need them because they have much better starting, stopping, and cornering ability in snowy and icy conditions. Wet, slushy, snow-covered, and icy roads are common in Canada through the winter, and only a set of good winter tires will keep you, your passengers, and other drivers safe.
Having dedicated winter tires and dedicated all-season or summer tires has the added bonus that both sets will last longer – you are only driving on each set for part of the year.
The Tire and Rubber Association of Canada indicates in its 2020 Winter Tire Report that 72% of Canadian drivers now use winter tires for winter driving.
How long do winter tires last?
With proper maintenance, rotation and storage you can expect them to last 4 to 5 seasons or 30,000 to 40,000 km if you drive the Canadian average of 20,000 to 25,000 km per year and use them 4 months per year. Making sure you have them put on/taken off when the temperature crosses the 7°C mark will greatly help longevity.
Initially any new tire will provide decent traction, but s of wear the performance fall off is drastic.
Tires should be inspected regularly once they are 5 years old and should not be used at all after they are over 10 years old.
When should you replace winter tires?
You should replace your tires when they reach a certain age, remaining treadwear and/or overall condition.
They should be replaced once they are over 10 years old.
A new tire typically has 10/32” (8 mm) to 12/32” (9.5 mm) tread depth. It is against the law in most provinces to use tires with less than 2/32” (1.6 mm). Transport Canada states that tires with less than 5/32″ (4 mm) treadwear remaining should not be used on snow-covered roads and the Automobile Protection Association says you should have that amount remaining at the beginning of winter to ensure good performance until the end of the season. The regulatory minimum in Ontario is 1.5 mm and 3.5 mm in BC.
Most tires have indicators in the grooves to help you know when to replace them and you can also use a tread depth gauge for more precision.
You can measure tread with a toonie or tread depth gauge, and most tires have indicators on the tread to help you know when to replace them. Check your tire manufacturer’s website to find out what kind of indicators your tires have built into the tread and at what tread depth the tire should be replaced.
You can measure the tread remaining by placing a toonie into the bottom of the groove where the tread is most shallow. If it doesn’t reach at least halfway up the letters around the silver ring, it’s time to think about new tires.
Performance tests indicate that they should ideally be replaced when they are 50% worn (at 7/32” – 5.5 mm tread depth remaining) to maintain reliable stopping and cornering on winter roads.
If you notice other damage such as cuts or cracks in the sidewall, bulges, blisters or tread distortion due to age, accidents or poor maintenance, they should be inspected by a tire professional to make sure they are safe. It’s likely time for a replacement to prevent a blowout.
How to make winter tires last longer?
Using them only in cold weather as well as proper maintenance and storage will help them last longer.
Check your tire pressure
All tires lose air over time – typically 1 PSI per month due to permeation. In addition, tires lose pressure as temperatures drop due to ambient air temperature (about 1 psi for every 10°F) and running cooler (less heat buildup).
Keeping your tires at the right pressure is important so that the tire performs properly, ensuring your safety, and so that the tires wear out evenly – maximizing lifespan. An over-inflated tire will wear faster in the middle of the tread, while an under-inflated tire will wear faster on the outside of the tread. Uneven wear can lead to vibration and flat tires.
Check the pressure once a month. Be sure to check the pressure when your tires are cold (ie. before you drive your car), since pressure increases after driving. A variety of easy-to-use tire gauges and tire inflators are available at auto parts stores including Canadian Tire and Amazon.
What pressure should winter tires be?
The recommended tire pressure in PSI (pounds per square inch) is determined by the vehicle, not by tire. The pressure indicated on the sidewall of tires is the manufacturer’s maximum tire pressure allowed according to Consumer Reports.
The ideal recommended tire pressure for your car is found on the information sticker inside the driver’s door and in your owner’s manual.
For most vehicles, the stated pressure applies to both summer and winter driving conditions. Additional air must be added as the temperature drops in the fall and winter to maintain the same pressure.
Measurements should be taken in typical outdoor temperatures. If adjustments are made in a garage, temperatures can be up to 30 ˚C higher than outside and the resulting tire pressure will be too low for winter driving.
Some manufacturers may recommend that you inflate your tires 3 to 5 PSI higher than your car’s recommended level for summer driving for winter driving in cold temperatures.
Inspect your tires regularly
Inspect the tread of each tire every time you fill up your gas tank. Walk around your vehicle and look for any damage, objects stuck in the tread, or uneven wear.
Clean tires (and rims)
Taking your vehicle to a car wash periodically throughout the winter months (when it’s above 0C) to clean off the salt and debris.
In the spring, after taking them off your car, wash the wheels with hot water and soap, wipe them dry and let them air dry completely before putting them into storage.
You can also spray with a rust inhibitor and every year or two you can use a wire brush or sandpaper to remove the rust and then paint them with an anti-rust paint.
Store them in proper conditions
Store tires in a dry (away from solvents, lubricants, fuels, chemicals), dark (in tire bags to limit their exposure to UV radiation) and cool (below 15ºC) place to slow the aging process and help prevent them from drying out, hardening, and developing cracks. Make sure that the rims and tires are dry before bagging them in large garbage bags, tire storage bags or tire covers.
Store them far away from electric motors (e.g. furnace, sump-pump), because electric motors give off small amounts of ozone that can damage them.
If tires are on rims, stack them on each other, no more than 4 high. If they are not on rims, stand them on end and turn them a bit once a month. Maintain the vehicle manufacturer recommended air pressure.
Some retailers and storage companies offer to store them for you for $40 to $100 per season.
Tires should be rotated when installed each season or every 10,000 to 13,000 km.
If storing your own, or changing them yourself, be sure to use a tire pen or marker to mark where they were on the car (FR for Front Right, RR for Rear Right, etc.), before you store them away for the season so you’ll know where to put them next time.
Balancing and alignment
When first installed on wheels, your tires will be balanced so that they spin properly. They should not need to be rebalanced unless they are damaged. If your car’s steering wheel is shaking while you are driving in a straight line, you should have a tire professional check your balance and alignment.
It is a good idea to have a tire shop check your wheel alignment when you do a seasonal tire swap. Most tire shops will check your alignment for no fee or a small fee, though if you need an alignment it will cost from $100 to $200 or more, depending on the shop. Wheels should be aligned properly so that tires do not wear unevenly. Uneven wear can lead to early replacement or, even worse, tire failure.
Should I downsize my winter tires?
Downsizing (or minus sizing) is when you use a rim with a smaller diameter and compensate with a tire that has a taller sidewall for winter driving. The overall diameter of the wheel and tire together is kept the same (within +/-3% of the diameter/height of the original tire) to ensure your odometer reading stays accurate and the brakes can function properly.
The benefits can be as follows:
- Smaller wheels are cheaper
- Taller sidewall creates a longer footprint (or contact patch), where the tire touches the ground and helps absorb the impacts from the road
- Narrower tires’ skinnier contact patch are better in deep snow because they are able to slice through it rather than ploughing through it or floating on top of it. Think of a pizza cutter cutting down through the cheese and dough of a pizza to get through to the pan.
You can typically downsize one size smaller (an inch, maybe two), but the wheel must still be large enough to fit around the brake caliper. Here is an example calculation. To be safe, go with the smallest tire option in your owner’s manual.
Should I get 2 or 4 winter tires?
Using only 2 winter tires out of 4 can be better than 4 all-seasons, can have severe consequences. Transport Canada and the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada both recommend installing the same brand and model of winter tires on all 4 wheels to maximize control and stability. This also helps them last longer as they will wear out evenly.
For example, if you were to mount 2 winter tires in the front, you would feel secure traction going into a corner but halfway through, when forces start shifting, the back end may not be able to keep up and could cause you to spin out.
Conversely, if you mount 2 tires on the rear, you may have better acceleration with a rear wheel drive vehicle, but the non winter tires in the front may not be able to grip enough to direct the car around a turn and you could end up in a ditch.
That said, if you can only afford to install 2 winter tires, the general rule is that you want them on your rear wheels regardless of whether the vehicle is FWD, RWD or AWD.
Can you use tire chains on all-seasons instead?
In British Columbia, chains on summer tires are not an acceptable substitute for legal winter tires.
Our guide Are Winter Tires Mandatory? – Laws by Province outlines where and when tire chains are permitted by province.
Do I need studded winter tires?
Studded tires provide excellent traction on icy and hard-packed snow-covered roads, but they come at the expense of noise and ride comfort and may cause damage to paved roads and driveways.
They are not really suited to deep snow conditions and studies have shown they work best around the 0°C mark that can produce black ice conditions. Check your local regulations because they are restricted in some areas and/or at a certain time of year.
Ice radials vs. snow treads
An ice radial is the modern version of a hybrid winter tire. Originally, winter treads had to have deep and wide grooves to provide traction in winter weather and the payoff was ride harshness and noise.
An ice radial tends to look more like an all-season tire (rounded and smoother) than larger snow tread tires (larger square cut grooves). Both have sipes cut into the lugs to provide grip and traction. Unless you regularly deal with severe winter roads covered with deep snow, stick to ice radials for a quieter ride and better fuel mileage.
Where to buy winter tires
In Canada, the most popular brick-and-mortar retailers are:
The most popular online retailers are:
What is the best time to buy winter tires?
If you need them now, rebate offers typically start in late September and early October as retailers have received their new stock, but consumers’ aren’t yet thinking about buying new tires and the winter tire change rush hasn’t started because the snow hasn’t hit yet. If you’re buying used, this is the right time to buy as people are buying replacements.
If you can afford to wait, better deals can be found during season closeout clearance sales at the end of winter in April or May as retailers are looking to get rid of previous years’ stock so they don’t have to store them and to make space for all-season/summer stock.
However, selection can be limited to less popular models, incomplete sets or older stock (3+ years old). Be sure to check the manufacturing date before buying or at least before installing them on your vehicle. You also lose half a year of shelf life as you won’t use them until the next winter.
Over to you
What kind of winter tires do you have for your vehicle? How long have you had them and what do you think about the handling, traction, noise and fuel efficiency? Let me know by leaving a comment below!
I know most of this information as I work in transportation. My kids on the other hand do not. It was very helpful to them (i sent them the article) and me, as kids don’t always listen to their parents. lol .
Has anyone gotten off wheelsnearme.ca ? They have a sale right now…
BC, particularly Vancouver, has occasionally wet, slushy snow and not usually very cold winters. Occasionally, we will have a heavy snowfall but the roads are mostly slushy with ice below…and rain. Having said this, it is hilly and the streets are poorly maintained if it does snow. We also like driving up to Whistler, the local mountains or interior where we can encounter a lot of snow and real winter driving conditions and snow tires are mandated for those highways. Question is: what is best snow tire for milder winters that can have a lot of snow and slush but also need to be good in rain? Extreme cold (less than -10c) not a huge concern.
I use Nokkian R3 in Vancouver on a RWD Tesla M3. I used to have a BMW 335 RWD and without winter tires this car cannot go up a tiny incline with any snow. The model 3 with Nokkians provide a better driving experience than my 4WD SUV without winters. Best investment I ever made.
Has someone used the Cooper Discoverer True North. My sis purchased a set for 2014 Tacoma, even though I advised her to go something like Nokia (Nordman), Continental, Toyo GSi-5, Bridgestone (I installed a lot of these over the years), Yokohama.
I had set of Cooper CS3 once, and they were very inspiring. Wore out quickly, dry and wet traction leaving a lot to be desired. Something like Michelin Defender, Pirelli P4, and others run circles around them.
Also how about the new Michelin Cross Climate tires, as people in Northern Europe say the Michelin designation as All-weather tire is very misleading and they shouldn’t be used in snow conditions.
Maybe article about All-weather tires would be a nice addition, especially for those who don’t really need a winter specific tires or don’t have space to store them. My friends are quite happy with a set of Nokia WR G4 , but they wear much faster than all-season (3 season) tires.
I have used several different winter tires and have found the Goodyear Nordics, Toyo winter tires to be very good in deep snow, less in the ice and dry/rain/hydroplane. Cooper Weather Master were a good all around winter tire, Sailun Ice Blazer WST1 were very decent in snow/deep snow, techno remolded winter tires ts690 were very good all around except they have to be changed as soon as the winter weather is over. Certified Winter Trek with studs are an interesting choice unfortunately there is no actual tire testing for them or the motomaster winter edge or winter edge HD.
I 100% agree with the General Altimax Arctics as they were the best cheap winter tire I have ever used on my car to date and rarely had them slip on ice or hard-packed snow even without studs! Next review you do you need to test the Certified Winter Trek from Canadian Tire! My wife has the Winter Treks on her car and they are as good as the General Altimax but even cheaper!
this is a very helpful article, thank you
Great article. In my experience having two set of tires is a lot more costly because of the cost of removing one set and replacing it with another if you have two sets of wheels and even more if you only have one. Most good performing tires (which is what you are writing about) will last more than three years on an averagely driven vehicle. Snow tires don’t last nearly as long as AS and are very susceptible to excessive wear If they are not removed as soon as it is safe to do so. Having summer only tires means you might have to have them mounted Oct-May. Reality is unless you do it yourself with two sets you are going to wait up to three weeks in fast growing areas to have them changed over and longer if you need them dismounted and mounted on a set of wheels.