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Winter tires 101

We're halfway through the snowy season, and perhaps like many folks in Canada, you're wondering if you can get through another winter without putting snow tires on your car. Unless you live in Quebec, where winter tires are mandatory between Dec. 15 and March 15, it's still up to individual drivers to decide whether winter tires are worth the extra expense.

Richard Bender, a 42-year veteran of the tire business and director of business development for the Tire Discounter Group, thinks it's a no-brainer. "Everybody should put winter tires on, without any question," he says. "If you drive a car in Canada, you need winter tires. It's part of our culture."

At least one insurance company, Desjardin General Insurance, agrees, offering a five per cent discount to Ontario motorists who install four winter tires.

Still not convinced? Perhaps you're thinking your all-season tires will do the job or you've never gotten stuck before. Bankrate spoke to three experts as to why you may want to think again.

"I've never gotten stuck. I'm a good driver."
"I'm not really concerned if you get stuck in your driveway -- shovel your driveway," says Rijad Cehajic, senior assistant manager at Kal Tire in Mississauga, Ontario. "But I do want you to avoid a collision."

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And winter tires can help do that. According to a study by Transport Canada and The Rubber Association of Canada, it takes 30 per cent to 40 per cent longer to stop with all-season tires than with winter tires. In cornering tests, all-season tires went off the track at speeds of 40 to 50 km/h, while winter tires stayed on course. To see demonstrations of the difference, visit Be Tire Smart.

Experts agree that the best way to get the most from winter tires is to drive according to conditions and install four tires, not two. Using only two winter tires creates an unstable, unbalanced vehicle, regardless of whether your car is rear-wheel or front-wheel drive.

And don't be fooled that having traction control, four-wheel drive or an anti-lock brake system, or ABS, will give you better control while driving -- only winter tires can increase your grip on the road.

"We don't get much snow here."
"I don't like the term all-season tire," says Bender. "It's an all-season if you live in Phoenix, Arizona. We don't. It's a three-season tire, not a winter tire."

That's because snow isn't the only hazard when it comes to winter driving. Slush, ice and even cold, dry pavement can create dangerous driving conditions.

"An all-season tire gets very hard and brittle in the cold weather and then ends up being like a hockey puck sliding along the asphalt," says Cehajic. "Winter tires are very soft, so they'll give you traction on dry, cold pavement."

And therein lies one of the biggest differences between winter and all-season tires: the rubber compound.

(continued on next page)
-- Posted: Jan. 18, 2010
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