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Winter tires 101

"Tire technology has changed dramatically in the last 15 years or so," says Gilles Paquette, communications manager for The Rubber Association of Canada. "We're seeing extremely supple rubber compounds that remain elastic and grip the road a much lower temperatures -- we're talking minus 30 degrees Celsius."

A good rule of thumb is to change over to winter tires once the temperature stays below seven degrees Celsius and then switch back in the spring once the temperature rises above that threshold.

How to choose
"It's extremely important to talk to a tire professional," says Paquette. "You need people that know the types of weather you're going to get in your region and the type of product that's best. They can give you almost a prescription for what's best for you, based on your driving habits."

While the price of tires can vary considerably, from $60 to several hundred dollars each, don't be tempted to shop solely on price.

"Don't jump on the first tire because it's $69.95 on sale, regular $89.99. That's how you should buy slippers, but not tires," says Bender. "Tell your tire seller your specific needs and ask questions."

For example, if you drive to the cottage to go skiing each weekend, you'll need a more aggressive tire than if you only drive in the city on weekends.
And not all winter tires are created equal, says Paquette. While a snow tire typically features big, blocky soft tread with lots of void, or spacing, between the blocks, which works to spit snow out the back while driving, a tire that specializes in ice traction has a smoother, denser surface to maximize contact with the pavement.

As for buying used, it's an option, but it's also a risk.

"You don't know if that tire has taken some sort of impact, if they've gone brittle or been left outside all summer," says Cehajic. "Because you're buying winter tires strictly for safety, I don't think that's a shortcut you should take. You're defeating the purpose of buying a safe tire."

"If snow tires can help you avoid one collision, they're paid for," he Cehajic.

What else to know
Tires marked with "M + S" or labeled "mud and snow" tires are not true winter tires. Look for the mountain and snowflake symbol on the sidewall to ensure your winter tires meet industry snow traction performance requirements.

If you're looking to save money upfront, skip buying the extra steel wheels, saving you at least $200. It's perfectly OK to mount tires on the same wheels, says Cehajic, but there is a charge to mount and dismount tires twice a year.

The lifespan of a tire varies depending on rubber composition (the more supple the rubber compound, the faster the tread wears out) and driving distance, but you can expect your tires to last on average four seasons. Have the tread depth checked each season and keep them properly inflated for peak performance.

Fiona Wagner [] is a freelance writer in Hastings County, Ont.

-- Posted: Jan. 18, 2010
See Also
Spring car maintenance tips
Buying a car?
Winter tires 101
More auto stories
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