The winter tire change is a part of life for most car owners in Canada. Once the temperatures start to dip, you take the car into the shop to have your summer or all-season tires removed and snow- and ice-ready tires installed. But is this winter tire change really worth all the hassle?
We explore the pros and cons of the winter tire change below and help you determine if this is a process you really need to go through every year.
There are a large number of positives when it comes to the winter tire change in Canada. Let’s review some of the more important benefits of swapping out all-season tires or summer tires for winter tires besides the fact that they grip better in snow and ice.
One key component to swapping out winter tires when the winter approaches has absolutely nothing to do with snow or ice. It’s all about the temperature. Many people think tires are tires, and they are all made of the same rubber. This is not the case, as many tires include a delicate blend of natural and synthetic rubber compounds along with other chemicals, and winter tires are no exception.
Specifically, winter tires use more natural rubber than summer or all-season tires, which helps maintain flexibility as the temperature falls below 7 degrees Celsius. In particular, this soft rubber compound allows your car to handle better on dry, cold roads, and generally gives you a softer ride in low temperatures.
In addition to better handling and a softer ride (even when it's dry), the unique rubber compound found in winter tires helps prevent the tread compound from freezing and the tread blocks from breaking off. Summer and all-season tires, by contrast, tend to harden and wear more quickly when driving in temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius.
Not only will this save your non-winter tires from unnecessary wear on the treads, but, using your summer and all-season tires only part of the year will further extend the life of your all-season or summer tires due to the reduced number of kilometres you put on them.
So, the seasonal tire change helps extend your tires’ lives in two ways.
A great way to save on the cost of winter tire swaps is to mount them on rims you only use in the wintertime. This means all you need to do is bolt them up as the seasons change instead of having to pay to dismount your summer tires and then pay the tire installation and balancing fees on the winter tires.
This also means you can reserve your nicest set of wheels for the warmer months and switch to less expensive wheels for winter driving. So, if you slide and hit a curb or the salt on the road creates pits, you aren’t doing this to expensive wheels.
You may think the winter tire changeover doesn’t apply because you have all-season tires. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but “all-season” is more like “most seasons,” as all-season tires can handle a light dusting of snow and intermittent frigid temps, but they aren’t cut out for the long, cold, and snowy Canadian winter.
Once the snow and ice become heavy, all-season tires lack the features needed to really bite in and grip. Plus, their rubber compound is not as soft as winter tires’ compounds in sub-zero temps, leading to a rough ride and faster tire wear.
Plus, some provinces (Quebec) legally require snow tires during certain times of the year.
Many summer and all-season tires include a tread wear warranty. However, driving in sub-freezing temperatures with these types of tires can lead to the manufacturer voiding your warranty. You may think the manufacturer won’t know what you did, but they have ways to examine tires to determine if the rubber compound was compromised by low temperatures, resulting in faster tire wear.
While there are plenty of pros to the winter tire change in Canada, you will find some cons too. Let’s look at some downsides to changing your tires when winter arrives.
One of the biggest cons is you will always have a second set of tires and wheels to store somewhere around your house. With these wheels lingering around, you’ll quickly learn that four wheels and tires take up a lot more space around your home than you might expect.
You already rotate your tires periodically, and now you’re adding at least two more lug nut removals and reinstallations annually with the use of winter tires. This extra stress can lead your lug nuts and wheel studs to wear out quickly, or worse — an inexperienced mechanic accidentally over-tightening or cross-threading the lug nuts.
You can avoid this extra stress by trying to time your annual tire swap with a scheduled oil change and tire rotation, so you’re killing two birds with one stone.
It’s easy to get lost in all the tasks you need to complete in a day, and finding the time to take the car to the shop to have someone put on your winter tires and wheels can be a pain. Sure, you can do it at home, but then you must invest in all the proper tools. This is a big con for a lot of car owners.
Fortunately, there’s something called a mobile tire change service, where a mechanic comes to your work or home to do the winter weather tire swap. But a whole new issue emerges with this, and that’s the fact that this time of year, a mobile service may have no appointments left for you.
While tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) in today’s vehicles are great conveniences, as they let you know if you have a tire that’s low on air pressure right on your dashboard, they add an extra level of inconvenience in the winter tire swap.
First, if you’re installing new tires on your wheels, you risk damaging the sensors. While you’d think many shops would cover this damage, you often sign a waiver stating you’re responsible for paying for new sensors if they break.
Second, if you use two sets of wheels, you’ll need a second set of sensors in those wheels, adding to the cost. Plus, the shop will need to recalibrate those sensors to your car every time you swap your tires, which often comes at a cost too.
If you're shopping for winter tires during the peak season, you may find difficulty securing the right tires for your car, as demand can get extremely high in some areas. This is especially true if you have a popular tire size or a hard-to-find tire size.
This could lead to you having to special order your winter tires and wait on them to arrive.
There are admittedly a few cons to the winter tire change, but at the end of the day, the peace of mind and security that winter tires offer in the sometimes treacherous Canadian winter far outweighs any drawbacks.
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