Posted on October 30, 2018
How to Pick the Best Winter Tires for Your Car or Truck?
Winter’s on her way, Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton, and if you haven’t picked out your new winter tires, the time is now. Many drivers in the more urban parts of Southern Ontario believe that winter tires aren’t necessary, or that they’re an added expense that really isn’t a priority. And while we may be exempt from some of the non-stop snowmageddon storms toughed out by our neighbours north of Barrie, winter tires are just as important when freezing rain drops down on your winter commute. Check out these 10 steps to help you make the best decision about winter tires in the GTA.
Before you begin your search for the best winter tires for your vehicle, we cannot stress enough those words your vehicle. What works for your cousin Joe or his tire-expert best friend in the winter wheels department isn’t necessarily the best choice for your vehicle type and driving habits. Keep your own best interests and your budget in focus as you follow these steps:
1. Tire size matters
You may be new to driving, or perhaps just new to the idea of buying winter tires. The first thing the tire salesperson will want to know is which size tire your vehicle requires. Winter tires and summer tires must be the same size.
How do I figure out what size my tires are?
To determine the size of your vehicle’s tires, look at the sidewall. You’ll see a code like this: P225/60 R17. How to read a tire code: 225 – This number corresponds to the width of the tread, the part of the tire that touches the road, in millimetres. 60 – This number shows the ratio (as a percentage) between the top of your tire (sidewall height) and the width of the tread (each section width). 17 – This number lets you know the interior diameter of the tire, in inches.
2. Know the roads most travelled (by you)
This is a must-know when choosing winter tires. Are you most often on city streets, side roads, the 400 series expressways? If you’re a frequent driver, it makes good sense to invest in high-quality tires. And if you drive a compact car, which is more likely to skid in poor weather situations, spring for the better set of snow tires. If you’re a city driver for the most part, winter tires with a good price-to-quality ratio will serve you well.
3. Take an in-person look at the tires
Go to the store. I know, you’re getting quite used to online shopping and what could be more boring than looking at TIRES? But here’s the thing, an in-person comparison shop lets you see the quality of the various tires available out there, everything from the grooves, flexibility, and lateral stiffness. Plus, new tires smell kinda good, you know? Again with bigger is better: larger grooves provide better traction on slippery winter surfaces, flicking away snow and slush so your tire can meet the pavement directly. You want that.
4. Answer your tire salesperson’s questions
Annual mileage? Routine use? Where you live and what you’d like to spend? A top-notch tire sales rep asks all the right questions. Tires are directly connected to the safety of you and your passengers, and a good salesperson cares about this aspect of sealing the deal. Are these the best possible tires for you? A super-thorough sales rep will also ask if you want reinforced tires (better control when turning, anyone?) and will run you through the different types of treads (studs, no studs), as well as the pros and cons of each option. Noisy car? It may have a lot to do with your tires.
5. Did you know there are snow tires and ice tires?
I had no idea there were ice tires. There, I said it. I knew about snow tires at birth, but wow, they make ice tires, too? They do, and ice tires are considered to be superior, offering top-level traction on snow AND ice. Snow tires are not always equally gifted this way. If you drive most of the time on highways and dry roads, ice tires are your best bet. If you’re a downtown driver, opt for tires with better traction to help you plough through those stubborn city snowbanks.
6. Handling & braking and your winter tires
How your car brakes and handles in bad weather is heavily impacted by your choice of winter tires. That’s why your insurance company rep smiles when you tell her you have winter tires. When temps drop down below 7°C, those all-season tires you’ve been swearing by lose way too much traction and flexibility. Drive safe, spring for those winter tires. With better quality winter tires, your vehicle will brake more effectively and handle better when turning. Don’t be the driver who makes other people point and gasp in horror when the first snowstorm hits.
7. Compare UTQG ratings
What the…? The UTQC is the Uniform Tire Quality Grade performance rating. All North American (and some European) tires have this rating. This three-factor rating focuses on three elements that measure a tire’s resistance.
Treadwear grade: These ratings usually fall between 60 and 700. The higher the rating, the more resistant the tire).
Traction grade: Ranging from AA for the highest level of traction to A, B, and C grades (tires with the best traction let vehicles stop on wet surfaces without swerving).
Temperature grade: This ranges from A to C.
A word of caution: all manufacturers have their own standards. Compare ratings for one brand at a time to make the best decision.
8. Insist on several possibilities
The daily deal is always tempting, but don’t go for the first suggestion—especially since such deals are often mail-in rebates (not always as straightforward as they may sound) or some sort of company promotion, and thus not necessarily the best tire for your specific vehicle.
Ask for several options. This allows you to choose your winter tires from among several models, varying in price and features, and addressing your specific needs.
9. Mix and match is fun—but not with tires
We all know the car owner. Maybe we have even been that car owner, the one with two tires by one brand, one by another, and a fourth inherited from cousin Joe. Economics are usually the reason for this decision, but driving on different tire types can lead to premature wearing, and poor handling. When you try to save money by mixing and matching, there will often be even larger costs down the line.
If you’re driving a 4x4, this is even more crucial. Install four identical tires of the same brand or you’ll be stressing your vehicle’s differential. And that, budget-conscious friends, means more money spent later on.
10. Watch your wallet
Budget is an important factor in your choice of tires. Hey, it’s important when we buy anything important to our safety and well-being. Compare prices. Visit multiple stores. Do your homework online to help your initial research, but do see tires in person, as we recommended earlier. Deals and promotions that suit your needs are always a great way to save money. Financing is also an option if the tires you want are a little out of reach as the winter season bears down.
If you’re brand new to car ownership, here’s a little Tire Anatomy 101 to help you master the lingo before you hit the tire shops:
A. Tire Belts
Rubber-coated layers of steel, fiberglass, rayon, and other materials located between the tread and plies, crisscrossing at angles, hold the plies in place. Belts provide resistance to punctures and help treads stay flat and in contact with the road.
B. Tire Sipes
Sipes are special treads within the tread that improve traction on wet, dirty, sandy, or snowy road surfaces.
C. Tire Tread
The portion of the tire that comes in contact with the road.
D. Tire Grooves
The spaces between two adjacent tread ribs are also called tread grooves. These allow water to escape effectively.
E. Tire Shoulder
The outer edge of the tread that wraps into the sidewall area.
F. Tire Sidewall
The sidewall of the tire protects cord plies and features tire markings and information such as tire size and type.
G. Tire Inner Liner
This is the innermost layer of a tubeless tire that prevents air from penetrating the tire.
H. Tire Bead
A rubber-coated loop of high-strength steel cable that allows a tire to stay "seated" on a rim.
I. Tire Body Plies
This is the tire itself, made up of several layers of plies. Plies, like polyester cord, run perpendicular to the tire's tread and are coated with rubber to help bond with other plies and belts to seal in air. Plies give tires strength and resistance to road damage.
There’s no such thing as a perfect tire. Even those super-expensive, extremely specialized tires have their strengths and weaknesses. As with most purchases, an element of compromise will figure into the choice you make. Your best tools when shopping for winter tires are: comparisons, and questions, questions, questions. Lastly, don’t wait too long to pick out your winter tires and have them installed. After November 1, demand increases—and the price along with it.