“My all season tires are good enough.” This sentence is often heard, even during Calgary winters while we fight the snowy weather on our missions to get where we’re going.
However, anyone who has experienced the benefits of winter tires knows the truth: All season tires, despite the name, are not good enough for all seasons. Most certainly not Calgary’s seasons.
“All season tires” should really be read like this:
“All season* tires (* seasonal flexibility refers to wet and dry seasons, not hot and cold.)”
This is something we tell students a lot at our Calgary driving school. This is because the defining feature of an “all season” tire is the tread patterns, which are designed to prevent hydroplaning on wet roads.
The Hydroplaning Hazard
Hydroplaning happens when the tire can’t move water through its treads at a high enough volume to maintain contact with the road. This causes the driver to lose control of the vehicle. All season* tires help you keep control of your vehicle by moving water through the treads more efficiently.
But how does this tread design help in cold temperatures?
Answer: It doesn’t… at all.
Basic Science of Cold Weather Driving
The problem with all season* tires in cold weather is that the rubber begins to harden below 7°C. And once the temperature drops to -10°C, the tire material becomes more like a hard plastic than a flexible rubber.
When a vehicle hits a patch of ice in temperatures below -10°C, those all season* tires are not going to have much – if any – traction. Simply put, your vehicle might as well have summer tires.
Even when it comes to driving on snow, the treads in all season tires* are just too thin to maintain traction effectively.
In other words, tires designed for wet weather are simply not good enough for cold weather.
Why Winter Tires Work
Winter tires, on the other hand, are made with a rubber material designed to be more resistant to cold temperatures. When the temperature falls well below zero, they maintain their rubbery flexibility and will not lose nearly as much traction on snow or ice. The distance required to stop the vehicle is reduced dramatically when tires work like they should.
Think about it: When you’re coming towards a busy intersection and need to know accurate braking distance, do you want hardened tires with limited traction? Probably not. This is the situation that all season* tires put you in, and that winter tires save you from.
The Right Rubber + Treads Tailored to Winter = Ultimate Safety
While the material used in winter tires is the most important feature, tread design is important too.
All season* tires have thinner treads that are incapable of tackling thick snow. In contrast, winter tire treads are specifically designed to take on snow and further increase the surface area of the tire’s contact with the snow – increased surface area means more friction, which means better traction.
More advanced winter tires even come with small metal studs embedded into the rubber, providing even more grip to prevent the vehicle from slip-sliding away.
Winter Tires and The Law
The province of Quebec has already made winter tires mandatory between December 15 and March 15, and for very good reason! Just look up videos of winter driving in Quebec and you will see why winter tires are legally required there.
In addition, Alberta and British Columbia have them as a requirement to drive in more mountainous areas. For example, it is illegal to drive the Coquihalla Highway (AKA: Highway 5) in BC without winter tires.
Other provinces are looking at introducing similar legislation, also for very good reasons (think preventing loss of life, serious injuries, and expensive property damage).
Only winter tires are appropriate for Canadian winters – all season* tires don’t cut it!