Two or Four Winter Tires?

Winter tire on carI began driving my own car in the mid-fifties and I always used winter tires on the rear only during the winter months. Based on about thirty years of experience, I feel that I am quite capable of managing winter driving with the traction arrangement I had for rear drive in the past. However, I am not interested in contravening any legislated law or regulation. Is there a law that requires me to have winter tires on all 4 wheels of my new rear wheel drive only pickup?

Based on my experience as a collision analyst, I can tell you that any vehicle will steer more predictably if the traction at each wheel is the same. Whether you choose to use four all season tires or four winter tires is up to you, but operating with two all season tires on one end and two winter tires on the other is an invitation to problems.

Mixing tire types will affect both steering and braking. Having different sets of tires on front and rear axles may cause one end of the vehicle to lose traction before the other in a turn. Depending on the conditions, this could include having four winter tires or four all season tires where the pairs have different tread patterns or traction characteristics.

In terms of braking, four all season tires may be good, two of each may be better, but the best is still four matched winter tires. Braking distances will also differ if the two winter tires of a mixed set are on the front instead of on the rear.

There are two rules in British Columbia regarding four matched tires on vehicles with four wheels. If the front tires are studded, the rear tires must be also, and tire types may not be mixed. All 4 must be radial ply or all 4 must be bias ply, although I'm not sure that one can find a bias ply tire for their car today.

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You were very polite with the questioner. In fact the front wheels do the majority of the braking and all of the steering so why would you put a lesser tire on the front when these are the two most important jobs tires do. Just look at the size of the front brake discs versus rear discs and you will see very clearly which tires do the lions share of the braking. Additionally IMHO all season tires are about the next best thing to useless. They don’t perform well as a summer tire or as a winter tire.

I spoke with the owner of Kal Tire, he is an old high school friend and I trust him. I bought 4 all season radials for my X-Terra ax. While in there I quizzed him about the dedicated winter tires. He tells me that they are constructed in such a way that when cooler temperatures prevail, they are softer and thus adhere to the road better. he further advises that if they are put on too early or left on too late in the season, they will wear out at a much, much faster rate due to their softer materiel. I thought this may be a good point to mention as this would reduce their tread depth and thus their safety and traction.

Most tires come with a "wear" rating.  What are yours rated for, 40,000km or 60,000km?  If the tires were the special walnut shell impregnated (or some such marketing ploy), there may be a valid concern.  From personal experience, I  bought four "winter" tires (they have the little snowflake/mountain insignia on them) and they have a 60,000km rating.  To me, that doesn't sound like a fast wearing tire.  And just as a note in passing, I run them all year, and I don't see accelerated wear happening.

In reply to by Paul L (not verified)

Although you may not see accelerated wear, did you know it's not safe to use winter tires in spring & summer, they are designed for cooler temperatures like +7 C and lower, they do not handle or stop the same on warmer roads,they lose their grip.


I too began my lengthy driving career in rear wheel drive vehicles with winter tires on the back and summer (later “all seasons”) on the front. I agree that traction in winter was manageable with that configuration. However, I have found that it is not the same with front wheel drive. As the majority of passenger vehicles on the road now are FWD, perhaps it should have been emphasized that putting tires with less traction on the rear of FWD vehicles will compromise vehicle stability on snow and ice. Even the common practice of putting new tires on the front, and the “best of the rest” on the rear, is asking for trouble.

You mentioned in the article only “All Season”, now more appropriately named “3-Season”, and winter tires. There is a relatively new category of “All Weather” tires that should be mentioned. All Weather tires are winter rated, but suitable for all year use in BC’s varied climate. The designs combine features of 3-season tires with softer tread compounds to provide good traction in winter with reasonable tire life. Many come with tread life warranties only slightly less than comparable 3-season tires. Nokian and Nordman are the brands with the most All Weather options for passenger vehicles. Those brands, and may others including Michelin, Yokohama, and Goodyear, offer All Weather, or All Terrain winter rated, tires for Light Trucks, SUV’s, and Vans. For most of the province, they are the best option for 4WD vehicles that are driven primarily on pavement.

Finally, a suggestion for a future column. I think it would be helpful if you clarified for drivers the requirement for “winter tires” on certain roads. That should include the explanation of the “mountain snow flake” symbol, and that some All Terrain M + S tires are acceptable if they meet a minimum tread depth. Also, perhaps a comment on how the winter tire requirement is applied to motorcycles; I have heard that in some areas, the RCMP are more aggressive in enforcing that on motorcycles than the government is expecting.

For those contemplating the purchase of a set of Winter tires, and wondering what to buy, may I recommend an investment of $5.99 for the current (December 2015) issue of Car and Driver magazine?

They did a thorough evaluation of the top six brands, (snowcross lap time, snow acceleration, snow braking, ice acceleration, ice braking), up in Lapland north of the arctic circle.  Warning!  The best really do cost more.

But hey, those four contact patches are all you have to stay in control of the vehicle. 

I remember my dad being laughed at when he put snow tires on the front of our vehicles in the first part of the 50"s.

The worst was when due to people buying pickups for personal use and putting no weight in the bed, ABS was put on the rear wheels only. What a nightmare that was for us that used pickups for what they were meant, to haul equipment. At the time I was working for a company that only put snow tires on the rear. Driving on industrial roads with no sand you just had to touch the brakes and the front end would lock up. Thankfully I was able to convince them to put 4 studded tires. Also the price of 4 x 4 were coming down and the 2wd were soon replaced.

If one lives in the interior I still think you can't beat 4 studded tires.