It's Winter Tire Time Again

Winter Tire Regulatory SignI remember when I was a teenager working in my father's service station. On the day of the first snowfall our customers would be lined up in the driveway to have their winter tires installed when we arrived to start the day. We did nothing but install tires and our air compressor didn't get any rest until after we had shut the bay doors and left for home.

It seemed like no one ever put their winter tires on ahead of time.

Today there is no guessing. On B.C. highways that are marked with signs requiring winter tires the date for having them installed is October 1. Incidentally, that is also the day that studded tires become legal to use on the roads as well.

Before October 1, keep an eye on your thermometer. Once the temperature dips below 7 degrees Celsius when you are driving, true winter tires become the better option for traction whether there is snow on the ground or not.

Chances are good that the tires you drive on every day meet the bare minimum requirements to be considered a winter tire for the purposes of these signs. It's rare to find a tire that is not marked M+S, but don't be lulled into a false sense of security as that M+S marking doesn't mean much when it comes to describing traction capability.

If you want the best traction in heavy snow and ice conditions a true winter tire that is marked with the mountain and snowflake symbol should be your choice.

Winter Tire Symbol

True winter tires should be installed in sets of four, all with similar tread depth of at least 3.5 mm and correct pressure according to the vehicle's tire placard which is usually found in the driver's door opening of your vehicle.

tire pressure placard

Beware that the traction of any tire becomes reduced as it reaches the minimum tread depth. In fact, you may want to consider if the legal minumum tread depth is enough for you.

Speaking of traction, you should also keep in mind that the true winter tire is designed for driving on ice and snow. When you are driving on pavement that is only wet or dry, you handling and braking distances may not be the same as they would be with an M+S all season tire. Adjust your speed and following distance accordingly.

Will you be renting a car as part of your winter vacation? Beware that these vehicles often do not come with true winter tires installed. You would be wise to inquire and make arrangements with the rental company well ahead of time.

Fortunately, there was never a spring rush at the service station to have winter tires removed. Customers decided on their own when to remove them and some even had us pull the studs out so that they could continue to use their winter tires all year around.

April 1 is the first winter tire free day on posted highways. You may continue to use the winter tires from here until next October 1 if you wish to, but this is not a good choice. Winter tires wear faster in non-winter conditions and should be removed when temperatures are consistently above 7 degrees Celsius.

Studded winter tires must be removed by April 30 each year.

Hi there - winter tires are a must for me - living on Salt Spring Island with all the hills, even with my front wheel drive Prius, there are many places I couldn't make it. Also, I notice there is better traction in the rain. Not often do I drive to places where is consistent snow in the winter - but sometimes, you never know - like a trip to Tofino, or to California on the I-5.

When I was a kid, studded snows were mandatory in our house. Winnipeg has lots of snow - or at least in those days did. Aside from studded snows, we carried sand in the back for traction and emergencies, blankets, candles, and a shovel. Plus I was taught about stopping in snow. A great intro to my driving life.

Just wondering what the professional input on those who only put snowies on the drive, re:  front or rear?

I’m guessing this is due to cost, but is it really useful?  Course these are the same owners who never change them either.

In reply to by Leisa

We used to tell customers at my father's service station to put the winters on the back.

Of course that was in the days before front wheel drive, and long, long before ABS, traction control and the like.

The best advice today, if you can afford it, is winter tires on all 4 wheels. If not, you risk some safety systems not working as they were intended to.

Not really sure when attitudes started to change but at one time very few ever considered putting snow tires on the non driving axle. Today I don't know anyone that doesn't.

Two thoughts come to mind. 4 wheel drive pick-ups becoming more common. People started to recognize that snow tires on the front was a vast improvement for handling. Then when they started putting ABS on the back axles of pick-ups. For people that used pick-ups for what they were meant for, hauling weight the front end was a real challenge to keep from locking up.

Thanks for the reminder that the newly installed winters sure do change up the braking and handling in this warmy, sunny, dry October.

Related to using winters in summer:

My ex-wife asked me to collect her at the airport with her truck. I never drive it, but okay...

My daughter and I load her mom's luggage into the truck at the Comox airport. Anne takes over driving duties and asks me what had I been doing to her vehicle? She said it feels like the front tires are all over the place!

Her mechanic test drove the truck and said I can't help you. You need new tires on the front. You drove your winters year round and now the belts are moving inside the tires.

I love the story that you worked in your dad's shop doing winter installs! Seems the perfect background for traffic enforcement.