Winter Tires

Winter Tire SymbolOutside temperatures have dipped below 7 degrees, so it's time to consider installing your winter tires if you use them. Residents in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island might be able to get away with good all season or all weather tires if they stick close to home, but vehicles being driven in the rest of the province really should be equipped with true winter tires.

Signs requiring winter tires (or the carrying of chains depending on the vehicle type) between October 1 and April 30 are posted on most BC highways.

passenger vehicle winter tire sign

Passenger and Recreation Vehicles

commercial vehicle winter tire sign

Commercial Vehicles

Drivers who fail to obey the sign requirments may be fined and prevented from continuing their journey until they comply.

Section 208 of the Motor Vehicle Act sets out the requirements for winter tires and Division 7.162 (3) defines them:

(3) A winter tire under section 208 of the Act must be labelled on a sidewall by the manufacturer with either of the following:

(a) the 3-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol

(b) the letters "M" and "S"

A true winter tire will have a graphic of a mountain and snowflake symbol along with the M+S designation. All season tires are not principally winter tires, even though they may say M+S or Mud and Snow on the sidewalls.

If the tread depth is less than 3.5 mm, winter tires are considered to be worn out. Beware, as the tread wear bars on most tires begin to show at 1.6 mm, which is the minimum for summer season tires. Use a tread depth gauge to be sure.

All season tires, winter tires or studded winter tires, how do you decide? If you will be doing any driving where there is regular snow and ice, all season tires are not a good choice. If you want to use the tires between May 1 and September 30, studded tires are also out of the question. If your vehicle is a front wheel drive the law says that if you choose to use studded tires, you must use four studded tires.

It gets more complicated yet! Tires really should go on in sets of four. This takes the best advantage of ABS, traction control or electronic stability control. For the same reason, use only the tire size specified by the vehicle manufacturer found on the vehicle's tire placard or in your owner's manual. If you can only afford two, put the new tires on the rear.

Traction AA, Temperature B, Tread Wear 250. The Uniform Tire Quality Grade rating gives drivers consistent and reliable information regarding tire performance. This information is also found printed on the tire sidewall and may be used as a guide along with other information about the particular tire.

Ready to give up and buy the first tire that you see within your budget? The Automobile Protection Association discusses tire choices in simple terms and has a current guide that is available to the public.

When you consider that the average passenger car has about as much tread in contact with the road as the area covered by a pair of adult feet, it makes sense to maximize the quality of that contact. Use the services of a tire professional to guide your choices if you are not sure of what to do.

Designated Winter Tire Routes:

I've been seeing and hearing many ads on television and radio stating that we all should be driving with winter tires when the temperature drops below 7 degrees Celcius.

One radio news station quoted shade tree mechanic saying it is not necessary in Vancouver, despite  our climate where even in winter where we may not get much snow, the ambient temperature is below 7 C. 

Are all seasons sufficient in and around Vancouver City (excluding the mountains and interior regions)?

When you have to drive on hills covered in greasy, wet snow and find yourself sliding backward headed for parked cars and unable to brake, accelerate or steer, which would you rather have, the all seasons that you are driving on or winter tires? The winters may not make a difference in this case, but there is a better chance that they will.

What about on wet or icy roads on the mainland and especially when you have to suddenly brake or even brake slightly? As the temperature drops, non-winter tires loose elasticity and the grip they have on the road. Consequently, are poor performers in cooler temperatures. I was told the threshold is below 5-6 C, but recently it seems to be upped to 7C.

And interestingly enough, North American is the only place in the world (so I have been told) where we have All Season tires. The rest of the world have two types: summer and winter. 

I put studded winter tires on my wife's car last time around because they are helpful with black ice, which is something commonly encountered in the lower mainland and Vancouver Island. It was a bit of a nightmare finding a business that knew how to stud the new tires properly and I'm glad that I used to stud tires as I had to have one business remove the improper sized studs that they tried to foist on me.

However, it's done and I will be installing them this weekend.

I think if you stick with tire shops like Kal-Tire, OK Tire or Canadian tire? you can have them install studs.

I also carry a set of cable chains in my trunk as well for extra protection.  

Every year around the end of September and even up to several weeks ago Canadian Tire had sales on winter tires, typically their Nordic brand manufactured by Goodyear for CT for around 25-35% off. The new Nordics have now holes in them to add studs. They're a rather well rated economical winter tire and if you add studs to them they become even better. In early fall each year, CT is known to have sale prices and also on combos of steel wheels and winter tires. This will save you time and money ever year when you mount your snow tires. Costco recently was selling generic (non hubcentric) steel wheels (rims) for less than $35 each. Personally, I see no excuse not to drive with winter tires in the lower mainland from late November on.   However, one of your collegues (@ICBC) on Twitter posted a comment that you do not need winter tires in Vancouver. The BC and lower mainland RCMP on the contrary say you should. I think that's bad and irresponsible advice of ICBC. Of course, people will go with what suits them. In this case, I can see them taking ICBC's advice and ignoring the recommendation by police.  Hence people still feel winter tires in metro vancouver is unncessary.

BTW. I remember reading something in the USA a while ago where it said the cheapest winter tire outperforms the best all season tire.

I have used Nokian All Weather tires for 3 full years in the Okanagan (Kelowna). I am used to using winter tires in winter and summer tires in summer. The All Weather tires are great for the Okanagan winters and I don't do much driving over winter passes to the West Kootenay but I have done those trips on these tires and feel confident with them in previous mountain pass trips.

The site you link us to re All Weather vs All Season tires is a bit outdated. The article (Kal Tire) should be updated as it is 2014 and the tire models listed are a bit out of date. Like the WG3 Nokian was replaced two years ago by the WG4. Otherwise the info is generally fine.

It seems to me that all of the Nokian tire owners I've known (and there are several) have been pleased and impressed with their performance.

And even though the tread wear might be less than other tires, the cost and nuisance of switching tires (including mounting and balancing) has to be factored in. (Incidentally, it's November 1st and significantly colder now, so everybody should be checking their pressures.)

Are all seasons sufficient in and around Vancouver City (excluding the mountains and interior regions)?

The municipality? Or the Lower Mainland? And what's happening with the weather, overall?

Temperatures are affected by altitude, wherever you go. One winter, I noticed that the temperature at the bottom of Capilano Road in NV dropped by 3 celcius by the time it intersected Hwy 1, and by another 3 celcius at the base of the Grouse Mountain parking lot. That will result in a tremendous difference to conditions; and, it's only another 2700 feet and you'll require skis or snowshoes to get about until springtime.

But not only altitude, but wind, can make a big difference to the ambient temperature. Plus which, there's ambient humidity. Ever notice that when they put up signs warning of freezing road surfaces on a highway, they're usually prior to crossing a bridge, over a river? (Also a great location for fog to suddenly appear.)

I've lived in and driven in many provinces, and for sure the area surrounding the lower mainland about 150 kilometers in all directions stays pretty much damp instead of frozen during the winter months, compared to the winter months. But that don't mean that you're safe on the roads around here year-round on your regular tires.

I wish they would avoid the confusion and eliminate the description of All Season and All Weather. Why not label them as either summer tires or winter tires?

For myself I have used studded tires since they came out. I appreciate that they changed when one was suppose to remove them. Up till then it was not unusual to find wet snow through the passes unfortunately those writing the regulations sitting in Victoria have a difficult time comprehending that the interior had different weather and road conditions. Fortunately I was never ticketed.

Another misconception I find is people that are driving 4 x 4 and AWD vehicles have the impression that due to the superior qualities of these vehicles summer tires or All Season are sufficient. Have you ever noticed the majority of vehicles in the ditch during a winter storm fit this category? They may accelerate better but they still have the same small patch of rubber on the road for stopping and turning.

And most importantly read the road. Know what you are driving on. That wet road you are driving on with the spray flying from the salt that has been applied is safer and offers more traction than that nice dry looking surface that suddenly started when the salt truck ran out of salt. I have seen this where I was passing vehicles when the road was wet only to have them pass me when it appeared dry. One day I had four pass me only to find three in the snowbank within 10K. They didn't realise they had gone from a wet road surfact to black ice. Pay attention.