How winter tires will save you money
Southern Ontario and other parts of Canada got their first taste of winter this week and, predictably, commuting slowed to a crawl as the first snow flakes hit the roads. Fortunately, there is a technology to help motorists deal with treacherous driving conditions: It’s called the snow tire.
Today’s snow tires are more advanced than when you first started driving. According to Canadian Tire’s automotive manager, Melissa Arbour, about four years ago, manufacturers started using a special rubber composite that keeps tires soft and pliable no matter how cold it gets; so they grip the road better and — coupled with special tread patterns — make steering and braking safer.
Arbour says winter tires will stop a vehicle 25% to 50% sooner than so-called “all-seasons,” which might better be termed “three-season” tires. The latter’s performance starts to deteriorate at 7C, even if there is no actual snow. On ice, a vehicle travelling at 60 kilometres an hour stops 60 feet sooner if it has snow tires. That could be the difference between stopping safely and colliding with a vehicle in front of you.
“There’s no such thing as an all-season tire. If it’s not a winter tire, it’s not good for winter,” says Brian Patterson, president of the Ontario Safety League. In Quebec, where snow tires are now mandatory, they have reduced collisions by 18%. says a Laval University study.
Despite the greater safety, recent surveys show half of us still don’t use snow tires. Canadian Tire says 43% of Ontario drivers — and 49% of drivers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan — are not planning to install snow tires this winter.
Normally, this column is in favour of saving and investing, and opposed to mindless spending on frivolous “stuff.” But it’s fair to describe an outlay of $250 to $1,000 (depending if you choose good, better or best) for a set of four new snow tires as an investment.
Apart from personal safety, snow tires can save you money on car insurance in at least two ways. The Insurance Bureau of Canada encourages Canadian drivers to use
snow tires, says spokesman Mark Klein. Some companies, including Bel-Air Direct and Desjardins, give you a 5% premium break on car insurance rates if you use snow tires, Patterson says. Last month, a private member’s motion was tabled in the Ontario legislature, calling on the entire insurance industry to reduce premiums for users of winter tires.
Even if they don’t, it stands to reason that in the long run you’ll pay less insurance with snow tires. How so? You know what a crash will do to your insurance rates: Higher premiums over subsequent years will inevitably eclipse any “savings” from not bothering with snow tires. Drivers who accept higher deductibles in exchange for smaller premiums will be out the deductible in case of fender benders. Patterson says even a 15 km/h slide into another car can cost $2,500, which is the high figure for deductible ($500 to $1,000 is more typical).
It’s not a good idea to leave snow tires on all year, since they wear down quickly in the warm seasons. Winter tires last only three seasons, compared to about five for all-season tires, Arbour says. If winter tires are used four months a year, they’ll last three times longer than if you use them all year. And because they get a rest in winter, your all-season tires will also get a few more years use.
The easy way to get around the hassle of changing tires every winter and spring is to buy a second set of rims for the snow tires. They’ll save you future costs when it’s time to take them off in the spring.
While one feels safer with winter tires, that doesn’t mean you should feel invincible and defeat the purpose by driving recklessly. Driving in snow and ice is a hazardous enterprise with or without snow tires. But the odds are better with them.