Winter can be a harsh, unrelenting force. You wake each morning to find your vehicle locked inside an icy coffin. The sun becomes a sort of scorned lover, appearing just long enough for you realize how much you miss it. And hey, who doesn’t love when the walk from your front door to your car freezes all your eyelashes together?
When it comes to surviving our treacherous winters, you need to make sure both you and your vehicle are prepared. Even if winter is already underway, it’s never too late to guarantee that you’re safe on the road. A big part of that safety is using the right set of tires.
It can be a confusing decision. Will all-seasons be good enough to last through the rest of the year? If your car is 4-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD), does that eliminate the need for winter tires? And if you do decide to buy winter tires, will two be good enough or is it imperative that you buy four?
The Differences Between Winter Tires and All-Seasons
Winter tires surpass all-seasons when it comes to the amount of traction and grip they ultimately give, but all-season tires are also designed to provide traction and grip in snowy, slippery conditions. What you need to ask yourself is, do you need a lot of extra traction, or just a little? Buying tires is a lot like going to Tutti Frutti: sure, getting only one scoop of frozen yogurt is good, but the second scoop is just that much better.
Winter tires also stay flexible at low temperatures for improved control, thanks to a specially formulated rubber. When temperatures fall below 7°C, the special compounds in the rubber give winter tires more elasticity. All-seasons, however, are designed with a harder compound in order to ensure a longer tread life. This loses traction at 7°C and below, or in other words, the majority of the winter.
The tread on winter tires is also designed to help reduce snow build up. This, again, leads to more control.
Confidence is Key
Choosing the right tires is a matter of safety, but it’s also a matter of confidence. The amount of confidence you have behind the wheel plays a huge role in driving safely, especially in difficult weather.
At some point during the winter, you’re probably going to face a difficult situation on the road. You could be an avid skier who’s ripping up to the mountains every weekend. Or maybe you’re cruising the kids to hockey practise three times a week. Regardless of your destination, there’s going to be a time when the roads get slick and your heart starts to race. In this moment, you’re going to want to feel in control of your vehicle. That’s where winter tires come into play. Knowing that they’re there, with the highest functionality in the worst kinds of conditions, provides you with the assuredness to get through that icy stretch without panicking.
Two Wheels or Four?
This might come as a surprise to some, but a lot of people think that having two winter tires at the front of your vehicle is just as effective as having four winter tires. This isn’t the case, for one very important reason: when you use different tires at either end of your vehicle, you’re allowing both ends to react inversely on a challenging surface. Essentially, they’re working against one another.
Let’s say you hit a patch of black ice and find yourself in a slide. You react by pumping the breaks and steering your car in another direction. Well, when the treads on the front tires are different than the back, your car may steer harder in one direction than the other. This reduces your ability to control your vehicle mid-slide. That’s why it’s important to buy winter tires in a complete set. All four tires will ultimately react the same way, keeping you as safe as possible.
Do You Need Winter Tires with 4WD/AWD?
Sometimes people question the need for winter tires when they own a 4WD or an AWD vehicle. Ultimately, how safe you are in icy conditions comes down to how much grip you’re getting from your tires. What determines the amount of grip you get is the rubber used in the making of the tread and its reaction to cold temperatures, as mentioned above. (The age of the tire and the depth of the tread are also important).
That being said, having 4WD or AWD allows a vehicle to accelerate faster in icy conditions. It does not provide more traction when you steer your vehicle. Stopping and steering is what will ultimately help you manage icy conditions, and AWD and 4WD do not improve these two functions. Hence, the continued need for winter tires.
The number of tricky situations you can face in winter are endless. Wet roads, icy roads, loose gravel, hard packed snow, or even the fluffy stuff—it can be a battle. That’s why it’s important to make sure your tires are specifically designed for the tough stuff. So, unless you’ve watched Tokyo Drift eight times this year and plan on being Alberta’s next best drift king, winter tires are an essential first step to ensuring your safety on the road. In the end, it will provide you with a greater sense of confidence in the toughest types of conditions.
It’s also important that once winter’s over and your three blissful months of summer finally arrive, you remember to swap out your tires and store them in a cool, dry location. The temperature can fluctuate dramatically in an un-insulated area, such as a garage or work shed. This can accelerate the ageing and wear in your winter tires. If you don’t have a proper storage area at home, give us a call at Go Auto (780-777-7777). We’ll be happy to store your tires for you!