Winter tires can be crucial to your safety and help maintain your car's performance in the colder months. They’re proven to reduce braking distance and improve vehicle performance in cold, snowy, or icy conditions — beyond what can be expected of a typical all-season tire.
Winter tires versus summer and all-season tires
The rubber compound that is used to make winter-rated tires stays pliable at lower temperatures, which allows it to make better contact with the road. Summer tires, on the other hand, are composed of a harder rubber compound, which allows them to maintain their stance, even in intense heat. All season tires tend to be made of rubber compounds that fall somewhere between, depending on the tire make and model.
Steel rims are often recommended with winter tires rather than aluminum wheels that can be purchased from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or aftermarket for almost any vehicle. This is because the changes in temperatures over the winter months cause the metal to expand and contract.
Aluminum wheels tend to contract more in colder temperatures, which can cause inconsistent tire pressure, as well as air leakage over time. Steel rims contract less in colder temperatures, which maintains the manufacturer's specified tire pressure and is beneficial to both vehicle performance (both handling and fuel consumption) and long-term tire wear.
Does tire size and style matter?
Though wider, low-profile tires are preferred for better handling in summer months and warmer temperatures. In winter months, a narrower tire with a higher sidewall is beneficial for a few reasons. Handling in summer months is dependent on having the largest possible portion of your tire touching the pavement at any given time. However, in winter months, a narrower tire allows your vehicle to have more contact with the pavement, as the tire can more easily "push" through any snow, slush, or ice on the road to the asphalt below.
Winter tire tread patterns
Tread depth and design is another important component of winter tires. While summer tires tend to have fairly narrow and shallow tread patterns to put the most rubber on the road at any given time, winter tires are much different.
An aggressive tread pattern is better for winter as it "bites" into snow and ice while channeling any slush and water that may be on top of the ice or pavement through the tire. The deeper tread helps your tire make contact with the road even as snow is packed down beneath it, and helps to avoid hydroplaning from water sitting on roadways — either from melting ice or frozen drainage paths.
How winter tires can save you money on car insurance
Most insurance providers offer a discount of up to 5% for having winter tires on your vehicle. In Ontario, for example, it’s mandatory for insurance companies to offer this discount.
Contact your insurance professional to inquire whether your provider offers this discount. And if you don’t already plan on installing winter tires, compare car insurance quotes to see how your rate could be affected.
Additionally, anything that makes you safer behind the wheel can save you on your insurance costs long term. Your ability to drive through the winter months accident- and collision-free will save you on the possible increase your rate could suffer in the event of an accident. Most importantly, winter tires help protect you, your loved ones, and other people on the road from the possibility of a fatal accident due to poor weather conditions.
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