When To Install Winter Tires In Canada

When Do You Need Winter Tires?

Winter tires are more effective than any other tire as temperatures drop below 7°C (45°F). So if the mercury starts to drop below 7°C (45°F) frequently, then it's time to switch out your all-season or summer tires for winter tires. 

In this article:

When Is The Right Time To Change To Winter Tires?

With the onset of winter as early as October-November in most Canadian provinces, you need to keep your car prepared for winter. It is crucial to know when to change to winter tires (but also when to take them off). If you are expecting a harsh winter ahead, think of making the required arrangements for your vehicle and safety.

While winter tires are very popular in Canada, their installation and application are still a mystery to many. In reality, winter tires are not designed to just tackle ice and snow. Since they provide more grip than summer and all-weather tires, winter tires can easily be used in dry conditions as well (provided the temperature remains below 7℃ or 45°F).

Since winter tires don’t have any metal studs poking out of their thread, don’t confuse them with ice or snow tires. Instead, winter tires are designed to work in low-temperature conditions and increase grip and control on slippery roads. They are also better at clearing over standing water and are thus effective in rainy seasons too. 

Winter tires contain a higher content of natural rubber compounds, which makes them softer. Due to the interaction between the tire rubber and the road, the contact temperature increases, thus affecting the tire grip. While summer tires harden below 7 degrees Celsius (45°F), winter tires maintain the required flexibility, even below 7 degrees Celsius (45°F).

Winter Tire Laws Across Canada

When To Change To Winter Tires In Quebec?

Under the Highway Safety Code, winter tires are compulsory from 1 December to 15 March. Failure to equip your vehicle with winter tires will lead to a fine of $200-$300, plus costs. While December 1 is a cut-off date, winter always arrives earlier in La Belle Province, which means it benefits to mount these tires sooner rather than later.

When To Change To Winter Tires In British Columbia?

In a province renowned for its rugged peaks, it is no surprise that winter tires are mandatory for some highways from 1 October to 30 April. With highways that do not pass through mountain passes or heavy snowfall areas, the conditions for winter tires end on March 31, but this date may be extended. Signs are posted on these marked roadways to let you know when you're on a winter tire path. Vehicles not fitted are prohibited and failure to comply with this law can result in a fine of $109.

Other provinces that recommend winter tires include Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. 

Not Sure If Your Winter Tires Are Worn Out? Check Now!

Most tires have wear bars on thread faces that can show the time of replacement. But you can also replace them if you notice early signs of degradation and poor performance. Many winter tires also increase the performance as they wear because of increased exposure of thread faces and channels as you traverse through the snow.

On front-wheel-drive vehicles, front tires handle more weight and pressure and are prone to early wear. The rear tires can last long and can produce unpleasant noise because of their degradation. Thus, always mark the position of the tires on the vehicle to keep the track of the kilometres driven and match them with the manufacturer’s specification for the correct replacement intervals.

Best Car And Tire Combination For Tackling Snow

Depending on where you live and the terrain you commute on, the choice of vehicle and the tire will vary. However, the best combination of vehicles with winter tires is explained below:

  • City Driving-Moderate Snow/Ice (1-5 cm snow)– For these conditions, FWD/RWD vehicles with winter tires will suffice. Although this won’t be the best option over deep snow, it is surely the most economical one. AWD vehicles with winter tires can better handle all situations in city driving.
  • City Driving-Heavy Snow (above 8 cm snow) – The best option is an AWD car with winter tires. This combination will provide both performance and control.
  • Rural Driving-Heavy Snow (above 8 cm snow & off-road terrain) – While AWD vehicles can handle off-road situations well, one can also opt for a 4WD vehicle with lower gear settings to solve the purpose.

Four Winter Tires Versus Only Two Winter Tires

Installing winter tires only on the front or rear axle can create a drastic imbalance in the gripping of the vehicle. Experimental studies show that using only two winter tires or tires of different treads and compounds can cause a vehicle to fishtail. A study showed that a vehicle with all four winter tires was 12.3% more effective at braking as compared to a vehicle with two winter and two all-season tires (Source: TIRF report pdf). Using only two winter tires will severely affect the braking and cornering capabilities of the vehicle because of the loss of traction from those non-winter tires.

What Are Studded Tires?

Some winter tires have a provision to add studs to the tire’s tread for enhanced snow and ice traction. These studs are metal pins that stick out of the tire’s tread and offer better grip over slush, ice, and snow. Much like the advantages of chains on a tire, the studs dig into the snow more effectively as compared to bare rubber tracks and increase the traction. Studded tires are especially useful in places where there is frequent snow and ice. Studded tires are not useful on bare pavements as they can damage the road surface and also create a lot of noise.

When To Install Studded Tires?

Studded tires cannot be used throughout the winter season, and in some places, they are even prohibited due to their ill effects on non-snowy roads. However, many northern states recommended using studded tires in winter months as they are more effective on heavy snow and ice-covered roads than bare winter tires. The law regarding the use of studded tires varies across provinces in Canada. The maximum allowed protuberance of the studs or how deep the studs can be is also different. You can find out all provincial legal requirements for winter and studded tires in our winter tire laws guide.

While there are no mandatory laws on the use of studded tires, most provinces recommend installing them. Northern Ontario residents can install studded tires as early as September 1st and have them on until May 31. Other provinces allow studded tire use from the 1st of October until May 31st. However, each province has its own specific regulations on studded tire duration of use and maximum allowed stud protuberance. 


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Dominic Lussier
Lead Mechanic
Passionate about the inner workings of motor vehicles there is absolutely nothing that he won’t take apart. He loves getting his hands dirty so you won’t have too !!!! Helps empower DYI’ers to fix their own vehicles with the help of easy-to-read articles so things just stay simple.