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By: Carl Nadeau, Michelin Driving Expert
As Canadians, we are accustomed to weathering harsh winter conditions and embracing the unknown. Even so, as we take to the road to fully engage in the joys of the season, drivers face challenges and their share of the unexpected, from black ice to white outs. That’s why it’s imperative that every driver prepares their vehicle to handle the snow, ice and slush, and ensures that their tires – the only part of their car that actually touches the road – are up to the task.
A common misconception is that winter tires are only necessary when snow begins to fall. In fact, they are required when the temperature falls below 7 degrees C. At that temperature, all-season tires begin to stiffen, reducing traction. All-season tires are meant to keep you safe in occasional, transitional weather conditions, but when temperatures consistently drop below 10 degrees C, they become as rigid as a hockey puck. Winter tires are manufactured with a specific tread and rubber compound designed to maintain your vehicle’s grip, traction and braking quality at lower temperatures.
Tires are built with safety in mind, but drivers can stack the odds in their favour by preparing for the unexpected. One way to get ahead of seasonal road changes is to make sure your winter tires are in perfect shape, and install four high quality winter tires, not two. Mixing new and used tires with varying wear and tread depth can significantly impact the stability and performance of both your tires and your vehicle.
Next, routinely test your tires’ tread depth. As the tread on your tires wears down traction is reduced, leaving you at a greater risk of skidding on icy or snowy surfaces. One way to test your tread depth is by doing the “Quarter Test” by placing a quarter into your tread groove with the Queen’s head upside down and facing you. The top part of her head should be partially covered by the tread. If you can see her whole head, it’s time to replace the tire. Tread depth should be no less than 1.6 mm (2/32”). As you test for tread depth, look for the level of wear on your front tires versus the rear. If your front tires are more worn than your rear ones, you may need to have your wheels aligned.
Maintaining your tires’ air pressure is also essential. When the temperature begins to drop, you can bet your air pressure will too. A well-inflated, narrower tire can bite through snow down to the pavement where the tire can get better traction. In colder weather, you should be conducting a monthly test to ensure your tires are properly inflated. The benefits of doing so include extended tread life, reduced fuel consumption, and improved safety. As a general rule of thumb, you should always keep tires inflated to the manufacturer’s recommendation, which can be found on the inside wall of your vehicle’s driver door.
A popular winter driving myth is that consumers are safer in an all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle. AWD is a performance feature, not a safety feature. It helps you accelerate and offers no advantage when you’re trying to turn or stop in snowy or icy conditions. Having the right tire for the season is no doubt a safety issue. Increased tread blocks, micro-pumps that absorb water, tridimensional sipes (grooves in the tread that improve grip), and the tire compound all play a part in a tire’s overall winter performance and your safety on winter roads.
If you’re looking for a winter tire that you can trust, consider the Michelin X-Ice Xi3. It’s built to take on the ice and snow, and is designed to help reduce fuel consumption. Plus, it has excellent winter grip and long lasting tread life. Rated by consumer specialized reports as among the best in its category for several years running, the Michelin X-Ice Xi3 provides ultimate winter confidence over 60,000 km.
About Carl Nadeau:
A professional race car driver for more than 20 years, Carl is a precision and stunt driver for TV and film, and a prominent TV and radio personality with appearances in Quebec. Carl is a member of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada, UDA and ACTRA, and has been Michelin’s trusted driving expert since 2013.