TORONTO -- That chill in the air usually brings thoughts of the winter to come and then the yearly debate begins: When is the best time to put on the winter tires?

Only British Columbia and Quebec have laws about that. Drivers on certain mountainous routes in B.C. must have winter or all-season tires on between Oct. 1 and April 30. Quebec mandates them between Dec. 1 and March 15.

Quebec drivers without the proper tires face fines of up to $300.

Laws or no laws, most provinces and territories in Canada, vehicle and tire manufacturers, and the Canadian Automobile Association all recommend the use of winter tires.

The material and design of winter tires boosts your car’s traction, handling and stopping distance in temperatures below 7 C. When the average daily high slips below that threshold in your area, it’s time to make the switch.

According to The Weather Network, that happens as early as Sept. 24 in Churchill, Man., and as late as Dec. 17 in Victoria, B.C.

In southern Ontario and much of Atlantic Canada the 7 C mark comes around mid-November.

The Tire and Rubber Association of Canada found in 2019 that 77 per cent of Canadians use winter tires. Quebec and Atlantic Canada had the highest rates of usage, while Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta had the lowest.

Half of those without winter tires said it’s because they think all-seasons are good enough, while 17 per cent said it’s because they are too expensive.

Eighty per cent of Canadians who have winter tires said they had saved them from a hazardous driving situation, such as loss of control or a collision.


Professional driver Carl Nadeau thinks other jurisdictions should follow Quebec’s lead in making winter tires mandatory.

“When the temperature goes down, the rubber on all seasons hardens and the tires slowly turn into hockey pucks,” he told in a phone interview from about an hour’s drive north of Montreal.

Nadeau, who is a professional race, stunt and precision driver and Michelin Canada’s driving expert, urges skeptics to give winter tires a try, especially those he says are confident all-wheel drive is all they need to manage tricky winter driving.

“People with all-wheel drive will say they aren’t getting stuck but they don’t think about braking. All-seasons lack the traction, so you don’t have the grip to stop on time if a kid runs out in front of you. Even if you’re driving slow, you can’t stop like you should.”

Some drivers think winter tires are too expensive or don’t last as long as all-seasons, but Nadeau says that is changing. The addition of silica to winter tire compounds has extended their life well beyond what used to be possible. And all tires wear down, he says, so adding winter tires extends the life of your all-seasons.

He compares installing winter tires to wearing the proper shoes to handle the elements of each season.

“I just want to make sure my family is safe, so I want traction on snow and ice, longevity and performance.”

And don’t be fooled into thinking you can get away with only putting winter tires on the car’s driving wheels. Transport Canada recommends four identical tires on all vehicles, regardless of whether the vehicle is front-, rear-, all- or four-wheel drive.

“If the tires are different, the balance of the car is off,” said Nadeau. “If you get into an emergency situation, one axle will have a lot less traction and you have no hope of controlling the car.”

It’s always a rush to get on the snow tires once the thermometer starts to dip but keep in mind that physical distancing requirements are cutting into appointment times so it may be a longer wait than usual.