Winter driving in the Prairies is not for the faint of heart. Changes in weather and road conditions can present a nerve-wracking test that can wear down both your patience and your car. But it is still possible to safely reach your destination by employing your defensive driving skills and some careful due diligence. And by using the right set of tires, of course.
That’s something Canadian automotive expert and veteran mechanic Bill Gardiner knows all too well. As temperatures plummet, Gardiner is issuing a message to Prairie drivers seeking superior traction: Consider a set of studded winter tires, which are embedded with hundreds of minuscule metal studs designed to grip onto slippery surfaces.
“Winter conditions are ripe for the use of studded winter tires.” Gardiner says, adding that they are ideally suited for roads that are covered in ice or hard-packed snow, as well as black ice after freezing rain.
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AMA recently met with Gardiner as he toured western Canada to talk about improvements in studded tires and why they offer excellent braking and cornering in harsh winter conditions—and to dispel some myths surrounding the tires.
NOT YOUR PARENTS’ STUDDED TIRES
Over the years, studded tires have earned a reputation for chewing up roads and being far too loud to comfortably drive with. But Gardiner says that technological advances have made today’s studded tires much quieter and far gentler on typical road surfaces.
“Underneath the tread, there’s a layer of soft rubber that backs up the stud,” Gardiner says. “And the stud itself has a little air pocket in the back of it. Those two features work together to cushion the way the stud hits the road.”
This notably reduces the wear on pavement and gives studs a longer life. Tire makers have also redesigned the placement of studs—and have increased the number of tread blocks—to improve side-to-side and front-to-back grip. That gives them an edge over three-season tires; in certain conditions, they outperform non-studded winter tires too. Recent tests by Kal Tire showed that when braking from 30 kilometres an hour on an icy road, studded five-star winter tires brought their vehicle to a stop in an average of 22.6 meters. The distance for non-studded winter tires was 27.2 metres, while the average three-season tire needed 34 metres.
KNOW YOUR ROAD CONDITIONS
Another Kal Tire survey, in 2018, revealed 55 percent of Alberta drivers use winter-rated tires during the colder months—which is good, as more than 90 percent also say they face severe winter driving conditions at least occasionally.
Yet that still leaves a gap between those who face difficult driving conditions and those who face severe conditions with the optimal set of tires. For those who may resist purchasing winter tires (whether studded or not) for financial reasons, or due to the logistics of storing and installing them, Gardiner points out an alternative: all-weather tires.
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While not as grippy on ice and snow as dedicated winter tires, all-weather tires do outperform their three-season counterparts. “They have excellent performance below 7 C,” Gardiner says, highlighting the temperature at which winter-rated tires become preferable to three-seasons. That performance is attributable to all-weather tires’ more aggressive tread pattern and rubber compound that’s designed for better traction in colder temperatures.
Of course, no matter what tires you choose, they are still just one part of your vehicle. And their optimal performance still assumes that you are driving safely. Gardiner advises that motorists always drive to road conditions—and learn to be more aware of how their vehicle performs in those conditions over time.
“We’re trying to educate people on the fact that there are different levels of performance to the tire they select,” he says. “Canadian motorists need to manage their car and manage their tires throughout the life of both.”
HOW TO SAVE
AMA members save 5% on tires, 10% on parts and service, and 5% on custom wheels at Kal Tire.