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CARFAX Canada Car Tire Guide

How much do you know about car tires? You know it’s important to have them, but do you know if you should switch them out when the seasons change? Do you know the difference between the main types of tires? How about your pressure – do you know how that impacts the way your car handles?

Here are the most popular types of tires:

All-season tires – these are the go-to tire for the average driver as they’re designed to have a balance of features including moderate tread-depths and rubber compounds that will last longer than summer tires. They perform well in warm weather, but they may not grip warm roads as well as summer tires. They’re also not ideal for cold weather – the rubber in all-season tires starts to harden and lose grip at temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius. Most new vehicles come equipped with all-season tires.

Winter tires – these will help you drive confidently through ice, snow and slush. They’re made of rubber compounds that stay soft in colder temperatures (they’re rated to -40 degrees!), and have tread patterns designed to throw off water and slush that will help you maintain traction with the road. They may feel a little heavier and clunkier than all-seasons, but the added safety is well worth the sacrifice.

Summer tires – these are ideal for high-performance vehicles as they’re designed to be fast and agile. Summer tires are made of rubber compounds that remain more flexible than all-seasons, giving them better grip on the road, plus their tread patterns have fewer grooves so the tire has more contact with the pavement for optimal handling.

All-weather tires – somewhat new to the scene, all-weather tires are meant to be a more-winter-than-all-seasons alternative that can still be used in warmer weather. They were designed for drivers in urban environments with fairly mild winters. Unlike all-seasons, they stay soft at temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius. They’re the not-quite-winter tire preferred by many in cities like Vancouver and Toronto.

Run-flat tires – with many manufacturers prioritizing cargo-space over the old spare tires, run-flats are a great option as they allow you to drive up to 80 km on a punctured tire. These reduce the need for a spare tire, as you have lots of time to get to a repair shop before you’d need to change the tire. Run-flats use a special type of sidewall that supports the weight of the vehicle even as the tire pressure drops from a puncture or flat. When you’re shopping for a used car, knowing if it has run-flats instead of a spare tire is important – they’re handy to have, but expensive to replace.

Winter tires or all-seasons? What are the best winter tires for cars?

Every October/November we see/hear the same comments about winter tires:

“All-seasons are good enough!”

“Winter tires are just a marketing scheme!”

And our favourite…. “I don’t need winter tires – I have all-wheel drive!”

All of these statements are false.

Yes, winter car tires are expensive, but they’re not just a marketing scheme to get you to buy a second set of tires. Plus, spending half the year driving on winter tires means your all-seasons (or summer tires) get a long vacation which extends their life – so while it is a significant investment in the short-term, in the long-term it’s not so bad.

Winter tires are made of a different type of rubber than all-seasons. This rubber is made to grip cold roads better because it’s designed to stay soft in cold temperatures. The rubber compounds in all-seasons start to harden when temperatures get below 7 degrees Celsius, while winter tires will stay soft down to -40 degrees. It’s kind of like comparing the soles of your winter boots with the soles of your flip-flops.

Winter tires and all-wheel drive work well together, but it’s not a one-or-the-other type of situation. Having a car equipped with all-wheel drive is great. It increases your car’s acceleration grip which will provide some extra oomph to get your car moving, and it can improve your handling in bad road conditions. It can be an awesome performance feature – but it’s not a safety feature. All-wheel drive does nothing to help your car stop – that’s all in the brakes and tires. The simplest way to think about it is, all-wheel drive will help you start, but it won’t help you stop. Want to reduce the likelihood of sliding through that stop sign into someone’s trunk? Get winter tires. You’ll slide less and stop better because your winter tires are gripping the road – that’s what they’re designed for. It’s as simple as that.

Car tire tread wear – how much is too much wear?

It’s important not to drive on tires with too much tread wear as this reduces the traction you have on the road making it easier to slip, hydroplane and even pick up a puncture. Here are the minimum depths you need to stay safe:

6/32” – tread depth is ok

5/32” – start thinking of replacement – you could have trouble in wet weather

4/32” – replace your tires as soon as possible

The best and most accurate way to measure your tread depth is with a proper gauge. They’re easy to use and you can find them at most gas stations or hardware stores. Find the shallowest groove on your tire and insert the pin on the gauge. Read the scale and compare the results with the numbers above.

Some come with built-in car tire tread wear indicators. They usually appear as six small raised bars on your tires grooves that mark the minimum permitted depth. If these indicators look worn it’s time to get those tires replaced.

If you don’t have a gauge handy and there are no indicators on your tires, you can still get an idea of your tread wear with help of the trusty toonie. Slip a toonie in your tread. If the tread comes up to the bear’s paws, you have lots of tread left. If the silver part of the toonie is covered, you have about half your tread to go. If the tread only comes up as far as the letters, it’s time to go tire shopping!

Check out this video from the Alberta Motor Association to see for yourself!

Car tire problems – the importance of proper car tire pressure

Some of the most common car tire problems are related to car tire pressure. Driving on tires that are set to the proper pressure is critically important to staying safe on the road. This means checking your pressure regularly and making sure it’s in line with the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations – NOT the number noted on the tire’s sidewall – this is the tire’s maximum (not recommended) pressure.

Maintaining proper tire pressure is important to reduce the chance of a puncture or a flat, plus it helps your car handle better and reduces excessive and uneven tread wear. Car tire pressure also impacts fuel efficiency – vehicles with under-inflated tires need more energy to move, and over-inflated tires don’t perform as well because they have less rubber in contact with the road. Buying the right tires and properly maintaining them is crucial to staying safe behind the wheel. For more tips on vehicle maintenance, including how to change a flat, visit our Resource Centre.