Do you need winter tires? “Tis the season to be jolly”, or so claims the famous Christmas song we know and enjoy at this time of year. But does this hold true when it comes to driving our vehicles as temperatures drop, snow starts to fall and winter shovels replace garden rakes at the side of the shed? With each change of season comes the need to adjust our driving habits and the equipment found on our vehicles. Although all-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles offer greater traction and all-weather drivability in general, they can be just as hazardous as any other vehicle when equipped with all-season or "M + S" tires in the winter. All-season tires are designed to perform best when the temperature exceeds 7°C. Below this, they become hard and begin to lose grip. Winter tires are specifically designed to remain flexible in cold weather. Plus, their deeper tread pattern acts as a shovel to clear away snow and water from the tire as it rotates. With more rubber exposed to the road surface, traction improves dramatically when compared to all-season tires. The hard part is, however, investing in winter tires can be very expensive. In fact, a full set of four “snow” tires (it is never recommended to use only 2 winter tires even on a front-wheel drive vehicle), will easily cost upwards of $600.00, plus fees for mounting and a set of seasonal steel rims. Should you spend the extra money? In general, yes. Let’s say, for example, you drive back and forth from suburban areas to the city each day for work/school, plus spend time running a few errands and meeting friends. If this is your typical winter day of driving, snow tires are definitely worth the investment. On the other hand, should you live in a major city with easy access to mass transit once the snow starts to fly, the added expense of winter tires may not be worth the investment. Traction will certainly improve on your vehicle, but your money may be better spent taking the bus or subway and letting someone else do the winter driving instead of you. To better test the theory of winter tires, we contacted Continental Tires of Canada this past winter and asked them to supply two different sets of winter tires for long term evaluation. The late model test mules used in our evaluation represented everyday vehicles, typical of what many Canadians drive. The first was a set of 215/55R16 Altimax Arctic tires from General Tire. Designed to aid in cold weather driving, key features and benefits included the following: Features: - Multi-Angle Sipe System - Directional Pattern with Center Stability Rib - Reactive Contour Technology (RCT) - All-Weather Dual Tread Compound Benefits: - 270 degrees of sipes with biting edges that enhance traction in any direction of travel. - Water evacuation is amplified and straight-line stability is improved. - Contour reacts to different road conditions to maintain optimum contact with road surface throughout the life of the tire. - Exceptional cold-weather flexibility and excellent wet traction. The second set we tested over the winter of 2010-2011 was the top-of-the-line 195/65R15 ExtremeWinterContact Continental Tires. Designed to look and perform at the highest level, features and benefits included the following: Features: - Compact outside tread with elevated lateral grooves - Inclined longitudinal grooves - Maximum void and grip edges in center contact patch with traction ridges in grooves - High sipe density. Highly flexible compound Benefits: - Improved dry handling - Swift removal of water - Excellent traction and braking on snow - Reduced braking distance Over the course of a five month period, we drove both sets of tires on city and country roads, in blinding snowstorms and on clear days when it was simply too cold for mere mortal man to enjoy. We also spent time driving when the weather was clear, above freezing and, for the most part, favourable. Both sets of tires performed flawlessly, providing superior contact with the road in every case when compared to equally new, all-season tires. This should hold true for any competitive tire of equal value and age to the Continental tires we tested. Why? Simply put, winter tires are specifically designed to work best when the weather turns cold and all-season tires are optimized for warm weather driving. Winter driving is a fact of life in Canada. That doesn’t mean we always have to enjoy it when the weather outside turns frightful. But, with the right set of winter tires, it may be somewhat less intimidating and potentially a little fun. Spring is still a long ways off. Put on some “snows” and have a safe driving winter.