Choosing to use winter tires in Toronto involves incurring the cost of having a unique set of tires for your car to be used exclusively during the winter months. Their benefit is increased driving safety on winter roads, but are they worth it?
Winter tires are worth it in Toronto because they are constructed from rubber compounds designed to remain pliable during extremely cold temperatures. The treads are designed to help clear snow and optimize the gripping of the road surface.
If you are uncertain about whether or not winter tires are right for you, read on. This article will cover the merits of winter tires while also providing insight into what other alternatives are available.
The Basics About Using Winter Tires in Toronto
To gain a proper understanding of winter tire usage in Toronto, it is important to understand:
- When and where winter tire usage is mandated in Canada.
- The special characteristics of winter tires.
- The other types of tires that are available.
Are Winter Tires Mandatory in Toronto?
In Canada, only one province — Quebec — mandates the use of winter tires from December 15th through March 15th of each year.
In Ontario — including the Toronto Metropolitan area — per the Highway Traffic Act, winter tire usage is not mandatory. Their use, however, is recommended.
Not being mandatory means that you will not incur fines or other financial sanctions by not using winter tires on your vehicle. However, that does not mean that the use of winter tires does not offer safety and ancillary benefits while driving during Toronto’s winter months.
Safety Benefits of Using Winter Tires in Toronto
The immediate safety benefits of using winter tires in the extremely cold winter months of Toronto revolve around improved handling. More specifically:
- Winter tires help to displace snow, slush, and ice as you drive. Through specially designed treads, winter tires help move snow and ice so that your tires can improve traction on cold and slippery surfaces.
- Improved braking performance. By improving traction, winter tires also help maximize your vehicle’s braking performance in snow and ice.
- Greater adherence to the road surface. Being constructed of a rubber formula that is softer and more pliable than all-season tires means that your tires will adhere better to the road — even in icy conditions. This improves handling in curves and turns. This is vital when you encounter ice sheets and black ice.
- Treads with biting edges. The treads of winter tires are designed to have resilient edges. They add to the traction and provide you with increased handling.
- Prevent excessive snow build up. Winter tire treads also prevent snow from building up on the tire as your drive. If you have ever driven on all-season tires, you know how responsiveness can diminish the further you drive. This is often caused by snow building up in the treads. Winter tires minimize this.
In Toronto and the rest of Ontario, reforms came into effect in 2016 that required automobile insurance companies to offer their policyholders discounts for using winter tires. These discounts range from 2 to 5 percent off the yearly premiums. These are the highest for any province in Canada.
Each insurance company can set their guidelines as to how this discount is made effective. Most require all four of a vehicle’s tires to be switched to winter tires. Additionally, specified time frames as to when the tires are to be in use are in place.
Most Ontario insurance companies, such as TD Insurance and Intact, stipulate that your vehicle must have winter tires from December through March. Other insurance companies — such as Allstate, RBC, and Aviva — extend that period to November through April.
When using this discount as a metric as to whether winter tires are worth it in Toronto, you should be aware that the average winter tire yearly discount for a policyholder is in the CAD $60 to CAD $80 range.
The Added Cost Implied With Winter Tires in Toronto
Winter tires are more expensive than regular tires. They can range from CAD $150 to CAD $300 per tire. Additionally, since they should only be used for a few months of the year, this requires the tires to be changed at the start of winter and back again in spring.
The process involves dismounting your tires, changing the tires on your rims, and balancing them properly before mounting them back in your car. Although it is a relatively simple task, the specialized equipment required would impede the majority of people from doing it themselves.
The cost for such a service ranges from CAD $15 to CAD $30 per tire.
Another option that you have available is to purchase an additional set of tire rims. This allows you to have the winter tires mounted to the second pair of rims and only having to change the wheels without having to undergo the rim mounting and balancing. This can reduce the tire change cost by half.
Since this is identical to changing tires when you have a flat, mechanically-inclined individuals can accomplish this quickly at home on their own.
The cost of a second pair of rims ranges from CAD $54 to CAD $200 per rim, depending on the size and style chosen. Over a few years, the upfront cost of the second rims would be recuperated.
Winter Tires Compared to Other Tires
As their name implies, winter tires are designed specifically for use in winter weather and the cold temperatures that accompany it.
Some of the features that make them ideal in winter make them unsuited for warmer weather. The same modified treads and pliable rubber compounds that make for improved traction and handling in cold temperatures, make them more susceptible to wear and can compromise handling in warmer temperatures.
There are other types of tires that could be used in Toronto year-round.
These can be considered as general-purpose tires. In general, they will cost 30 to 50 percent of the price of comparable winter tires. They are designed to be used in all types of climates.
However, these tires’ characteristics do not make them ideal for weather extremes on either end of the temperature spectrum. They perform well in the summer months in Toronto but do not match the handling and traction properties of winter tires during the extreme cold of winter.
This choice would be your most affordable option compared to winter tires. While all-season tires can be used in Toronto during winter, if you intend on driving frequently and continuously — especially on roads with high concentrations of snow or with the potential for icing — all-seasons will be lacking in traction and handling performance.
They are best used in Toronto during winter when your driving requirements are light or confined strictly to non-snow days and to roads that have been recently plowed and salted.
Similar to all-season tires, all-weather tires can be used year-round. They offer improved handling and traction in cold temperatures compared to all-season tires, but not as good as winter tires. In terms of cost, they are 15 to 50 percent less expensive than winter tires.
During Toronto winters, all-weather tires are the ones that come closest to matching winter tires for performance. Some all-weather tires will be comparable in cost to winter tires but come with the benefit of having longer tread life. Also, since they don’t have to be changed at the start and end of winter, you save the cost associated with it.
For short-distance driving on roads that are frequently plowed during winter, all-weather tires make for a viable option from winter tires.
These tires are a variant of winter tires. They are constructed of similar pliable rubber and snow dispersing treads, but also include studs used to grip ice and snow — similar to shoe cleats. However, studded snow tires are illegal to use in Toronto. They are only allowed in certain parts of Northern Ontario during winter. Using them in Toronto would incur a fine.
So, are winter tires worth it in Toronto? For peace of mind and improved safety, yes. Are they necessary? No.
The enhanced safety from improved traction, handling, braking, and snow and ice displacement offered by winter tires make their use during Toronto winters a valid one. However, the added costs involved with them may make those on tighter budgets or who plan on driving in winter only during optimal climate conditions balk at their purchase. In the latter, less expensive all-season and all-weather tires are an option.