When to put on winter tires in Canada: Here's how to tell

A black truck with new winter tires on snow. (Stock Image)
The best time to put your winter tires on depends on the temperature and where you live. (Stock Image)

Putting on winter tires is a rite of passage in Canada. In most of the country, drivers are legally required to use winter tires once the temperatures drop.

Although the exact guidelines may vary depending on where you live, you'll need to swap your summer tires for winter ones or you run the risk of getting fined — or into an accident.

Continue reading to learn what winter tires are, why they're necessary and when to put them on your car.

What are winter tires?

Simply put, winter tires are specially designed to withstand below-freezing temperatures and handle the specific road conditions that come with winter weather, like cold roads, ice and snow.

Finding winter tires is quite simple. All tires have markings on their sides which dictate the type of tire they are (summer, all-season or winter).

Winter tires, also called snow tires, are marked with a three-peaked mountain symbol with a snowflake inside it to denote they're intended for winter driving. Next to this symbol, you will see an M+S (mud and snow) symbol.

If you see tires with the M+S symbol that do not have a mountain symbol, they are all-season tires. While these tires can handle minor winter weather, they are not designed to withstand the harsh winters in Canada.

Are winter tires necessary in Canada?

Winter tires are necessary wherever the weather is cold, snowy and icy. While all-season tires may be acceptable where you live, some areas of Canada legally require winter tires.

Winter tires improve your car's safety by providing superior grip in wintry conditions and shortening the distance your car travels when you break. In addition, the tread of winter tires is intended to repel slush and grab snow so that your tires can maintain maximum contact with the road.

The rubber used to make winter tires is also specifically designed to withstand the cold, ensuring the tires stay soft and malleable and don't harden in response to the lower temperatures.

When to put winter tires on your car

Here's how to tell when to put winter tires on your car.

Watch the temperatures

Ideally, you should wait for temperatures to reach seven degrees celsius or below daily before putting your winter tires on. If you use your winter tires before the weather drops, you'll likely notice a reduction in your car's ability to accelerate, break quickly and turn readily.

In addition, the tires will wear down faster, which means you may notice reduced handling once the roads get snowy and icy.

Your tires should be fine with the occasional warmer winter day, but take extra care when driving and assess your tire's tread each winter season.

Check provincial and regional laws

To avoid being fined, you should check provincial laws to determine when you are legally required to put winter tires on your car. Although not legally mandated throughout all of Canada, certain areas require winter tires to be used between specific dates.

For example, in Quebec, drivers must use tires marked with the three-peaked mountain symbol from Dec. 1 through March 15 each year. While Quebec is the only province to have this law, other regional laws exist.

In British Columbia, for example, drivers will need to use the marked winter tires (or tires with chains) on most roads from Oct. 1 through March 31. In other areas, these requirements extend through April 30.

Check your local regulations to ensure you comply with the regional laws regarding winter tire use.

Do you have to wait until it starts snowing to put winter tires on?

You do not have to wait until it starts snowing to put winter tires on, and it is not recommended to do so. Instead, put your winter tires on before the snow and ice hits so you're prepared.

A closeup wheel shot of a white car parked and stuck in the snow on a street. (Stock Image)
A closeup wheel shot of a white car parked and stuck in the snow on a street. (Stock Image)

If you plan to use studded tires during the winter, you will need to wait for the snow to fall, as the studs can cause damage to roads when they come in direct contact.

Snow tires are necessary for driving in Canada's harsh winters, and certain parts of the country legally require winter tires.

Check the tread on your winter tires before using them each year, and replace any tires that are overly worn. Winter tires should last roughly four or five seasons and should have tread indicators to alert you when it's time to replace them.

Check your local regulations to determine when to change to winter tires and wait for the average temperature to fall below seven degrees celsius.

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