Winnipeg Free Press

Coming to grips with winter tire safety

by Haney Louka . Oct 13 2017
Haney Louka / Winnipeg Free PressGeoff Wiebe (left) and pro driver Amber Balcaen say traction is crucial for winter driving.

Haney Louka / Winnipeg Free Press

Geoff Wiebe (left) and pro driver Amber Balcaen say traction is crucial for winter driving.

It’s an event almost as reliable as Old Faithful. Here in Winnipeg sometime between now and late November, we get our first snowfall of the season.

Immediately following that first snowfall, lineups at tire stores and car dealerships start — and available bookings become few and far between.

There’s one Kal Tire store on Pembina Highway in particular I always think of this time of year.

Because of its small parking lot, the line of cars extends out onto the street and sometimes a block or more south.

Even in 2016, when we didn’t see the white stuff until deep into November, people still waited, as if there was a chance it wouldn’t happen.

There must be a better way.

And there is — not only for the sake of beating the rush, but because the best time to install winter tires for this year is already passing us by.

Kal Tire wants to tell us why.

To promote awareness of all things winter tire related, and specifically the “seven-degree switch”, Kal Tire turned to Winnipegger and pro race driver Amber Balcaen and one of their in-house tire experts, Geoff Wiebe.

At just 25 years old, Balcaen is already 15 years into her racing career. She began racing karts at 10, lightning sprints at Red River Co-op Speedway at 16, 410 Outlaws at 21 and ventured into the world of NASCAR just last year.

She’s made her mark at all levels, and in 2016 became the first Canadian woman to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race.

But her exposure to motorsports started even earlier than that. As a third-generation racer, “I’ve been at race tracks since I was in my mom’s belly,” she says.

I recently met with Balcaen and Wiebe to talk about the importance of tires.

“The most important thing about driver safety in the winter is your tires. You need that traction in the winter and winter tires provide it,” Balcaen says.

“You have four surfaces the size of the palm of your hand keeping you in control and people don’t think about that enough,” Wiebe says. “Technologies such as all-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes are based on the assumption that you are connected to the road. They do not work as designed unless you have friction between the tire and road surface.”

“Four-wheel drive is great to avoid getting stuck or when pulling a trailer, but it’s not going to stop you from flying through an intersection,” Balcaen says.

The idea of the seven-degree switch is based on science and test results, not just the whim of tire companies that may want you to wear your softer winter tires down more quickly.

“A winter tire has more natural rubber content and is designed to remain more flexible and conform to the road surface at lower temperatures” Wiebe says.

“A mom with a van full of kids isn’t thinking about her tires. She has enough going on already.

“Get your winter tires on in September or October and you don’t have to think about it.”

Wiebe notes his company website,, is more about promoting safety than it is about promoting the company.

“There’s a ton of information and education content on there. This campaign is about the seven-degree switch, it’s about the why and when of winter tires.

“Ultimately we want you to make the decision that’s safest and best for your family.”

Test results are available online and there are graphics on display at each Kal Tire location.