There remain a few diehards out there clinging to a 40-year-old notion that all-season tires are OK for driving in winter.
It’s understandable: Old ideas do die hard. I mean, how long did it take the church to finally accept the incontrovertible evidence that Earth is not at the centre of the universe? There are still Flat Earth Societies, decades after the first orbital circumnavigation of the planet.
Yes, 40 years ago, the worst all-season tires were better than the best winter tires. That was then. Today, compounds are being updated annually.
Did you know Finnish tire maker Nokian sets 10 per cent as an annual target for improvement in tire performance?
But the concept was driven home the hardest, for me, last week in Toronto: Kal Tire set up a demonstration of the differences between Nokia Hakkepelitta winter tires worn to 75 per cent of tread depth vs. brand-new three-season tires.
Their internal testing, at 30 km/h, shows new winter tires stopping in about six metres shorter a distance than new all-season tires, and that distance holds true from new to 100 per cent wear. In fact, winter tires worn 100 per cent stopped in only 0.2 metres more distance than new all-season tires.
Ron Pierce, Kal Tire’s senior zone manager for southern Ontario, said the purpose of the demonstration was two-fold: to show customers it’s still better to switch to winter tires even if they’re up to 75 per cent worn, and to show customers it’s OK to wait a year if the tires are only down, say, 50 per cent.
He was struck by the six-metre difference: “That’s a car-length. Don’t you think it would be important to stop a car-length earlier?”
The 75 per cent worn winter tires also outperformed new all-season tires, with nearly three metres shorter stopping distance.
That’s the difference between stopping in time and stopping in someone’s back seat.
“Even a brand-new all-season is not going to be as good as a 75 per cent worn winter tire,” Pierce said.
The numbers held up at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. The winter tires, even worn 80 per cent, held traction better on a snowy skidpad and stopped sooner than the all-seasons. Recovery once off the slippery section was far quicker, as well.
Pierce said the other point to make is 75 per cent wear is the point at which you should replace your tires. The drop in performance starts to get steep at that point.
One major change in the past few years has been moving away from layered tire compounds. Early modern-era winter tires had winter compound for about 50 per cent of tread wear, and standard all-season compounds past that.
Today’s tires are winter tires from new to worn.
Winter tires are, essentially, free. Over the course of, say, 120,000 kilometres, you’re going to go through two sets of tires. They can be two sets of all-season tires, or they can be a set of all-seasons and a set of winters, but it’s still two sets of tires.
The cost of a set of rims can be chalked up to your insurance deductible, since most of the collisions winter tires will prevent will be ones in which you’d be at fault.