It’s a well-established fact that during our frigid Canadian winters, specially designed winter tires will stay softer and provide better traction on snow-covered and frozen ground than summer or all-season tires. This does NOT that mean that they’ll be even softer and grip even better in higher summer temperatures.
That is a common misconception. Above a threshold temperature of 7C, experts agree that winter tires are not your best option. I recently had the opportunity to observe this first-hand as Michelin invited Autofocus to evaluate their new Premiere LTX all-season tires, which were installed on 2016 Kia Sorrento test cars.
Michelin’s latest tire touts “safe when new, safe when worn” (the tire houses new, deeper-embedded grooves that emerge as the tire wears). In our limited testing, the tires performed well overall, and even when using mostly worn Premiere LTX tires neither dry or wet braking, nor handling were significantly compromised.
The biggest lessons from the day on the test track, however, centred on the vast differences in performance observed when driving the same car, on the same course, using a well-treaded set of Michelin winter tires.
The test day was in early April, but happened to be a day much warmer than seasonal norm (a gorgeous 17C and sunny), which is more like typical May or June weather in our parts (Toronto, Canada). At temperatures like this, winter-tire users should have long since removed their winters in place of all-seasons or summers.
Here are five reasons why:
- Stopping distance is longer on both dry and wet pavement in winter tires. In our emergency braking tests we accelerated to 60km/h before full braking; on winter tires we needed about half a car length of additional stopping distance. When it comes to emergency or accident-avoidance stopping, every inch counts and that distance could mean the difference between stopping in time and hitting something, or worse someone.
- Grip and handling on cornering are vastly reduced, especially on wet pavement. During testing, maintaining speed and fluidity on the slalom course and on the wet, sharp-bending course was difficult on winters, and we felt the tires lose grip and slip. The winter tires also started howling when pushed in conditions the all-seasons handled fine.
- It will cost you more money in the long run. The soft rubber compounds used for winter tires wear much faster at elevated temperatures, which means you’ll wear out the treads quickly and need to pony up the money to buy new winter tires much sooner.
- Heat is a tire’s worst enemy, and in some cases could lead to winter tire failure in the form of a blowout. Changing tires at home is easy enough on an early-spring day, but it’s far from fun (or safe) on the side of a busy highway on a hot, muggy day.
- Mother Earth cries foul. When winter tires operate on hot roads, they’re squishy and experience high friction rather than offering low rolling resistance, which means much worse fuel economy (i.e. higher emissions and more money spent on fuel).
With any tire, it’s also crucial and simple enough to maintain correct tire pressure and check for tread depth. I’m a huge proponent for alternating between winter and all-season tires here in Canada. Pick up some steelies and winters before winter arrives this year. You’ll notice the difference, and drive better. And changing your wheels to alternate between winters and all-seasons is easy enough to do to yourself and spare the expense of paying someone else to do it.