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Are you going for a spin... literally?

Winter tires like 'day and night' for traction

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Winter tires, such as this set of Goodyear Ultra Grip WRT, use softer rubber and extra cuts in the tread to improve traction.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Winter tires, such as this set of Goodyear Ultra Grip WRT, use softer rubber and extra cuts in the tread to improve traction. Photo Store

Every year, like clockwork, the wheels start to spin around this time.

Once the temperature drops and snow starts to fly, the daily commute freezes up. The mini-blizzard that hit Winnipeg this week turned the snow-covered streets -- specifically the intersections -- into mini-skating rinks, thanks to the pressure from the weight of vehicles and the constant buffing of the surface from buzzing rubber.

That normal 30-minute ride home turned into a 90-minute battle between patience and frustration, with the latter winning out as each light cycle passed. And through this annual slice of Winnipeg's winter road life, as the self-proclaimed season-smart locals slowly slip and slide to what hopefully amounts to a stop, the topic of snow tires comes up.

"The difference is day and night," said driving instructor Daryl Kuchma, who operates Daryl's Driving Training. "I'm on the road 10 to 14 hours a day and I can't imagine not having snow tires on a day like (Wednesday). It was not nice. It's a wonder more people don't use them."

'I'm on the road 10 to 14 hours a day and I can't imagine not having snow tires on a day like (Wednesday). It was not nice. It's a wonder more people don't use them'

-- Daryl Kuchma, who operates Daryl's Driving Training

Winter tires are more effective than all-season radials (or summer tires) on ice and snow-packed roads because they are made with a softer rubber. This soft compound is able to massage the road's imperfections during winter and doesn't harden like an all-season product in colder temperatures, thus improving stopping time and improving traction on slick sections.

Quebec is the only province with winter-tire legislation. By law, drivers are required to use a full set of winter tires between Nov. 15 and April 15.

But the idea doesn't seem to be getting much traction in this province. CAA Manitoba said its members have no interest in the legislation. In a survey of more than 11,000 members in 2011, only 31.7 per cent believed winter tires should be mandatory (50.4 per cent said no; 17.9 per cent didn't know).

"We don't think they need to be mandatory but looking out the window, once you realize what kind of weather is out there at this time of year, you understand this is an investment worth making," said CAA Manitoba spokeswoman Liz Peters.

Peters says CAA recommends switching to winter tires in September, when the weather becomes cooler and unpredictable. Unfortunately, she added, most wait until it's too late. Peters obviously had a good handle on the situation Thursday, as garages and tire shops around town reported brisk business and jammed appointment books during the next few days.

A full set of winter tires (complete with rims) will set a motorist back anywhere from $600 to $1,000. But they save wear and tear on your summer tires, essentially adding little to your long-term tire costs.

To help ease the cash burden of mandatory winter tires, though, what about an incentive for motorists to purchase winter tires, similar to rebates for good driving or immobilizers?

Manitoba Public Insurance said the idea has been suggested to them by external agencies, but typically the conversation ends when the subject of fraud comes up. MPI, which already offers insurance discounts to motorists rewarding safe driving, says it would have no way of knowing whether a person bought a new set of winter tires, earned the rebate, and then returned the tires or if the motorist actually put the winter tires on the vehicle.

"We couldn't randomly inspect every vehicle that put in a claim for new winter tires," spokesman Brian Smiley noted, adding that MPI saw no significant increase in fender-bender claims during the last two days.

Smiley said while MPI doesn't believe in winter-tire legislation, the corporation "strongly encourages vehicle owners to educate themselves with the various tires that are out there and what best suits their driving needs."

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

As climate change causes increasingly erratic weather, should Manitoba make snow tires mandatory? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 29, 2013 A4

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Updated on Friday, November 29, 2013 at 8:14 AM CST: adds photo, adds question for discussion

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