Winter tires: my take

There’s been some debate about winter tires. It’s a topic that I feel particularly strong about. Winter tires? Heck yes.

Why?

The first big snowfall after I purchased my car, likely in November or December 2007, wasn’t particularly awful – sure, people drove slower than normal, but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before. However, it’s the worst driving experience I can recall in my 11 years since getting my license.

I woke up, left myself lots of time to get into work – on a typical day, it was about a 15 minute drive from my parents’ place ouside of the city, and then another 15-20 downtown by bus once I parked. On this day I figured out quickly, though, that the time I’d left myself wasn’t going to be enough time.

Driving out of my parents’ neighbourhood was pretty slippery; so much so that I almost slid into the ditch once while going around a corner (which gave me cause to stop and take a couple of deep breaths before continuing), and repeatedly slid every which way as I tried to get traction on the road. Going fast? Nope… maybe 20, 30. Since it’s a less-used road and hadn’t been plowed, I figured that it had to get better once I hit the highway where more traffic had packed down the snow.

Not. So. Much.

Let’s just say that I white-knuckled it the entire drive into the city, pondering turning around to go back home at one point. On Sarcee Tr, I got stuck once and had to crawl up the curving hill for the rest of the distance, where I prayed that I would not have to stop for traffic at the Yield sign on the uphill corner from Sarcee to Richmond Rd – there was no doubt in my mind that if I stopped, I would not get my car going again on the ice. My usual 15 minute drive took me 40, and by the time I parked I realized I’d been holding my breath the entire time.

I braved the drive back home later that evening, again taking twice as long as usual to spin and slide like there was no tomorrow. Then I made an appointment with my dad’s mechanic to put on winter tires and used a different vehicle in the meantime – it was that bad.

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE driving. I have high-performance tires on my car during the spring/summer/fall and there’s nothing I love more than cruising up and down the Deerfoot to clear my mind and de-stress. I’ve done the drive between Winnipeg and Calgary all by myself, in one day. I drove 2/3 of the way between Calgary and Vegas. I know to turn into a skid, how to drive defensively, how to look for icy spots on the road. And my driving record is spotless – no tickets, no accidents (knock on wood).

And it wasn’t the tires – the car had 9km on it when I bought it brand new in April 2007. Those babies were new.

Some cars just weren’t meant for heavy winter driving. My Mazda3 is light and the back tends to drift in the ice and snow. However… with winter tires, it’s perfectly safe to drive. I rarely spin my tires. I’ve never experienced a situation in the almost-3 years since getting the winter tires that I did that one time. I have no fear about driving on snowy residential streets or in hilly neighbourhoods. I’ve been known to say “If I can get out of my [seldom used] back alley, I can drive anywhere.”

Does this make me invincible? Of course not. Winter is no time to be careless about driving. Go with the flow of traffic at a safe speed, know your vehicle’s abilities, watch what others are doing because they may not have winterized vehicles, keep lots of space between you and the car in front of you, and leave lots of time to get where you’re going. Think your actions out in advance so you’re not trying to cross 4 lanes of traffic in one shot. Keep an eye out on the streets for icy patches or piles of snow.

Plus, switching out your tires just means that both sets last twice as long as they ordinarily would if you used either set all year round. So, why the ire against winter tires?

A marketing gimmick to get people to spend more money? Nope – I’ve experienced the difference. I’d bet my life on it.

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