Column: Get a grip in the winter time

Winter tires have technology that proves them superior

I began my journalism career in the summer of 1995, right after I graduated from college. The best job offer I got was with a newspaper called the Arrow Lakes News located coincidentally enough on the Arrow Lake, also known as the Columbia River in the interior of British Columbia.

I grew up in a farm area in east central Alberta called Oyen. Oyen tends to have cold winters, but not a lot of snow. I didn’t really get a lot of experience driving on icy, winter roads.

That changed when I lived along the Columbia River. One of my many, many duties working for the ALN was, once a week, driving the delivery van across the mountain range to Vernon. It just so happened the first time I did this in the early winter of 1995-96 coincided with a horrid snowstorm, leaving roads slick. To make matters worse, the person I was working for wouldn’t replace bald tires on the van, let alone purchase winter tires. It was an interesting experience to drive through the mountain pass, slipping and sliding all over the road.

Getting out of there and returning to Alberta the following year, I told myself, It’s winter tires for me.”

After I put sufficient research into which tires were best for my car, I learned how much development is put into winter tire technology. It is a lot.

Winter tires, which you can identify by the snowflake symbol on the sidewall, are manufactured out of a different kind of rubber than all-seasons. The winter rubber resists cold weather better and takes much longer to harden in the cold; if you’ve ever played hockey, you know how hard that rubber puck can become in the cold. The fact that winter tires stay soft in the cold means they grip the road better and can stop more quickly in an emergency.

Standard rubber hardens relatively quickly in the cold, turning your tires into ice skates for your car. Get ready to slide.

Another piece of technology used in winter tires are “sipes.” Sipes are squiggly lines etched on the tread pattern of the winter tire. The sipes act like little claws, increasing the tires grip and reducing slides. Standard all-season tires don’t have sipes and you can certainly tell if you’re in an intersection with glare ice.

Generally, whenever I have a discussion with someone who doesn’t like winter tires, the only reason they can ever come up with is that they can’t afford them. The excuses “My summer tires are just as good,” etc., are all false, proven so by the evidence just cited. All-season tires do not have the compound or technology that winter tires have, and logically cannot perform as well in winter as proper winter tires.

I don’t even buy the “expensive” argument. If you shop around, most tire places have sales on year-round, and you can always find a deal. Many places have four for three sales where you only pay for three tires, but get four. That’s a good deal. Most places also have a price match program, so even if you’re one of those “Everything Is Better At Costco” people, local folks can still offer good deals.

It’s true that the only part of your vehicle that touches the ground are your tires, and hence they place an incredibly important part in the safety of you and your family.

Drive safely and have a great winter.

Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.

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