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On The Road

Winter Tires 101

Position yourself for winter driving success with this handy guide to winter tires.

by Team Onlia

As a veteran winter driver, you probably feel a little superior to our southern friends when two inches of snow shuts down a freeway or a Florida flash freeze cripples a community.

But it takes more than a few slippery trips home in rush hour to become a pro in the snow. Solid winter driving skills take effort, education and experience. And even then, accidents happen. But the best way to avoid them is to be prepared.

Before winter starts

A lot of people wonder whether winter tires are worth it. They cost a fair bit, and then there’s the pain of swapping them out twice a year. The simple answer if you live in Canada, is yes.

  Winter tires provide up to 50% more traction than other tires
  Winter tires can shorten stopping distance by up to 25% 

Winter tires are made of softer rubber and have specially designed treads to grip slippery surfaces. This makes a big difference when you need to stop on a dime or find yourself sliding down a hill toward a tree, car or pedestrian.

What about the cost of winter tires?

Investing in a set of winters will actually save you money by doubling the life of your summer or all-season tires. While one set of tires is on the car, the other is sitting in storage, perfectly preserved until their next turn on the road. 

But more than that, having winter tires reduces the cost of your auto insurance, as you’ll see by accounting for them in a car insurance quote. Those year-over-year savings make up a big chunk of what you paid for those tires in the first place.

The road got slippery. Now what?

Driving too fast on icy roads is not the same thing as speeding in good weather conditions. Even if you drive at your usual speed, particularly on the highway, you increase your chance of spinning out of control. You’ll also find that it’s harder to brake. If the temperature is below freezing and it’s snowing, your best bet is to slow down and take your time.

But sometimes icy conditions seem to come out of nowhere, like with black ice — a thin coat of barely visible slippery stuff on an otherwise cleared road. Be particularly vigilant on bridges, ramps and overpasses, where colder ground temperatures create black ice conditions.

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What to do when your car starts to slide

How you correct your slide depends on which wheels are slipping. 

If your front wheels are slipping (so the nose of your car is moving in a direction you didn’t intend), remove your foot from the accelerator and let the vehicle slow down. If you continue to slide, press on the brakes gently to help bring your vehicle to a stop.

If it’s your back wheels (you feel your tail end swerving left or right), slowly turn your wheel in the direction of the slide while removing your foot from the accelerator. 

Don’t slam on your brakes. It might be your first instinct since you want your vehicle to stop — but this won’t work on icy roads. The harder you brake, the more likely you are to make your slide worse. Brake gently by easing your foot down on the pedal.

Don’t yank your steering wheel. It will cause you to overcorrect and likely send your car spinning out of control. Turn your car slowly and deliberately.

Don’t pump your breaks. This used to be the conventional wisdom and may still work with older cars. But most newer cars (and all cars built after 2012) come with anti-lock braking systems (ABS) that pump the breaks automatically.

Don’t panic. It won’t help.

But what if…?

Yes, you can do everything right and still be involved in a collision. And yes, it will be stressful. 

Take a deep breath. 

This is why you have car insurance. 

Types of insurance

The usual basic, comprehensive and collision insurance covers you, your car and any other vehicle you hit. It also has $200,000 worth of third-party liability insurance that pays for things like medical treatment or repairs for property damage you caused to a front lawn.

To avoid that $200,000 not being enough, most Canadians opt to purchase between $1 and $5 million worth of third-party liability insurance. It can be worth it for the peace of mind alone. 

And here’s a nice perk: If you do get into an accident but have had a clean driving record for a period of time, Onlia Insurance offers first-accident forgiveness so whatever happens won’t trigger an increased insurance rate.

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