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Thursday 9 November 2017

Tire Safety

Michelin said it best: Because so much is riding on your tires.

Winter driving in NL can be deadly, and thats not a joke or an overstatement. We live in a place where snow is a part of life and we live in a time where driving is a necessity for most. As a result many of us end up driving in some pretty unsafe conditions. I personally love driving in a good snowstorm, but I go well prepared. I've been working around cars for over 20 years and I also am a certified instructor for the Tire Industry Association, so I know a little about tire safety.

I can say without hesitation that the scariest thing I see on regular basis pulling into the shop where I work is bad tires. It happens every week and the drivers often have no idea that their tires are worn to so badly it is simply a matter of time before they cause an accident. It is the first thing I notice and I have to hold back from getting angry with drivers about the state of their tires. But as usual I digress.

Beyond having tires that are in good condition you should have tires that match the conditions you will be driving in to maximize your control of your vehicle. You need the right tires, installed properly and in the right location on your vehicle to improve your traction. Knowing that people often know far to little about the most important safety feature on their vehicle I thought I might share some tips and knowledge to help keep us all safe on the roads this winter.

"All Season" my ass. 
There is no such thing as an "all season" tire in NL. Technically speaking there are really only two designations that matter. There is a tire designation specifically for tires that meet a minimum standard for extreme winter driving conditions. It can be identified by a symbol on the sidewall of the tire that has a snowflake inside a mountain with 3 peaks as seen below. It is the only official winter tire designation and has specific standards to be met before it can be included on a tire.

The other type of tire available is pretty much everything else. It may seem a little confusing because manufacturers will use symbols and letters to denote the type of tire they are selling, but at the end of the day it either has the 3 peak mountain snowflake(3PMSF) or it doesn't.

You will see tires stamped with AT (All Terrain) M+S (Mud and Snow) or any other number of identifiers but they do not mean that the tire is a tested snow tire. They may have aggressive treads or even be a studdable tire but without the 3PMSF it is technically not a tested winter tire. In Quebec where winter tires are mandatory, the 3PMSF symbol is the standard they use.

"All Season" tires can have limited snow traction, minimal sipes, and very poor cold weather performance. If you want the safest winter tire available look for that symbol.

The idea of mandatory winter tires has gained some traction lately. I happen to think it's a good idea.

Location. Direction. 
The "common sense" approach to tires seems to dictate that you put your best tires on your drive wheels. So on the front for a front wheel drive, and on the back for a rear wheel drive. Well... not exactly. While have good tires on your drive wheels will get you started if you have better tires in the front then the rear you are at a much higher risk of loosing control and will have a near impossible task to regain control in a skid. It is reality and not just my opinion. I get tired of explaining this to people but it is part of the job. If you don't want to worry about it then just rotate your tires and you will have even wear all around, as it should be.

One more short note on the tire location. To maximize grip winter tires are often designed with a directional tread pattern. This means that the tire will give proper traction when spinning in one direction and greatly reduced traction if placed on the car in the wrong location. These tires can sometimes be identified by the tread but they always have a direction of rotation noted on the sidewall somewhere. So if you have your winter tires already on rims and you put them on yourself just make sure you put them on the proper side of your vehicle or you will be cutting the effectiveness of your tires significantly.

Save some money and some time.
This one is as simple as it gets. Buy yourself some steel wheels and have your winters mounted on them. This way your seasonal tire change is faster, cheaper and you will keep your summer wheels in better condition.

Shop around.
This one is sometimes easier said then done. Find yourself a reputable shop to do your tire work. They should have properly trained staff and appropriate equipment for the job. Some tires require specialty equipment and trying to get by without it can cause damage to tires and rims.

Be safe.
At the end of the day you can have the best tires money can buy, installed properly and still not understand the basics of winter driving. If you don't feel safe driving in snow then don't do it. If you do have to drive in snow then be safe. Just because you may have an AWD or 4X4 doesn't mean it stops any faster then a regular 2WD on ice. It doesn't. Never forget that you're not alone on the roads and especially this year we have seen far too many multiple vehicle accidents and deaths.

Be safe out there.