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Drivesmart column: The ins and outs of winter tires

Drivers who fail to obey the sign requirments may be fined

By Tim Schewe

Outside temperatures have dipped below 7 C, so it’s time to consider installing your winter tires if you use them. Residents in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island might be able to get away with good all season or all weather tires if they stick close to home, but vehicles being driven in the rest of the province really should be equipped with true winter tires.

Signs requiring winter tires (or the carrying of chains depending on the vehicle type) between Oct. 1 and April 30 are posted on most B.C. highways.

Drivers who fail to obey the sign requirments may be fined and prevented from continuing their journey until they comply.

Section 208 of the Motor Vehicle Act sets out the requirements for winter tires and Division 7.162 (3) defines them:

(3) A winter tire under section 208 of the Act must be labelled on a sidewall by the manufacturer with either of the following:

(a) the 3-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol

(b) the letters “M” and “S”

A true winter tire will have a graphic of a mountain and snowflake symbol along with the M+S designation. All season tires are not principally winter tires, even though they may say M+S or Mud and Snow on the sidewalls.

If the tread depth is less than 3.5 mm, winter tires are considered to be worn out. Beware, as the tread wear bars on most tires begin to show at 1.6 mm, which is the minimum for summer season tires. Use a tread depth gauge to be sure.

All season tires, winter tires or studded winter tires, how do you decide? If you will be doing any driving where there is regular snow and ice, all season tires are not a good choice. If you want to use the tires between May 1 and Sept. 30, studded tires are also out of the question. If your vehicle is a front wheel drive the law says that if you choose to use studded tires, you must use four studded tires.

It gets more complicated yet! Tires really should go on in sets of four. This takes the best advantage of ABS, traction control or electronic stability control. For the same reason, use only the tire size specified by the vehicle manufacturer found on the vehicle’s tire placard or in your owner’s manual. If you can only afford two, put the new tires on the rear.

Traction AA, Temperature B, Tread Wear 250. The Uniform Tire Quality Grade rating gives drivers consistent and reliable information regarding tire performance. This information is also found printed on the tire sidewall and may be used as a guide along with other information about the particular tire.

Ready to give up and buy the first tire that you see within your budget? The Automobile Protection Association discusses tire choices in simple terms and has a current guide that is available to the public.

When you consider that the average passenger car has about as much tread in contact with the road as the area covered by a pair of adult feet, it makes sense to maximize the quality of that contact. Use the services of a tire professional to guide your choices if you are not sure of what to do.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit