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Traffic after the Sea to Sky Highway was closed south of Squamish, British Columbia February 17, 2011 due to a heavy snow storm. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police closed the road for several hours after the storm and snow made driving treacherous on the mountain roads north of Vancouver. (ANDY CLARK/Andy Clark/Reuters)
Traffic after the Sea to Sky Highway was closed south of Squamish, British Columbia February 17, 2011 due to a heavy snow storm. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police closed the road for several hours after the storm and snow made driving treacherous on the mountain roads north of Vancouver. (ANDY CLARK/Andy Clark/Reuters)

Rob's Garage

Do I need winter tires in Vancouver? Add to ...

Hello Rob,

In Vancouver, I drive to work every day from 16th and Cambie (City Hall) to the Vancouver Airport in my 2008 Toyota Yaris. My husband, who is from Winnipeg, doesn't think I need snow tires, but other friends think I do. What are your thoughts? I should also mention that I'm not a very confident driver.

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Regards, Bonnie

Bonnie, get winter tires, and get four of them.

I could leave it at that but I’m reminded of a personal instance with my brother-in-law that was visiting from The Big Smoke.

Greg came for a ski vacation, and knowing he would arrive in January, his first questions centred on driving conditions. He insisted that he didn’t need a car with winter tires – that all-season tires would be fine.

I picked him up at the airport in my SUV that was equipped with winter tires. It had snowed the day before and was snowing lightly on the drive back but we made the drive home with no problem. Now I have to throw in the fact that I live on a mountain so the drive up the hill could have been a challenge without the right tires.

Long gone is the term “Snow Tire.” True winter tires are a study in traction technology.

All the while, Greg was chirping about eastern Canada’s perception of the poor winter drivers in the Vancouver area – that was, until I put him behind the wheel of a test car I was driving.

This little front wheel driver was shod with all-season tires, so I thought I would put Greg to the test.

My driveway is 10 metres from the stop sign at the corner of our street. Greg couldn’t bring the car to a stop until we had slid into the intersection onto the level strip of the cross-street. Already white knuckled after a 10 metre drive, I asked him to keep going. Reluctantly he agreed but added that he wasn’t sure he wanted to back the way we came, he preferred to stay on the level street that had only slight inclines.

Needless to say, I ended up driving the car back to the house using every trick in the book to keep us moving – which included driving on the fresher snow closer to the curb.

Greg could not believe it. He felt completely useless at the wheel. The car was uncontrollable. I asked him his thoughts about driving in Vancouver and he compared this experience with driving on greased ice.

So Bonnie, back to your discussion with your husband; winter driving in Vancouver, or anywhere that is close to the Pacific Ocean comes with its own challenges. The big difference is the moisture in the air combined with the temperature fluctuations around the freezing point. All it takes is a slight thaw followed by a freeze followed by another thaw to create a thin layer of water on top of ice – this is the recipe for greased ice.

New generation winter tires are equipped to handle these conditions along with true compact snow conditions, while all-season tires are not.

Bonnie, do yourself a favour and install a set of four winter tires. You will need four because the rear tires of a front wheel drive car add to the braking and controllability of the car – you will likely find that most stores will only sell sets of four anyway. Besides, it sounds like you will need all the confidence you can possibly get to help you through another greased ice winter on the Wet Coast.

Send your automotive maintenance and repair questions to Globe Drive experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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