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Sorry, but now is a good time to think about winter driving in general and winter tires in particular.

While a great many Canadians choose to drive through winter on the compromise or all-season tires that come on new vehicles, a growing number are seeing the wisdom and safety of switching to winter tires. Many of those motorists have their winter tires mounted on a second set of wheels, making the changeover much easier – and quicker.

For those who have not yet made the move to two sets of wheels and tires, this is the time to do so – before the tire stores get busy, certainly before those first flakes fly and tire changing comes at a premium. Perhaps you've bought a new vehicle since last winter or have a set of tires that are nearing the end of their safe life. In both cases, this is a logical time to consider a set of dedicated winter tires.

While the wisdom of winter tires is clear to many, a recent survey of more than 1,000 motorists by Canadian Tire shows a disturbing number of Canadians are still unaware of the risks of staying with all-season rubber. The survey showed the majority did not use winter tires, were not aware of their superiority and that there is a rating system and designation of winter tires.

That last factor consists of a "mountain/snowflake" symbol on the sidewall of a winter tire that indicates it has passed a set of standards established by Transport Canada and adhered to by members of the Rubber Association of Canada. These standards relate to traction and performance in cold, ice and severe snow conditions.

And just to muddy the water and add to the lack of awareness about winter tires is the arrival of a new type of tire – all-weather, as opposed to all-season tires. These newcomers pass the winter tire tests, unlike all-season tires, but unlike winter tires they are suitable for summer use.

The scientists and engineers at some tire companies have come up with a compound that remains flexible in cold conditions but does not wear excessively in summer. Think of them as a hybrid and perhaps the next big thing – if so, likely to replace all-season tires.

Confused? That's understandable. Let's try to clear it up. Summer tires have a tread compound designed for warm and hot conditions. As the temperature drops, they become less effective. But during the May-October period they are the best choice. All-season tires are compounded to work over a wider temperature spread – but they are a compromise in that they do not work as well as summer tires in hot weather or winter tires in the cold. They are biased toward spring, summer and fall use.

The tire industry has found that the point at which all-season tires become hard and lose effectiveness – and where winter tires come into their own – is seven degrees Celsius.

Winter tires are best in winter conditions and lose effectiveness and wear more quickly as the thermometer rises.

The new class of all-weather tires meet the winter (mountain/snowflake) tests and, thanks to some clever compounding, are able to work reasonably well in summer. They are generally a high-end or more expensive tire, currently available from Goodyear, Hankook, Nokian, Yokohama and Vredestein with newcomers appearing regularly.

Tire Rating System

Summer tires: Best for summer, fair in spring and fall, poor in winter

Winter tires: Best in winter, fair in spring and fall – but wear heavily, poor in summer.

All-season – Fair in spring, summer and fall, poor in extreme cold conditions

All-weather – Good in winter but not as good as "winter" tires, fair in spring, summer and fall.

Halifax-based Richard Russell runs a driving school.

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