January 28, 2013 9:40 AM | By Mark Richardson for MSN Autos

Winter tires: An investment in your safety and your sanity

Mark Richardson's 2000 Saturn L200 Sedan with new winter tires (© Photo: Mark Richardson)

Mark's old Saturn got a new lease on life with a set of good winter tires.


Mark Richardson

Mark Richardson — On the Road

I live 100 km outside of Toronto, which means some of my neighbours have a long commute. For me, a new transplant from the city, it means I had to bite the bullet last month and install winter tires on my car.

My 2000 Saturn sedan isn't worth much these days but it's reliable, fairly comfortable and the heater works. The air-conditioning doesn't, but I won't be worrying about that for a few months yet. What also doesn't work is the set of all-season Bridgestone Insignia SE200 tires, which are rated for "light snow" but I feel can make the car a deathtrap in winter.

It wasn't such a big deal in Toronto, especially over the last couple of winters when we had such scant snowfall. The road was usually bare and whenever the weather turned bad, traffic would drive so slowly that there was no speed to get into trouble. "If it gets bad, I just won't drive," I reasoned. More often than not I was driving somebody else's car anyway, and it was usually fitted with decent winter rubber.

Related link: MSN Autos' winter tire buying guide

Traffic-clogged road

Start sliding here and you WILL hit something.

I was caught out a couple of times. Once was in Toronto, driving down the Don Valley Parkway in an unexpected storm that dropped ankle-deep snow across the city. Normally, the speed limit on the Don Valley is 90 km/h and traffic drives at a bit over 100, but that day the speeds dropped to maybe 60 km/h. I white-knuckled it in the right-hand lane at 30 km/h, holding up traffic, feeling the front-wheel drive car constantly slip to the sides with that stomach-twisting slide that means it's out of control.

If I lost all traction, there would be no room to straighten the skid — cars were just a reach away to the side in the middle lane and far too close behind, impatient at my progress. Any more than the smallest squirm and I'd be tapping their wheels with my own; the deductible alone would be more than the price of a new set of tires. "This is nuts," I thought at the time. "Never again."

But soon after I had to collect my son from a friend's house here in the boonies. The friend lived on a dirt road and the moment the wheels hit the icy patches of the country lane, the car slipped to the side like Italian leather soles on an ice rink.

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