February 27, 2013 10:43 AM | By Petrina Gentile for MSN Autos

Do I really need winter tires?



Winter tires provide the grip you need to get through snow, slush, and the cold (© Photo: Getty Images)

It's a never-ending debate — do I really need winter tires? I'm going to set the record straight: yes. In fact, they're mandatory in some provinces, like Quebec. But even if you don't live in Quebec, winter tires are a necessity providing you better traction on the road and greater control over your vehicle.

What's the difference between winter tires and all-season tires?

Winter tires have deeper treads to better clear snow from the road (© Photo: Getty Images)

Winter tires are made of a softer rubber compound designed to remain flexible at colder temperatures, proving them with extra stick to adhere to the road. They grip better on ice, snow, and in cold, dry conditions. Really, the name "all-season" is something of a misnomer; they're fine for spring, summer, and fall, but their inability to remain pliable at low temperatures means they cannot provide the same levels of grip when winter's chill sets in.

One of the defining characteristics of winter tires are their deeper tread grooves (often 30 per cent deeper), which offer more bite in the snow than all-season tires. They have large grooves and sipes (tiny cuts), in the rubber which grip the ice better than an all-season tire. All-season tires are made of rubber that starts to harden and lose adhesion when it's colder than -8C. In fact, at +7C a winter tire will outperform an all-season tire which starts to harden and becomes like a hockey puck. This flexibility allows winter tires to shorten stopping distances by up to 40 per cent compared to all-season tires. The result could mean the difference between getting into an accident and avoiding one.

Find the right tires for your vehicle with MSN Autos' winter tire buyer's guide

What kind of winter tires are there?

A studded Gislaved winter tire (© Photo: Gislaved)

A Gislaved winter tire with studs for added grip on ice

There are many types of winter tires on the market including snow tires, studdable tires, ice tires, tires optimised for snow and ice, and all-weather — the latest advancement in winter tire technology.

All-weather tires are designed to use all four seasons. They're made of a hybrid rubber compound and have a unique tread pattern to provide drivers with year-round high-performance drivability with the added safety of winter weather traction. They're ideal for people who live in congested downtown condos and don't have enough space to store their all-season tires in the winter and vice versa. They're also ideal for people who don't want the hassle of switching tires or paying the price for an extra set of tires.