It’s a busy time for workers at auto shops across the province, as many drivers switch from all-season to winter tires.
Shayne Greening, manager of City Tire and Auto, said its Mount Pearl location is serving 45-70 vehicles per day. How many tires get changed depends on the type of vehicles served and the number of staff working, according to Greening.
“We actually start calling particular customers who are seniors or retired, even people who go down to Florida, we actually start calling them in October,” he said. “We try to get that bunch of people out of the way.”
According to data compiled by the Rubber Association of Canada (RAC), less than half of all motorists in Newfoundland and Labrador (46 per cent) are using winter tires. That compares with a national average of 52 per cent, according to RAC.
However, Service NL says those numbers do not accurately reflect winter tire usage in the province. In the fall of 2009, a Newfoundland and Labrador Statistics Agency survey found almost 85 per cent of drivers installed winter tires on at least one vehicle per household. That figure held for households where a person was over the age of 65 years.
In St. John’s, more than 92 per cent of drivers reported installing winter tires on at least one vehicle.
Jim Brazil, a traffic safety instructor with Safety Services Newfoundland and Labrador, said drivers who choose to avoid driving when road conditions are poor can get through the winter months using all-season tires.
“I think more along the lines of some seniors who basically will not go out in poor weather, because they don’t have to, as opposed to the individual who has to get to work every day, and unless everything is shutting down because of a blizzard, they still might be traveling in conditions that aren’t ideal.”
For people who do need to travel in such conditions, Brazil cautions them to be aware that all-season tires will not perform as well as winter ones on roads and highways.
According to Brazil, who is also a trainer for the Canada Safety Council’s defensive driving program, winter tires use a rubber compound that’s softer than those used in all-seasons. This provides better traction during winter months. He said all-season tires perform best when temperatures exceed 7 C.
“Once it starts to get consistently below that temperature, the (rubber) compound in an all-season tire kind of stiffens to the point that it loses some of its benefit relative to traction,” said Brazil.
Using a softer rubber compound does, however, mean winter tires will wear more quickly in comparison to all-seasons.
In Quebec, winter tire usage during winter months was made mandatory by law in 2008. RAC said research conducted by the provincial government found winter road accident injuries declined by five per cent in Quebec from 2008 to 2011.
Statistics released this time last year by Aviva Canada, an insurance company, found that auto insurance claims relating to road accidents increased less in Newfoundland and Labrador (37 per cent) than in six other provinces, including Quebec (44 per cent), in comparison to the remainder of the year.
The remaining three provinces used government-run auto insurance programs and were not included in Aviva’s data.
As to whether winter tires should be mandatory for drivers in this province, Brazil said Safety Services Newfoundland and Labrador does not take a stance on the matter.
However, he said there are times during the winter where all-season tires are fine to use. For people living on fixed incomes with no intentions of driving in poor conditions, Brazil expects having to pay for an extra set of tires to install and later take off may prove too costly.
He believes the decision to make winter tires mandatory in Quebec was a political one.
Greening expects the rush to change tires will stretch out over a longer period of time this year in the
metro area given the first visible accumulation of snow came Tuesday.
“So our December is actually going to be as busy or busier than our November, which is traditionally our busiest (month),” he said.
In snowy conditions, Brazil said, studded tires provide “no additional benefit.” When road conditions are dry, he said, it takes vehicles longer to stop when using studded tires. In wet conditions, he said, there is also a slightly increased risk of hydroplaning.
If a person is unsure whether tires on a vehicle are, in fact, winter ones, Brazil said they need to look for the symbol of a snowflake inside a mountain.
“People who go in and buy tires that just simply say MS, which stands for mud and snow, that has not been rated as a winter tire by Transport Canada.”