Winter tires are more than just “snow” tires.

In addition to providing better handling in the snow, they also improve driving in cold and sub-zero temperatures, no matter the road conditions.

The unique construction of winter tires make them an excellent solution for cold weather driving and snowy or icy conditions. The rubber of all-seasons hardens at around 7ºC and below, resulting in decreased traction and grip. The rubber in winter tires is designed to stay flexible in cold temperatures. Improved flexibility allows for better traction in snow, ice and slush as well as on cold clear roads and dry pavement.

Tip: Don’t wait for the snow. When you can see your breath outside or when the temperature dips below 7ºC during the day, it’s time to install winter tires.

Whether you plan on installing them or not, here are a few things you need to know:

Winter tires also have unique tread patterns and siping—the slits on the surface of the tire—that cut into the ice and snow while avoiding snow build-up in the tread. The design also pushes water away from the tire, helping to avoid uncontrolled sliding, called hydroplaning.

The combination of the rubber, the tread and the siping design give winter tires up to 50 percent more traction than all-seasons. With superior traction comes improved braking with less stopping distance required, and better handling. In treacherous conditions, a few extra seconds to stop could be the difference between a collision and a smooth ride.

What’s more, having winter tires extends the life of your summer or all-season tires.

Winter tire shopping and installation tips:

Choose tires marked with the three-peaked mountain and snowflake. This symbol means they have passed a government-regulated traction test. Tires marked with M and S—for mud and snow—are not winter tires. They provide better traction than summer and all-season tires in light snow but not as much traction as winter tires in deep snow and cold temperatures.

Use four matching tires. Cars with only two winter tires significantly underperform in handling compared to those that have them on all wheels.

Give your winter tires a thorough inspection before mounting them on your vehicle. Is the tread deep enough for another year? Are there any cracks, bald spots or missing chunks? As a rough guide for checking tread depth, insert a toonie between two treads. If the treads cover more than a quarter of the toonie, you’re good.

Checking air pressure

Proper air pressure extends tread life, improves safety, and reduces fuel consumption — all vital factors in saving energy and protecting the environment.

Transport Canada suggests checking your tire pressure often, especially before any highway driving or before longer trips. Properly inflated, high quality winter tires in good condition will give you best traction on winter roads and increase fuel efficiency.

A tire that has good pressure when checked in a warm garage will be under-inflated when it’s below zero outside. Tire pressure goes down in the cold, which is why you should do your checks when the tires are cold. Remember to check your spare tire pressure regularly as well.