Shift into Winter: The Inside Scoop on Winter Tires and Chains

When are winter tires or chains right for you? Good question – glad you asked.

With tire/chain requirements on most BC highways during the chillier months, we want to clear up any confusion so you can get your mind back on the road this winter. Drivers must obey winter tire and chain signs throughout the province from Oct. 1 to April 30. (For select highways NOT located through mountain passes and/or high snowfall areas, tire and chain requirements end March 31.)

To help you — and by “you,” we mean passenger vehicle drivers and commercial truck drivers — navigate your winter tread and chain needs, we recently updated our Winter Tires and Chains website, which guides you through depending on the vehicle you drive and where you drive it.

So, what is a winter tire?

Is it one with a three-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol? How about M+S (mud and snow) tires?2013_wintertire

We assessed the existing definition of “winter tires and chains” as part of the 2014 highway speed and safety review.

There are six things you need to know now.

  1. What’s Recommended?
    The RCMP and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure agree that for winter driving conditions, a tire with a 3-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol is the best choice. We encourage passenger vehicle drivers to choose the best tires possible, and to ensure the tires are in good condition, with good treads, and by that we mean tires having a minimum tread depth of 3.5 mm (greater tread depth is recommended).
  2. What’s Legal?
    The legislation as written accommodates M+S tires. Provincial RCMP will continue with past practice of allowing either tires with a mountain/snowflake symbol or a mud and snow designation on highways where winter tires are required, as long as they are in good condition, with good treads (worth repeating)*. Meanwhile, commercial vehicles greater than 11,794 GVW must carry chains along these routes, however trucks between 5,500 kg and 11,794 kg GVW may use M+S or mountain/snowflake tires, or chains.  If you’re a commercial driver, see our detailed chain up information for your work vehicle.
  3. Where Must I Have Winter Tires?
    We are only talking about the highways where the signage is – on the mountain passes in BC and in areas prone to snow and ice type of winter conditions, including the interior and north. We are not talking about drivers within cities, municipalities and private roads (such as ski hills) which may have their own bylaws or rules for winter tires, chains or traction devices. Maps of the designated highways where motorists must have winter tires or chains are available for the NorthernSouth Coast, Southern Interior and Southern Interior by US border regions.
  4. What if the Weather is Really Bad?
    In severe winter weather, police officers may turn vehicles around, regardless of the type of winter tire they are using, if they feel the tires are unsafe for the conditions and may be putting the driver at risk.
  5. Where Do I Get More Information About Winter Tires?
    Contact your tire manufacturer or local tire shop to discuss your tire needs and the best choice for safe winter driving.
  6. Does this Affect Everyone?
    Since more than 60 per cent of all BC drivers travel the province in places where snow rarely falls, the ministry does not require all drivers to equip their vehicles with winter tires. The new Winter Tires and Chains website will help you determine your specific needs based on what and where you drive.

Remember: If you plan to travel outside the Lower Mainland and southeastern Vancouver Island, winter tires are required on most highways.

In a nutshell: Between Oct. 1 and April 30, passenger vehicles are legally required to have M+S or mountain/snowflake tires*, and commercial vehicles must carry suitable chains while travelling on highways designated with winter travel signs.

And remember, DriveBC and our webcams are great ways to be informed about the weather and road conditions for your route. Winter weather is inevitable… Are you prepared?

[Please note: this blog post was originally published in 2013, and revised in 2021 to reflect the latest winter tire and chain regulations]

*The law applies to tires on the main drive axle. However, it is recommended drivers use four matching winter tires.

Page 1 of 125 comments on “Shift into Winter: The Inside Scoop on Winter Tires and Chains”

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  1. Good article. Thank you. However, I must point out that you indicate in your article “B.C. RCMP”. Just in case you haven’t noticed for the past 100 years or so, the RCMP is not the only Police Force in this Province.!! There are at least 13 others !!!!!

    • Thanks for the feedback Bob. You are most certainly correct – the B.C. R.C.M.P. are not the only police force in the province, there are many other great men and women serving the municipalities and regions of B.C.

      The B.C. R.C.M.P. helps us with enforcement on highways outside of those municipal and regional boundaries.

  2. Thank you for this information. I emailed ICBC to find out if M+S tires were acceptable or not, and have not heard back, so this page helped me and a few concerned co-workers who don’t have the Snowflake symbol but DO have the M+S label (with good tread).

  3. Good winter tires are a must on certain BC highways I agree. However I believe driving habits of people on hazardous routes play a very important roll also. I have been driving the highway 5A between Merritt and Hope on several occasions when the conditions warrant speeds of about 60-70 kmph, and have been passed by private vehicles and Transport trucks at speeds that are unbelievably fast. On more than one occasion a few kilometers down the road the vehicle has run off the road. I think people with winter tires believe they can drive at the posted speed limit and still be safe, a false sense of security. How about considering electronic highway speed signs similar to the ones used in the cities around schools and play grounds. Could these signs be hooked up near the highway cams and programmed to change the speed limits when conditions get really hazardous? Thank You.

    • Hi Allan, thanks for the feedback and your great suggestion. We will forward it along to the traffic engineering department for consideration.

    • Hi Cam,

      Thanks for connecting with us and letting us know your concerns. The contents of the blog above are the official word on winter tires in BC. M+S tires meet the minimum requirement for winter tires in BC. While tires with M + S designation are sufficient for use in winter conditions, we recommend using tires with the mountain snowflake symbol because they have been designed specifically for use in extreme winter conditions. Tire shops might be promoting the use of tires with the mountain snowflake symbol because they are the better choice of the two tires in winter conditions, but current legislation does identify M+S tires as the minimum in winter tires. The BC RCMP should not be issuing tickets to vehicles with M+S tires unless they have less than 3.5 millimetre of tread depth or are in poor condition. All tires, whether they are M+S or Mountain snowflake symbol should be in good condition with the minimum tread depth of 3.5 mm. BC RCMP can ticket drivers with either type of tire if they are in poor condition, because the use of those tires would put the driver and others travelling on the road at risk. Hope that this helps clarify the confusion, please let us know if you have any other questions.