How to Choose from 4 Types of Tires for Winter Driving in BC

GoT_mountain-snowflake-TThere’s been a lot of tire talk lately, which is great. Winter is coming, and you obviously want to be prepared.
We want you to be prepared, too. So, we thought we’d go over the four types of tires you are permitted to use when driving high mountain passes and other signed BC highways requiring winter tires for passenger vehicles.

studded tire
By Kantor.JH via Wikimedia Commons

1. Studded Winter Tires
How to identify? 3-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol on sidewall and metal studs on tread
Perform best in? Wet, rough ice, and heavy snow; temperatures below 7C
What else should you know? Studded tires with studs up to 2 mm are allowed on BC highways from October 1 to April 30 (one month after winter tires requirements). Vehicles weighing less than 4,600 kg can have up to 130 studs per tire, and vehicles weighing more can have up to 175 studs per tire.
It’s also important to note that you should use studded tires on all four wheels for optimal control. Legally, you cannot have studded tires only on the front wheels.

Winter_tires_with_North_American_symbol_crop
by A7N8X via Wikimedia Commons

2. Non-Studded Winter Tires
How to identify? 3-peaked mountain and snowflake on sidewall
Perform best in? Rough ice and soft to hard-packed snow; temperatures below 7C
What else should you know? Full winter tires with the mountain/snowflake emblem maintain good traction in winter conditions because they are composed of a rubber compound that stays soft in cold temperatures. They also have an aggressive tread design for added traction on snow and ice.

3. All-Weather Tires
How to identify? 3-peaked mountain and snowflake on sidewall (ask tire dealer about the differences between winter and all-weather tires)
Perform best in? Milder winter conditions with rain and fast-melting snow; temperatures above and below 7C
What else should you know? All-weather tires are the newest type of tire designed to counter winter conditions. What makes them different from standard winter tires is they maintain good handling in both cold and warm temperatures, but can be kept on the vehicle year-round. However, they are made of a compound that is not as soft as standard winter tires, so they do not perform quite as well in cold temperatures. Still, the compound is softer than all-season tires.

2013_wintertire4. All-Season Tires
How to identify? M+S (Mud and Snow) on the sidewall
Perform best in? Milder, dry or slightly wet conditions
What else should you know? All-season tires will not perform as well as standard winter tires in severe conditions; however, all-season tires have a shape and tread design that gives better traction than summer tires in snow and ice. The tire industry indicates M+S tires are made of a hard compound that offers reduced traction when temperatures dip below 7C, compared to winter tires with the 3-peaked mountain and snowflake symbol.

All of these tires are legal on highways with winter tire requirements between October 1 and March 31, as long as they have a minimum 3.5 mm tread depth. Tip: pick up a tire depth gauge – they are inexpensive and available at most stores that sell auto supplies.

For maximum stability in cold weather and on ice, snow and slush, we recommend using standard winter tires with the mountain/snowflake emblem. On the other hand, if you only drive in a milder area (ie. Lower Mainland) that gets rain rather than snow, you may choose all-weather or all-season tires.

BC’s diverse range of weather can make tire shopping confusing – we know. That’s why we created a website to help guide your decision. No matter what type of tire you use, your driving performance is one of your best defences against cold, snow and ice. Give lots of space in poor conditions. And remember, speed limits are for ideal driving conditions – think dry asphalt, warm weather, windows down, wind in hair – so, please slow down when necessary.

Do you have any other winter driving tips or questions about winter tires? Feel free to comment below.

145 comments on “How to Choose from 4 Types of Tires for Winter Driving in BC”

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  1. Hello,

    Just curious if you can use studded winter tires for regular driving around the lower mainland in the winter? I’m a little confused as I see it says you can use them on BC highways. Does this also include local driving around Richmond, Vancouver, etc in the winter time?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Desiree.
      Studded winter tires may only be used on BC highways from October 1 to April 30 and the studs should not protrude more than 2 mm from the tread or traction surface of the tire. Use of studded tires outside of this period may result in a fine. As for local driving, sorry, those are not provincial highways and fall out of our jurisdiction.

      Reply
    • Hi Elliot,

      Tires with the M+S logo (and at least 3.5 mm tread depth) are the minimum acceptable type of tire for driving mountain passes in BC. Our recommendation for regular travellers of these routes is to use winter rated (Mountain snowflake) tires. We encourage you to also carry chains, in case you should require extra traction, give yourself plenty of time to travel, so that you aren’t in a rush, check DriveBC.ca and drive to the conditions of the road, not the posted speed limit. Speed limits are set for ideal driving conditions and winter driving conditions are not ideal. Here’s a link to further information about chain up routes and winter tire requirements: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/driving-and-cycling/traveller-information/seasonal/winter-driving

      Reply
  2. Why can’t ICBC require 3peak winter tires on all bc roads between Oct 1 and April 30th? if it saves even 1 life and reduce numerous accidents, wouldn’t it be worth it? Even in the lower mainland, it is often below 7 degrees and proper winter tires would decrease stopping distance and it would prevent many accidents, therefore reduce injury claims and save ICBC money and yet no cost to ICBC to mandate this requirement. Or reduce the premium by 2 or 5% to people that opt to drive with 3 peak snowflake winter tires? Just like health insurance, if you are a non smoker, your premium is reduced.

    Reply
    • I agree, I strongly wish that the Gov’t would NOT allow all-season M+S on the mountain pass roads. If someone doesn’t drive these, then M+S would be fine. But if you plan to drive the Sea to Sky or the Coq or the 97C etc, you should be REQUIRED to have 3-peak Mountain tires only. They’ve made an entire TV show out of how bad the conditions get on those highways – it’s clear they are not the types of roads or conditions that we should be allowing people to drive on M+S all-seasons. Everyone knows it, let’s just step up and make it the law.

      Reply
      • Hi Kristina – Due to a more temperate winter climate in the Lower Mainland and southeastern Vancouver Island, drivers are not required to use winter tires in many areas along the coast. If motorists are plannning on driving a mountain pass – we recommend they use winter rated snow tires. Hope that this helps!

        Reply
  3. Hello “tranbceditor”. Just want to says ‘thanks’ for the fact that someone is actually reading people’s questions and responding in timely manner. Seems like most people have similar questions with confusion about m+s and mountain-snowflake. Reading through comments has been very helpful. Keep up the great work. The 3.5mm minimum needs more mentioning.

    Reply
    • Hi Jarnail – thanks for the feedback – we like hearing it 🙂

      And yes, we will keep mentioning the minimum requirements, wherever we can.

      Safe travels.

      Reply
  4. Is it legal for car rental companies in the Okanagan for example, to charge more for cars with ‘winter tires’? It appears that it’s a substantial charge for that ‘option’. If not willing to pay that, then it seems only cars with the M + S symbol are available which may not be safe in adverse snow conditions.

    Reply
  5. Hi there,
    I’ve read about 2 dozen comments and am yet to find one for traveling in 2019 – 2020 from Kelowna to Vancouver via Hwy 97C and the Coquihalla Hwy…
    I don’t want to get a headache by continuing to read on my tiny phone, which is my only access to the internet.

    If traveling from Kelowna to Vancouver between October 2019 and April 2020, either in an SUV (2016) or a Ford 150 (2014) EXACTLY what tire’s are Needed on these 2 specific Hwys??

    I don’t want to be more confused with the “You Need “”Either”” “”Or””! I want EXACT SPECIFICS for these 2 Hwys only, please and thank you!

    And I’ll apologize in advance if I seem too blunt…

    Sincerely Appreciated and Thank You,
    KP

    Reply
  6. My tires say “mud and snow”. Is that the same as M&S? The tred easily meets the requirements. Can I use them on the highway in the winter?

    Reply
    • Hello Bena,

      A legal winter tire (on a standard passenger vehicle or a four-wheel/all-wheel vehicle) MUST have at least 3.5 mm of tread depth.

      A winter tire must be labelled with either of the following:

      The letters “M” and “S”, the minimum legal requirement (mud + snow/all season tires)
      The 3-peaked mountain/snowflake symbol (some manufacturers label with both the mountain snowflake and the M+S symbol)

      3-peaked mountain/snowflake tires offer better traction on snow and ice. We recommend drivers install 3-peaked mountain/snowflake tires for cold weather driving and, for extreme conditions, carry chains.

      Summer tires are not permitted for driving during designated winter months. Chains on summer tires are not an acceptable substitute for legal winter tires on signed B.C. highways.

      Reply
  7. I noticed the signs now have M+S and the snowflake in the mountain peak. It doesn’t say M+S or Snowflake anymore.

    Does this mean you have to have both the M+S and the snowflake in the 3 peak mountain to drive on BC highways?

    Reply
  8. Hi I have M+S Nokia Rotiiva, they don’t have the snowflake on them, at least I can’t find it. I got a little confused after reading this is the snowflake symbol mandatory or if you have M and S with 3.5mm tread depth you are O.K.? Don’t want to break the rules, trying to avoid buying 6 tires too 🙂

    Reply
  9. Hi. Me and my wife are planning to go to whistler in a few weeks. We bought a set of M+S tires late last year. I would assume I can use those on the sea to sky. Lots of tread on them . They still look new.

    Reply
    • As long as your M+S tires have a minimum tread depth of 3.5 mm you are good to go (but please also check DriveBC.ca before you go and give yourself plenty of time, so you don’t have to rush)!

      Reply
  10. Winter is becoming more severe on the island, with many residents frequenting the malahat, and it seems wildly unsafe to allow M+S tires on highways. Are you considering changing the laws, with the development of all-weather tires? The prices aren’t much different, and they are, statistically, a much safer option.

    Reply
  11. Can you please clarify if a M + S Tire with greater than 3.5mm tread is sufficient for the curent 2019 regulations for Highway 19 on Vancouver Island, including the Malahat ?

    Reply