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.

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

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  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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