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

Winter is Coming Shift into Winter 3 peak mountain for winter tiresThere’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.

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.

Winter Tire4. 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 or April 30, 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.

If you liked this blog, check out these other popular posts:

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

Page 1 of 171 comments on “How to Choose from 4 Types of Tires for Winter Driving in BC”

Leave a Reply to philip Cancel reply

  1. The decision to accept M & S tires for winter use is as foolish as raising the speed limits on 15% of BC rural highways. Not one injury prevention organization or trauma specialist agreed with either of these ill-advised changes. All were ignored. This just makes it simpler for everybody, except for the misguiuded who actually believe that the trip over the Coquihalla or up to Whistler in winter really isn’t that or tough when it snows — and weather is so predictable in the mountains!

    To say that all weather tires are safe in all conditions is totally irresponsible. That’s why in some provinces, winter tires are the law. Period. For every vehicle, even rentals.

    The only circumstances in which all weather tires are acceptable all year round in BC are for those drivers who NEVER venture farther north than Burrard Bridge and east past Hope. These changes just give the false assurance that you can “get away” with all seasons. Will MotI be doing surveys of the mopuntains roads this winter to see what proportion of drivers actually do follow their “recommendations” for winter tires in the snow?

  2. What are the regulations involving front wheel drive traction control van with severe winter tires, and two m&s designated tires?

    • Hello Patricia,
      You must have at least 2 matching winter tires on the same axle, but we recommend using 4 matching tires – even when driving a 4X4 vehicle. Hope that this helps!

  3. 97% of the car tires sold in Canada have the M+S stamp or the Mountain/Snowflake (according to an industry representative interviewed on CBC Radio). So all the new signs on the highway are pretty much a waste of time. I wish the Minister would try driving the Trans-Canada through the mountians in a blizzard with all-season tires with (barely) 3.5 mm tread.

    • Hi Nicholas,
      Thanks for connecting with us here.
      While M+S tires with a 3.5 mm tread are the minimum requirement on mountain passes in BC, we encourage drivers who travel mountain routes regularly to invest in a good set of severe weather rated mountain snowflake winter tires.

      • So it is ok for drivers who occasionally travel mountain routes and don’t have experience of driving them not to use real winter tires? They can take your advice that “All-season tires provide safe performance in all types of weather”.

        • All-season tires provide safe performance in all types of weather,

            but will not perform as well as standard winter tires in severe conditions.

          As always, we encourage drivers to check DriveBC so that they are aware of the road conditions along their route and should drive to conditions at all times.

          • Its a shame our government doesn’t take the advice of RTMA and require “snow tires” on mountain passes. M+S rated tires are the result of the initial introduction of all season tires in the 1980’s. Those tires had aggressive tread close to winter tires. Customers found them noisy and eventually manufacturers evolved them into todays (erroneously named) “all season” tires which have a tread not unlike the old summer tires .In fact true “summer tires ” are usually only available in high performance sized for specialized cars. Most good tire shops will dispute that all season tires are ok for mountain passes.
            It’s also important to note that despite the info saying 3.5mm is passable as tread depth, the industry standard (yes even in Canada) is to measure tread depth in 32nd of an inch. Most tread depth gauges are in 32s , few are in mm.
            My 3rd comment is about the placement of winter tires if only 2 are used. Tire manufactures such as Michelin advise if only installing 2 winter tires on a front wheel drive vehicle, that those tires are installed on the REAR of the vehicle NOT the driving axle as stated here. I know this sounds illogical , but the reasoning is if installed on the front, the greater traction can cause spin outs on situations of braking and turning at the same time or turning at too fast a speed.

          • Thanks for the feedback Randy. Due to a more temperate winter climate in the Lower Mainland and southeastern Vancouver Island, drivers in these areas are not required to use winter tires, (although many drivers choose to use M+S tires year-round). Winter road conditions across the rest of B.C. often include snow and ice and we recommend drivers install mountain/snowflake tires for cold weather driving and, for extreme conditions, carry chains. We recently produced a video titled: 15 Seconds to Safety, and in the video we show the two types of tread depth measurement. Here is a link to the video:
            Regarding your comment about the number of winter tires required and their placement, the law requires that you must have at least 2 matching winter tires on the primary drive axle, but we recommend using 4 matching tires on the four outside corners of the vehicle – even when driving a 4X4 vehicle. Mixing tires with different tread patterns, internal construction and size compromises stability, and should be avoided.

            Hope that this helps.

          • That’s not logical.

            “Severe” is a weather condition, which occurs in seasons.
            (We’re talking winter here, they may or may not be better in really west weather.)

            BTW, there’s confusion over the Malahat Mountain Highway which BC refuses to sign as a Mountain Highway. Part of the confusion may be the term “winter tire” which does not mean “snow tire” as many people understand that term.

            BC needs to clean up its web sites for clarity and consistency. (As does WA last I looked.)

          • Hi Keith,

            There is mountain pass winter tire requirement signage at the entrance to Goldstream Park. It identifies the two acceptable types of tires for travelling over the Malahat. Due to a more temperate winter climate in the Lower Mainland and southeastern Vancouver Island, drivers are not required to use winter tires, although many drivers choose to use M+S tires year-round. Drivers should use discretion when equipping their vehicles. Hope that this helps.

      • Oh and you can add to those on all-season tires in winter all the foreign tourists who rent cars at Calgary Airport and drive into BC. Ideal for driving while jet-lagged.

  4. Highway 1 east of exit 44 should be a Winter Tire zone. The Lower Mainland can experience non temperate weather in the winter. Motorists need to be prepared for severe driving conditions, even if it is only for just for 3 to 6 weeks of the year. The bottom line is that the driver is always responsible for their vehicle’s traction on the road. If you don’t want to make the investment in snow tires, then stay off the road.