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How to Check Your Winter Tire Tread

Having good winter tires is crucial during the winter season in Nova Scotia. Whether you're driving on snow, slush, or cold, dry pavement, you want to be sure that your vehicle maintains peak traction levels at all times. A key factor in this is making sure that your winter tires still have the tread depth required to grip the road.

My vehicle has 4-wheel drive, so I don't need winter tires.

Even if your vehicle is equipped with 4-wheel drive, you should still have winter grade tires put on your vehicle. 4x4 only aids in accelerating and maneuvering, and is therefore not a substitute for the traction provided by winter tires. Winter tires also have a reduced risk of puncturing, and have specially designed tread patterns to push water away to help you avoid hydroplaning on wet roads.

If your winter tires have tire tread wear indicators built in, then knowing if you need to replace them can be as simple as checking the indicators. The tire tread indicators are the small raised bars, usually 6 on a tire, located along the inside of the tread grooves. They indicate the minimum tread depth permitted. Once the indicators begin to wear, the tires need to be replaced immediately.

Checking the depth of your tire tread doesn't require the use of fancy tools. It can be as simple as taking an ordinary toonie and sticking it upright in the shallowest groove in your tires, and seeing how much of the coin remains uncovered.

  • If the tread reaches up to the bear's paws, then your tires are in near new condition, and have lots of tread remaining.
  • If the tread covers the silver part of the toonie, then the tread is about half worn, and you should be able to get another few seasons out of them.
  • If the top half of the letters of CANADA or DOLLARS (depending on the toonie's orientation) are exposed, then you need to get new winter tires.

A tire tread gauge is a useful tool to keep in your glove compartment, and can be purchased in any hardware or home improvement stores. To use, simply find the shallowest groove in the tire tread, and insert the pin into it, while pushing the base flush with the tire.

  • If the gauge reads 10/32" or higher, then your winter tires are in new-like condition.
  • If the gauge reads 6/32", then your winter tires likely won't make it through the entire winter season (assuming a season is 10,000km driven) and you should begin looking for new winter tires.
  • If the gauge reads 4/32" or less, you need to replace your winter tires immediately. The tires are bald and are not safe for winter driving.

Though uncommon, there are some brands of all-weather tires designed for year-long use that have the winter tire symbol. These tires usually have an extra marking on the tread of the tire that acts as an indicator. Once this indicator has worn off, it means the tread is no longer at a depth that is required for safe winter driving, and that they need replacing.

Not all winter tires will wear at the same speed, under the same conditions. For example, winter tires designed for icy conditions tend to wear out faster than tires designed for snow. There are many factors that can affect the lifespan of your winter tires, but making sure that you properly care for your tires can help extend it.

  • Your tires should be properly inflated to the PSI recommended in the owner's manual. Maintaining this tire pressure reduces tire wear, and can even save you gas. Tire pressure should be checked at least once a month, or, if you rack up a lot of mileage on a regular basis, once a week.
  • The tires should be balanced and rotated every 10,000km. This service helps prevent uneven tread wear from occurring.
  • If you feel your vehicle begin to pull to the left or right, or notice uneven tread wear on your tires, you need to have an alignment done on your vehicle.

A tire marked with M+S means it has some capability in winter driving, in comparison to summer tires, but the testing to earn this mark only includes driving on packed snow and mud, and does not include measuring traction on ice, slush or cold, dry roads. This means tires bearing this symbol are not equipped to handle the full force of our Nova Scotia winters.

Only tires marked with the winter tire symbol (3 peak mountain and a snowflake) are true winter tires, that have been tested for snow traction and winter driving at temperatures below +7°Celsius.

Our certified technicians are here to fulfill all your vehicle needs. We can check over your tires, and give you a recommendation personalized to fit you. Schedule an appointment today.

The type of tires you have on your vehicle affects where they are moved during a rotation service. If you have directional tires, then the tires must be switched with the tire on the same side (ex: front left tire switched with rear left tire and vice versa). If you have non-directional tires, then the tires must be rotated in an "X" pattern (ex: front left tire switched with rear right tire and vice versa).

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