(This guide is authored by a regular contributor to the specialized Tire News (Pneu Mag) magazine, which he co-founded)
Consult as well our Guide to The Best Winter Tires for SUVs and Trucks in Canada for 2019-2020
Once again, almost before we know it, the time of year to choose our next set of winter tires is upon us. For many motorists, there isn’t much choosing to be done, as last year’s set of tires is hauled out of the garage for installment on their vehicle. But for those buying a new car, or whose current set of winter tires is about to give up the ghost, it’s time to pick new ones.
New rules in some parts of the country
Take note that for motorists in Quebec, the deadline for having winter-approved tires installed on vehicles has changed this year, from December 15 to December 1. The regulation applies to cars, SUVs and trucks (including pickups and Class 2 vans like the Ford F-250, Chevrolet 2500, Ford Transit T-250 and others) weighing less than 10,000 lb (total weight with load).
In certain parts of British Columbia, meanwhile, winter tires (or chains) are required as of October 1!
Of course, no matter where you live in Canada, there’s always the chance an early snow fall or ice storm could hit your area in November. Which means that to be on safe side, consider getting your winter tires installed towards the end of October. And no need to worry, a few extra weeks of driving around on them is not likely to wear your set of winters out any faster!
In general, many of the recommendations that apply this year are the same as you found in our guide to winter tires for 2018-2019. One thing we always recommend is to get some guidance at a recognized retailer specialized in tires to help you choose the tires that really fit your needs. These days it’s easy and convenient to order online or at a large-surface store that sells a wide range of products, but it’s always best to speak with a specialist who knows their stuff and can advise you properly, even if it means you pay a little more for your tires.
Winter-approved “all-season” tires
More and more, consumers are asking to know more about “all-season” tires that have been adapted so they can be approved, or certified, for winter use; these have become much more commonplace in the last few years. These tires, though they’re not true-blue winter tires, have the mountain-and-snowflake symbol on the side.
For now, these adapted all-seasons products have largely still to prove themselves in real winter conditions in our view. We aim to come back to these for a more-in-depth look later in the winter.
Here’s another subject of interest to many consumers these days: that of Chinese-made tires. You won’t find any reference to these products in our guide, but that's simply because we didn’t evaluate them.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t good-quality tires to be found in this “category”. Many Chinese tire manufacturers have in recent years modernized their factories, in general the base materials they use are now of higher quality, and they have gone out and hired some of the most able specialized engineers and technicians in the domain in order to improve the quality of the tires they produce, while still keeping them at an affordable price. We expect it won’t be very long before they introduce first-class winter tires onto the market.
Is that time upon us, however? We’ll know more as the winter progresses and we can evaluate some of these products as they compare with established winter-tire brands.
In the here and now, here is our guide to the best tires available to take on our coming Canadian winter. You’ll note that, as usual, there are many models back from last year, interspersed with some all-new products; a few have disappeared altogether. Most of these tires were tested on press-fleet vehicles of different sizes or on privately-owned cars.
As always, keep in mind that winter tires are, virtually by definition, compromise choices. This means that while some tires might be considered the best in the world, in certain conditions their performance can still be flawed. Take note also that our guide doesn’t rank the tires in any particular order. These products are all recommended.
Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9 and R3
Introduced a little over two years ago, the Hakkapeliitta 9 winter tire (commonly called the Hakka 9) from Finnish manufacturer Nokian has from the get-go been recognized by many an expert as one of the finest products of its kind ever produced. It is available again this year, with or without studs, in a number of sizes, including versions for performance cars.
We tried it on several press cars including rear-wheel-drive coupes, and on every occasion it was more than capable both on ice and on snow. The only apparent fault to be found with it is that it can be noisy on dry pavement, at least depending on the vehicle it’s fitted on.
For the rest, Nokian offers another winter tire, the R3, which can’t be fitted with studs. Tested on one of our own vehicles, the R3 performed well on a big AWD SUV on icy roads. The R3 is a little costlier than a less-specialized tire.
Also worth mentioning are the Nordman 7 tires, made from an earlier configuration of Hakkapeliitta products. They have been the choice of many satisfied owners in the past.