Want to save money on auto insurance? Buy winter tires, say experts

If you drive in winter, there’s a lot riding on your tires. With the wrong rubber on cold, wet, snowy or icy roads, you’re not only risking life and limb, you’re playing with financial fire, say automotive experts.

Repairs from even a minor fender-bender on increasingly high-tech cars average $ 3,000, according to Kaitlynn Furse, public relations manager for the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) in south central Ontario.

And if you’re at fault in a crash, you could end up paying 10 to 30 per cent more for auto insurance for several years, warns Anne Marie Thomas, spokesperson for InsuranceHotline.com, which compares quotes from more than 30 companies.

Veteran Toronto driver Garth Woolsey has encountered his share of motorists playing Russian roulette on the roads with inadequate tires.

“They are the ones you see either stuck or spinning their tires on any kind of slope when you get those slippery snowfalls and slick ice,” says the east-end retiree.

To save on the “cost and bother” of switching tires on his 2011 Ford Fusion every fall and spring, he spent $ 667 on a set of Nordman WRs from Kal Tire. They’re all-weather tires that can be used year-round but don’t quite match the performance of dedicated winter tires in the most severe conditions. /

“Used them most of the winter and loved ’em,” Woolsey reports.

Michael Majernik, communications manager for the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada (TRAC), agrees all-weathers, introduced a decade ago, may be a good compromise “for year-round usage with a winter edge.”

But a set of four dedicated winter tires is the safest and best performer in the season’s worst weather, the experts agree.

Their rubber compound maintains flexibility in cold temperatures and the treads bite better, giving them superior traction and grip on snow, ice and cold pavement. They also help reduce braking distance by up to 25 per cent, according to the CAA.

Countless Canadians can vouch for their effectiveness, if a TRAC report last fall is any indication. In a survey, 80 per cent of winter tire owners credited them with avoiding a potentially hazardous situation.

Of the 30 per cent of Ontario drivers who said they don’t own winter tires, 21 per cent cited the cost while 54 per cent thought so-called all-seasons were good enough.

TRAC’s Majernik prices a set of brand-name, regular-size winters for a sedan at $ 600 to $ 900. Furse of the CAA, however, says the “investment” can range from $ 1,000 to $ 1,800.

Each spring and fall changeover costs between $ 100 and $ 200, according to CAA figures. Renting storage space for off-season tires can add $ 120 to $ 160 a year, Furse notes.

Buying separate wheels to mount winter tires can drop the cost of installation to as little as $ 25, says Majernik. Basic black steel rims are available at Canadian Tire for $ 50 or $ 60 apiece.

TRAC’s calculations for having both winter and summer or all-season tires indicate “a fairly small cost difference over the lifetime of these two sets,” says Majernik.

It all comes down to “personal choice” after doing the math and determining your comfort level, says Thomas, throwing a few more numbers into the mix. On the plus side, Ontario insurers provide a discount – usually five per cent – for winter or all-weather tires identified by a mountain-and-snowflake logo.

But repairing the damage from an at-fault collision means having to pay your $ 500 or $ 1,000 deductible. The mishap could also drive up your rates and remain on your record for the next six years, she says. Then there’s towing, time and other expenses when your vehicle’s tied up in the shop.

She cautions against fibbing about having winter tires because your insurer could deny your claim when it finds out you don’t.

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The CAA recommends winter tires as the safest option for urban and rural driving in all types of personal vehicles. Furse stresses that driver behaviour also plays a big role.

Winter tires should be professionally installed once the temperature is consistently below 7 C, usually from mid-November to mid-April.

Driving with winters in the summer is also a bad idea, adds Majernik, noting the softer rubber will wear out much faster on hot pavement, and continuous use could compromise vehicle performance.

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