Getting a grip on winter tire business

by | Jan 4, 2021 | 0 comments

When it’s not the law, it’s about word of mouth.

Outside of laws mandating the use of winter tires, the most influential factor leading Canadians to install them is family and friends.

A recent survey of Canadian car owners found that while more than 80% of Canadians driving with winter tires say they prevented a collision, only about 65% of drivers in this country actually use them when they’re not mandated.

Leger’s 2020 Canadian Consumer Winter Tire Study, commissioned by the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada (TRAC), found that outside of Quebec, where winter tire usage is mandated by law, a third of Canadians still fail to see the benefits.

Among the findings is which factors motivate drivers to opt for winter tires. There are really no surprises in the list of top motivators:

• Winter tire laws (34%)

• Advice from friends and family (17%)

• Lower auto insurance premiums (11%)

• Media coverage (7%)

While the national percentage of winter tire usage overall is 72%, the number drops significantly when you factor out Quebec’s mandate. While that national average does represent a significant increase since 2014, when the usage was 58% (with Quebec at a consistent 100%), it is a drop from 2019’s 75%.

The most common reasons why 35% of drivers outside Quebec do not use winter tires are the belief that all-season tires are good enough (65%), reduced driving in winter (30%) and cost (27%). 

“Canadian drivers have spoken and our study shows clearly that winter tires make a profound difference in preventing collisions and saving lives,” says Carol Hochu, incoming president and CEO of TRAC. “Yet more consumer education is clearly needed to raise awareness of the superior grip and stopping power of tires designed specifically for Canadian winters. The study’s most surprising finding is that two-thirds of those not using winter tires think all-seasons are good enough.”

Regionally, the 2020 study found:

➢  60% of British Columbia drivers use winter tires

➢  Alberta’s usage rate is 59%

➢  In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, usage stands at 60%  

➢  66% of Ontario drivers now use winter tires

➢  In Atlantic Canada, winter tire usage stands at 84%

Influence of COVID-19

The survey also examined how COVID-19 influenced driving habits and the seasonal tire changeover.

Not surprisingly, 65% of motorists surveyed reported driving significantly less because of the pandemic.

However, six per cent of drivers riding on winter tires avoided changing over to their summer tires because of coronavirus concerns. While nine in ten indicated that their spring tire changeover was not influenced by COVID-19, the flip side of that number is that one in ten (10%) indicated that it did affect their tire changeover.

The net effect of that is a probable increase in worn winter tires entering the changeover season, and the possible increase in replacement rates as a result.

Even if it does not trigger replacement this winter season – newer tires may still have useful life – it does raise the probability of earlier-than-expected replacement, due to accelerated wear during hot weather months.

Service facilities should be careful to inspect winter tires to ensure they are in good condition, regardless of when they may have been initially purchased.

Survey Methodology

A survey of 1,523 Canadians was completed online between October 2-5, 2020, using Leger’s online panel. A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/-2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

Visit to read the full 2020 Winter Tire Report

Building Your Tire Business

Build a partnership

Create a partnership, whether through a distributor or a manufacturer directly, and hone in on a particular product that you think will serve your market. A supply partner can help you make that determination. Also, it is a competitive business, so you may want to sell different brands from the business across the street or the local big box store.

There are distribution support programs that offer marketing benefits, loyalty rewards, etc. They can also offer resources such as dealer locators, which can drive traffic.

Let them know

Let your customers know that you’re in the tire business. Have a couple on display in your showroom, and put up posters or signage. Regular customers would probably like to buy their tires from you, but they may not be aware you are selling them. So be sure they know.

Consider storage

Depending on your clientele and your market, offering tire storage can be a great option. If you’re in a more rural area or have a clientele likely to be okay with throwing tires in the back of a pickup and storing them themselves, it might not be important.

But it can be a great service to offer if you are in a more urban area with a high proportion of condo dwellers, or have a clientele not likely to appreciate hauling tires in and out of storage.

Communicating tire facts

Offer Options

Offer a choice of good, better, best. There is a difference between a tier-one and a tier-four tire, both in cost and performance. Tier-one manufacturers have the best innovations, but lower tiers are becoming more comparable. With this the price gap has also narrowed.

Winter Wins

Consumers should be made aware of their options and that a good tier-three winter tire is likely going to outperform a non-winter tier-one tire in winter conditions.

Tread Depth Matters

A winter tire is no longer a winter tire with less than a 5/32-inch tread depth.  A normal all-season tire is considered worn out at 2/32-inch. Service professionals should be on the lookout for winter tires that may appear to have some tread left, but a winter tire’s capabilities are gone below 5/32nds of an inch.

Technology has Evolved

Winter tires are now less dependent on the tread pattern itself, and more on the tread compound. Various manufacturers include micro pumps, walnut shells, and a variety of other technologies to help provide winter traction. Winter tires don’t necessarily have the same blocky tread pattern that was customary years ago and can appear almost like a performance tire, but because of the compound, still provide winter and deep snow traction.


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