Industry groups promote winter tires to motorists
AKRON (Nov. 22, 2013) — Trade associations and safety advocates in the U.S. and Canada are stepping up their efforts to get motorists in "snow belt" areas to switch to winter tires, but motorists don't appear to be heeding the advice any more than in the past despite advances in winter tire technology.
In Canada, for instance, where the entire nation technically is in the snow belt, only about 52 percent of motorists use winter tires, according to the Rubber Association of Canada.
A separate study conducted by Kal Tire reveals that only about 44 percent of drivers in western Canada and Ontario are planning to use winter tires this season and 64 percent of those who aren't using winter tires this season said they're considering all-weather tires for their next winter tire purchase.
The RAC, the Rubber Manufacturers Association, Tire Industry Association and a growing cadre of tire makers are ramping up their efforts to educate consumers on the safety benefits of the latest generation of winter tires, even in dry conditions.
"The idea that winter tires are only needed for snow-covered or icy roadways is outmoded and belies the superior cold-weather performance made possible by advances in winter tire technology," said RAC President Glenn Maidment.
"Today's sophisticated winter tires feature specialized rubber compounds that retain elasticity at temperatures well below -30°C."
The use of winter tires also decreases collisions and personal injury accidents, Mr. Maidment said, citing findings by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation that winter tires offer markedly improved traction in all road conditions when temperatures fall below 45 degrees F (7 degrees C).
The Tire Industry Association (TIA), in its recently released "Safety Starts with Winter Tires" videos, posits essentially the same message and supports it with the results of testing it performed early in 2013 at Nokian Tyres P.L.C.'s winter tire proving grounds in northern Finland near Ivalo.
Winter tire shipments in the U.S. have stagnated over the past few years at about 4 to 5 percent of aftermarket passenger tire shipments. Looking just at legitimate "snow belt" areas, the percentage still is estimated at only about 8 to 9 percent.
In its latest appeal for increased winter use, the RAC also cites research from the Quebec Transportation Ministry that shows winter tires save lives and reduce road-accident injuries. That study showed that where winter tire use is the law, such as in Quebec since 2008, the number of road accident victims during winter decreased by 5 percent. That equates to about 574 people not being injured in an accident.
Drivers offer a variety of excuses for not using winter tires, the RAC said, including the false conception that anti-lock braking systems, all-wheel or four-wheel drive obviate the need for winter tires, or that two winter tires, mounted on the drive axle of a two-wheel-drive car, is sufficient.
The most common reason motorists do not use winter tires, however, is the cost, the RAC said. However, using winter tires in the cold-weather months and summer tires in the warm months can reduce fuel consumption by up to 5 percent, the TIRF report states, and also tempers the cost factor by prolonging the life of a vehicle's summer tires.
In addition, the RAC said, a number of insurance companies offer premium reductions for using winter tires during the winter season.
Canadian retailer Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. is also getting into the action, commissioning research into developing a rubber that would change color at 45 degrees F — from white to blue, for example — to alert drivers that road conditions are worsening.
In deciding to fund this research, Canadian Tire said research it commissioned shows 80 percent of Canadians didn't know about the 45-degree threshhold, and therefore most wait until the first snowfall before opting to change to winter tires.
"With over 90 years of experience in Canadian winters, we understand the unique challenges that drivers face on winter roads across the country," said Melissa Arbour, senior category business manager for tires, wheels and accessories.
"As with innovations like this concept tire, we continually search for the most advanced winter driving products to provide Canadian drivers with peace of mind and help to make sure families reach their destinations safely," she said.
It comes down to the science behind tires, the retailer said. Since rubber is sensitive to temperature each tire is designed to be season-specific.
The RAC also cautioned drivers that proper tire inflation—an important key to safe motoring in any weather—is more critical in the cold-weather months because tires lose air pressure in lower temperatures. Every 5 degree C drop in temperature results in a loss of about 1 psi in air pressure, the RAC said.
Underinflated tires, it cautions, have a smaller footprint, resulting in weakened grip and the resultant diminished braking and handling characteristics, along with higher fuel consumption due to increased rolling resistance.
Kal Tire offered some additional reasons for choosing winter tires, including: slush performance — winter tires prevent hydroplaning and slush-planing with an aggressive tread pattern and siping; and winter tires offer considerably better stopping power on ice than all-season tires.
Do you have an opinion about this story? Do you have some thoughts you'd like to share with our readers? Tire Business would love to hear from you. Email your letter to Editor Don Detore at [email protected].