Time For Snow Tires?

I must have been looking the other way because it’s suddenly winter and very cold. The manageable minus three degrees, crisp sunshine and bracing air that chased us into the supermarket at the weekend were gone when we came out – replaced by snow tumbling from the vast black maw above and a wind-chill of minus fifteen, so that I almost thought we’d used the wrong exit and stepped out into Siberia.

“Yay, it’s the sticky kind!” yelled my eldest, ecstatic at the prospect of snowballs and frozen frolics. Somehow we manhandled both shopping and three wired children into the Jeep – and then the fun began.

It was indeed the sticky kind. It stuck to the roads and became a slick mirror reflecting with crystalline cruelty the impotent wheelspins of drivers wrestling Momentum for control.Each intersection on the journey home became a heart-hammering, suspense-filled “Are we going to stop in time?” game – but with flesh and bone housed in great chunks of metal muscle instead of pixels on a screen.

Our short, intense trip took us past fire engines and crumpled bonnets, across the path of traffic when the icy brakes couldn’t do any more than slow us too slowly, and finally, thankfully, home – in one piece.

Coming to Canada has been a learning curve that continues even after forty plus months. Take snow tires, for instance. Many people fit them once temperatures drop to single digits (seven degrees Celsius is the magic number) and insurance companies reflect this good sense in a reduced premium. When we first bought our car we figured, with the efficiency of the plows and gritters here, they were an unnecessary expense only really needed if you lived in a more rural area.

You can spend anywhere from $500 to $2,000 on a set of four winter tires. Some drivers buy separate rims to mount their winter tires while some use the same rims for their winter and all-season tires. Adding rims can range from $75 each for basic black service models to more than $250 apiece for custom designs. Winter tires can cost up to $120 per basic winter tire.

We heard all sorts of information (for example, that snow tires are damaged by driving on any surface that isn’t snow, or that ABS, traction control, all-wheel-drive, reduced tire pressure etc. are comparable safeguards) and it takes time to sort what’s true from the conjecture. Debates rage back and forth on driving forums and you don’t want to believe everything the car salesman tells/sells you. The figures speak for themselves though: in Quebec, where they’ve been mandatory since 2008, winter collisions have fallen by 17 per cent, and crashes causing serious injury or death are down by 36 per cent.

It’s easy to berate yourself afterwards for being naïve but in doing that you forget that Life is a journey for everyone, not just those who’ve chosen to drastically alter theirs by starting again in a strange place.

A work-colleague who’s lived here all his life told us about a brush with death he had on the 401 travelling into Toronto that left him spinning out of control and coming to rest facing oncoming traffic. He went out and bought snow tires the next day.

As we made our white-knuckled way home that night we talked about why Canadian roads weren’t safer. My husband said he’d expected drivers here to have a high level of skill behind the wheel thanks to their experience driving in all manner of extreme weather, but he’d been disappointed. Even in these conditions people still tailgate, fail to indicate in time and don’t give the road their full attention.

I speculated that with Canada being a nation of immigrants, many drivers hail from places with abysmal driving reputations. The UK seems to be in the minority when it comes to observance of Highway Code, good manners and commonsense – or am I biased? I know what the roads are like in Paris, Pakistan, Tripoli and Saudi Arabia and Britain’s a walk in the park by comparison.

Couple that with the size of the place and the ratio of population to area and you’ll realize that most native Canadians are used to being the only one on the road for vast stretches of time – it doesn’t matter too much if you skid provided you don’t wind up inverted in a ditch. I suppose Brits have honed moving around in a tight space with minimal intrusion to anyone else into a carefully choreographed art form.

It’s too late for this Brit to get snow tires for our current ride – we’ll be part exchanging in the coming year and rims are vehicle-specific; one size doesn’t fit all. But you can be sure they’ll be part of the deal when it’s time to negotiate the price of our next car.

by Aisha Ashraf.

Aisha Isabel Ashraf is a freelance writer and author of the popular blog EXPATLOG – a collection of irreverent observations from her experiences as a "cultural chameleon". It's where you'll find her, strung out on caffeine, humorously dissecting the peculiarities of expat life for her own amusement and the benefit of future generations."

She can be contacted via the usual avenues (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook) – just swing by the blog for directions.

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