Winter Driving Science
Winter Driving Science. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Mark Stevenson

Canadian Tire has never been viewed as a company willing to aggressively push the market in new directions. The 91-year-old retailer has mainly seen success through old school methods of customer service, a widely used rewards program (which is now favouring points cards over five-cent notes), and solid warranties on tools and other items. They’re the neighbourhood go-to store for everything automotive as well, contributing to the company perennially being the nation’s number one tire retailer.

With a name like Canadian Tire, I suppose it would have to be number one in that respect.

Winter is also just a single snow forecast away. If you are one of the millions of Canadians commuting to work during the winter months, switching to the proper tires for the conditions is certainly a priority on your seasonal to-do list.

While the province of Quebec requires vehicles be equipped with winter tires on or before December 15th, and other regions specifically limiting the usage of studded rubber during certain windows in the year, there is a good rule of thumb to follow: if temperatures fall below 7 degrees on a regular basis, all-season or summer tires will not do their job correctly. Even if roads are bare and dry, it doesn’t mean you’re safe without winter tires.

For most of us who constantly gobble up automotive facts and figures on a regular basis, the “7 degree rule” is nothing new. But, for motorists who simply see driving as a means to a destination, this might not be as well known.

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Winter Driving Science. Click image to enlarge

Blue could keep you safe

To strike the point home, Canadian Tire, along with materials consultancy and testing company Artis, has developed a colour-changing rubber compound that can be used on tire sidewalls that alerts motorists to switch their seasonal rubber. The compound, made of a mixture of titanium dioxide and thermochromic pigment, changes colour from white to light blue when temperatures drop below the magic 7 degrees Celcius.

Dr. Joe Hallett of Artis, who helped develop the compound, explained the process of making the colour-changing magic happen.

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Winter Driving Science. Click image to enlarge

“Natural rubber is not black – it almost has a yellow hint. By using titanium dioxide, we can turn the rubber white. And by mixing in the right amount of thermochomatic pigment, we can get the desired effect,” Hallett said.

Using some clever visual aids, Hallett demonstrated what lower temperatures do to all-season and summer tire compounds. The colder the rubber gets, the stiffer it becomes, losing its elasticity. It’s known as the “glass transition point” – the temperature where rubber goes from elastic to a material showing hard plastic properties.

Essentially, if you drive on all-season tires below 7 degrees, the rubber becomes as hard as that of a hockey puck. And, I don’t know about you, but the last time I saw a hockey game I didn’t witness anyone having problems sliding the puck around the ice surface.

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Winter Driving Science. Click image to enlarge

While this new rubber compound is not currently slated for production, Canadian Tire sees the value in it and may add it to tires in the future.

The Condo Conundrum

A significant percentage of the population is choosing to live the urban condo lifestyle, more so than ever before in Canada. Space is a premium for those picking downtown living over suburban sprawl. And for those who do switch tires from season to season, storing extra tires could be difficult.

Condominium residents in Toronto who only drive downtown streets at low speeds may feel safe using all-season tires year-round. But, condoists in Montreal don’t have the same luxury.

Thankfully, Hankook and Nokian both have “all-weather” tires available (only the Hankook Optimo 4S is available at Canadian Tire), certified for winter use and wearing the “mountain snowflake” icon on the sidewall.

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