Proper winter tires give you better traction and will help you stay safe on wet, snowy, or icy roads. That can make the difference between you arriving safely or being in a serious crash. Learn about winter tire regulations on BC highways, and which tires are right for your vehicle.
Winter tire regulations
Provincial law requires vehicles to use winter tires from October 1 through April 30 on most highways. The requirement ends March 31 for select highways not travelling through mountain passes or high snowfall areas.
Many highways in the Lower Mainland and southeastern Vancouver Island don’t require winter tires due to the mild climate.
To ensure you’re following the rules wherever you drive, check the routes you’ll be driving before the October 1 deadline, and obey the instructions on roadside signs. Learn more about designated winter tire and chain routes. If you’re a commercial driver, review our commercial trucking section.
Drivers are responsible for understanding the conditions on roads they regularly drive, and for equipping their vehicle for those conditions.
BC municipalities, and private roads such as ones operated by ski hills, may have their own requirements.
Legal winter tires
For roads with winter tire designations, standard passenger, 4-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles must use winter tires or mud and snow tires. Tires with the following symbols are legal:
3-peaked mountain and snowflake
M+S (Mud and Snow)
Winter tires need to have at least 3.5 mm of tread depth to be legal. We recommend using 4 matching 3-peaked mountain and snowflake tires. They provide better traction on snow and ice and shorter stopping distances in cold temperatures and in severe winter weather.
Drivers can be fined on designated BC highways for using winter tires that aren’t legal or in good condition. They may also be turned away from their planned route. Chains on summer tires aren’t an acceptable substitute for winter tires.
Running the right tires
BC’s unique terrain, changing elevations, and unpredictable weather make this one of the most demanding winter driving environments in North America.
Winter tires are an investment in safety – for you, your family and friends, and others sharing the road. Choose tires that match the conditions you usually experience when driving, which could range from heavy rain to hard-packed snow to ice.
Tires don’t all perform the same. Here’s a rundown of common options:
These tires outperform M+S (Mud and Snow) tires at temperatures below 7°C. They provide the best traction on snow, ice, and in cold weather. They’re made of a natural rubber compound that helps them stay soft and flexible when temperatures drop. This helps them keep their grip on the road.
These tires offer better traction than summer tires and meet the minimum legal requirement for winter. They’re less effective than the 3-peaked mountain and snowflake tires in severe conditions.
Vehicles take longer to stop in winter weather and road conditions. Good winter tires can help decrease the stopping distances.
Checking your tires
Always install winter tires on all wheels. Putting them only on the front or back will increase your risk of a crash because your vehicle will become harder to control.
If you’ve already got a set of tires, check them for wear before installing them. Here are some things to look for:
Use a depth gauge to check. The minimum allowed tread depth for winter driving in BC is 3.5 mm (5/32”). Optimal tread depth is at least 6.5 mm (8/32”).
Tire pressure decreases in cold weather. Underinflated tires will wear out faster and reduce fuel efficiency. Check your tire pressure monthly and do it outside, not in a heated shop. Correct tire pressure can be found on most cars inside the driver’s side door or in the owner’s manual.
Uneven tread wear is a sign of misalignment or a worn suspension. Tires with uneven tread wear, missing chunks and other issues should be inspected by a tire technician and possibly replaced.
Buying new tires
If you’re buying a new set of tires, place your order well ahead of winter. Consult your tire supplier and follow industry best practices.
Follow these tips:
- Ensure the tires you buy are the correct size and profile for your vehicle.
- Choose tires best suited to the routes you regularly travel.
- Consider factors such as rubber compound, tread pattern, and tread depth.
- Install new tires or retreads in the fall so they are in optimal condition heading into winter.
Passenger vehicles can use traction devices such as chains with their winter tires.
Steel link chains placed on the vehicle’s primary drive axle provide superior traction in snow and ice. They also minimize slippage on a banked curve. Cable chains provide adequate traction but lateral slippage may occur on banked curves.
Be sure you know how to properly install chains before winter hits. And only drive with chains at slow speeds and on snow or ice – do not use chains on dry or wet pavement.
Commercial vehicle operators have additional requirements regarding chains and other traction devices. Review our commercial trucking resources to learn more.
Adding some weight to your vehicle may increase traction. Sandbags are a good option. Start with about 27 kg (60 lbs) and see if that improves traction. You can add more but be careful not to add too much. Excess weight can increase the distance you need to stop. Too much weight can actually cause you to lose traction.