Monday, December 15, 2008

It doesn't SNOW here . . .

At least it wasn't supposed to. Our area is described as West Coast Marine, the mildest weather zone in Canada and since it mainly rains continuously from late October to spring we are known as the Wet Coast of Canada. On a normal year we are able to ride all year round except for a short period where we might have ice or fog in the mornings, which usually burns off by mid-morning. Unlike Oregon, when a few years ago we took a vacation along the Oregon coast and the fog stayed with us all day. Our weather is similar to Seattle, grey, dreary, overcast and RAIN. YES it does get depressing at times and often we dream of living some place exotic such as Key West "where it never rains and the sun comes out every day" . I know that it's true cause I believe everything I read on the internet and Michael of conchscooter fame says so. Perhaps one day when I win the lotto I will have the dilemma of having to decide if the better weather is worth trading for one straight road with water on all sides.
I had a premonition that this was going to be a bad winter. A couple of weeks ago I was checking out the price of snow tires and found out that there was a HUGH shortage this year due to a new law in the East that made it mandatory for cars to have snow tires on all 4 wheels . That had the effect of making snow tires a valued commodity for most dealers were sold out of the common sizes making only premium brands available.

(Michelin Pilot Sport A/S for our Subaru WRX)

The tires on my wife's WRX were due for replacement so we purchased a set (of 4) to replace the factory OEM ones. While technically NOT snow tires, the tread is very aggressive for M/S type tires (or is that tyres) coupled with the symmetrical AWD I think we should be Okay for the urban driving we do. I don't use my car all that much as I prefer to ride but I also checked out pricing for my commuter car . I checked with a couple of dealers and since my cage is FWD I only wanted a set (of 2) for the front mounted on their own rims. One dealer refused to give me a quote for only 2 tires and said he would only handle the installation if I purchased all 4 tires (front & rear) . I got the same story from my mechanic and also the Honda dealer. It was going to be hard to merely purchase 2 tires for the front. I know all season tires on the rear combined with dedicated snow tires on the front would make for unbalanced handling under emergency conditions but I felt that I would be able to handle it. It seems that there was a humungous law suit up North (northern BC) recently where a customer only purchased 2 tires and an accident resulted in a major law suit against the dealer which bankrupted the company and no one locally wanted to accept the liability of mixing tires of different design.

One thing that I never thought about until I read an article about FWD cars entering a curve while applying your brakes. I grew up and learned how to drive when nearly all cars were RWD. As you approach an icy section of road you would "let off" your accelerator pedal and engine braking would force your rear wheels to "drag" and slow your vehicle down. You would turn your steering wheel to make the turn and hopefully you would stay on the road. A FWD car reacts similarly to a motorcycle. If you enter a turn too fast and put on your brakes your front wheels will skid off the road (and perhaps into a ditch) . If you apply your brakes your braking force is greater on your front wheels which will force them into a skid and your car will continue in a straight line and you will not make the turn. Basically you lose control of your steering. Even if you let your foot off your accelerator on FWD the dragging action will force your front wheels into a skid and the problem is compounded as you have greater traction on snow with dedicated snow tires (on the front) with summer/all-season tires on the rear.
The trick is to enter the corner at a slower speed and accelerate slightly out of the corner to maintain steering control, or make use of your handbrake which only activates your rear brakes to straighten out your car - similar to using more rear brake on a motorcycle before the turn on slippery surfaces (and before you make your lean into the corner) .
I only mention all of this because I understand the benefits of having the same tread design on both front and rear tires to maintain stability on ice and snow which changed my purchasing decision from 2 snow tires to either; NONE or all FOUR , and the NONE won.

(our lane)

Long story short, in light of the current economic conditions, I just couldn't justify the $1,200.+ expense of installing 4 snow tires for the 2 or 3 weeks that they would actually be required. Perhaps if I lived somewhere in the snow belt zone such as Chicago then it would be a necessity . And often we don't get any snow at all so I decided to take a chance. It would have been a different matter if my all-season tires were worn out but they still have 2 years of life left.


The roads are solid ice and very slippery. You have to plan your stops far in advance.

vancouver, bc
(Click on image for Panorama: from 5 stitched images)

It looks like a winter wonderland. BC is in a deep freeze right now. More snow is expected for next Wednesday and Saturday and the temperatures are forecast to be below freezing for another 10 days.


  1. Dear Sir:

    You're breaking my heart. I lived in Lake Placid, NY for 18 years and we needed snow tires from the end of October to June 1st. The last time I lived there, summer came on a Tuesday. I put Blizzac tires on I Pontiac I had, and the dealer required me to buy 4, back in 1995.

    They were great tires. Thank you for these pictures that depict you coping with enough ice to chill a martini.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack Riepe
    Twisted Roads

  2. Bobskoot, nice post. In the south (Seattle) the weather reporters talk about the arctic winds in the Fraser Valley often causing snow in Bellingham and the rest of NW Washington. It looks like you got quite a bit of the arctic blast. We are supposed to get snow in the Seattle area around midnight tonight, lasting into Wednesday morning.

    Subarus - gotta love them - we had a Legacy station wagon back in 1992and my wife loved that car. I definitely like the WRX.

  3. Hey Bob, I ordered my tires from the States, shipped them to Pt. Roberts, and picked them up there and declared them at the border. These were all seasons I bought back in the summer. Had all four of them installed here for around $60.

    Some say just have them installed there, but I didn't want to have any problems at the border.

    I don't know about the supply situation in the states though.

    Got the rest of the month off, so no commuting by scoot till January.

    As of this post writing, it's snowing humungous flakes outside.

    Happy holidays, Bob.

  4. Good advice about front wheel drive. How convenient for the tire dealers, huh? I wonder who was really behind the legislation?

    We're getting your leftovers down here in Oregon. The weather people tell us we're getting the cold air from Canada. Must be true. It's been 18 degrees (f) at night for a few nights.

    I'm getting around with my small truck and some sandbags. It's kind of fun as long as it's only a few days once a year!

  5. Jack:

    we're just not used to all this eastern cold and snow. We live in the banana belt of Canada and proud of it. forecast for another week of subzero (celcius) before the rain returns


    I was looking at KIRO news yesterday. Looks like you got a 'dump' of snow & roads are solid ice. I believe Seattle has more hills than we have. also Snoqualmie area is at a standstill, and we're happy to give you all this Artic Air, anything to get rid of it


    When I was considering purchasing from TireRack (as we have done before) but the dealer would NOT install the tires as they don't want to inherit the liability, plus you don't get the warrantee. Better to go to TireStop in Bellingham with full install, they will nearly match TireRack if you consider shipping charges and GST/PST, duty hassles at the Border


    Here's the link to the story:

    They have much more severe winters in the East and I would presume that many accidents could be avoided with properly equipped vehicles. If we lived further North then I would for sure get 4 snow tires, or better yet a small 4x4 to get around, but in the city it just isn't needed.

    using your car/truck this time of year isn't a bad thing, at least you can SKID, and remain upright all at the same time. And besides . . . you don't want that gas to go bad.

  6. I can't share any news about snow here. Because it doesn't snow. Apparently it did one day at the end of February this year but just a few flakes, it had all gone by 9am and I was in Jordan so I missed it anyway.

    I do recall having a VW 1302 beetle when I lived in the Vosges mountains in France and driving it there and in the Alps.

    Not only was it RWD but the engine was at the back as well. It was a nightmare to drive on snow and ice. I heard that owners there bought bags of cement to put in the boot at the front simply to be able to keep steering.

    Enjoy the snow! Enjoy Christmas!