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A car covered in snow in Ottawa after a storm. Right: cars drive through a blizzard in Montreal.

A car covered in snow in Ottawa after a storm. Right: cars drive through a blizzard in Montreal.

The first snow has come and gone, meaning Montreal's road conditions will be just fine for a few more precious days. It also means we're officially in the beginning of winter tire season — in fact, we're already past the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) suggested deadline for installing winter tires, which passed on November 10. But that's only a suggestion, so let's unpack the laws and some common questions Quebec drivers have about this changing of the seasons.

What is the law for winter tires in Quebec?

Your vehicle must be winter-safe by December 1, and stay that way until March 15, according to the Quebec government. This means almost every vehicle, including rentals, needs winter tires before December 1, barring a few legal exemptions. If you don't follow this law, you're looking at a fine of up to $300. Basically, unless you're driving heavy machinery, farm equipment or a brand-new car, your vehicle should get snow tires as soon as possible.

Do you need winter tires to drive in Quebec?

The short answer is yes. Your vehicle needs properly labelled winter tires during the December 1 to March 15 period. These tires should have grooves of at least 4.8 mm in depth. Any shallower, and your risk of an accident is markedly increased, according to the SAAQ.

Do all-season tires count as winter tires?

The winter tire pictogram, which should be visible on your winter tires.

The winter tire pictogram, which should be visible on your winter tires.

Gouvernement du Quebec

They do not! Winter tires are those marked with the symbol above, or studded tires with the appropriate groove depth. Driving all-season tires doesn't count, and can be unsafe. The Quebec CAA explains that all-season tires have stiffer rubber than winter tires, leading to worse grip on snowy surfaces, which is the whole point of winter tires in the first place. It may sound like a smart shortcut, but all-season tires — and any tires not marked with the winter tire mark — aren't the safe choice.

Do you need four winter tires, or just two?

You need four winter tires! Two tires, whether it's the front set or the back set, puts your vehicle at risk of skidding or losing traction. Losing control of your car on a wintry highway is almost certainly not worth the money you saved by only changing two tires. What's more, Quebec's laws and information pages specifically state that you need four winter tires, so you won't get off by claiming ignorance.

What are Quebec's fines for not using winter tires?

If you're caught not using the proper tires between December 1 and March 15, you're liable to get fined between $200 and $300 as per the Highway Safety Code. There are several exemptions to these rules, like the previously mentioned farm equipment and heavy machinery. It's also possible to receive an SAAQ exemption letter allowing you seven days to use non-compliant tires on certain vehicles, including when you're using your car to travel either to or from Quebec.

Can you use winter tires year-round?

You can, but you probably shouldn't. It'll put unnecessary wear on your cold-weather tires, which can be more expensive in the long run, according to Bridgestone Tires (they make good points, despite financially benefiting from your choice to use multiple sets of tires). Plus, winter tires are optimized for — get this — the wintertime. All-season or summer tires are specifically designed for better traction and slower wear in the warmer months, and taking advantage of this might reduce your risk of accidents.

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

    Willa Holt
    Staff Writer
    Willa Holt is a Staff Writer for MTL Blog focused on apartments for rent and is based in Montreal, Quebec.
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