• Winter Tires

Winter Tires Just Makes Cents

Insurance savings available for Ontario drivers switching to winter tires

Lee Bailie By: Lee Bailie November 11, 2020

If there’s one thing most drivers can agree on is the desire to save money on auto insurance. Like the purchase of gasoline, when it comes to insurance it pays to shop around, a reality I discovered this past April when I changed providers for the first time in more than 20 years.

Saving a few hundred bucks per year feels great, but for those who aren’t in the market for a new provider, there’s another easy way to save money on insurance: put a set of winter tires on your vehicle.

Unlike Quebec and British Columbia, Ontario doesn’t mandate the use of winter tires, but it does provide a financial incentive. What follows is a breakdown of how winter tire insurance discounts work and to answer a few of the biggest questions surrounding the policy.

What is it?

On January 1, 2016, a new law mandating all insurance providers operating in Ontario must offer a discount to drivers if they put winter tires on their vehicle(s). As mentioned, the main thrust of the law is to encourage drivers to switch to winters tires in order to enhance winter road safety. At the time the law was introduced, the province noted that in addition to the potential savings on insurance premiums for 9.5 million drivers, stopping distances for vehicles equipped with winter tires could be up to 25 percent shorter over those without.

How much can I save?

The discounts vary depending on policy and insurance provider, but generally range from two to five percent per vehicle per policy. On a policy with a $1,600 annual premium, for example, the savings could be up to $80 assuming a five percent discount. It’s unlikely the discount will pay for even one winter tire, however. A new set of winter tires can cost anywhere from $600 and up, depending on size, vehicle, tire brand and retailer. For instance, in late 2017 a new set of Sailuns cost me just under $600 all in, but a set from a national brand, such as Bridgestone or Michelin, could cost several hundred dollars more.

How does it work?

In order to be eligible for the discount, a policyholder needs to purchase a set of winter tires. The easiest way to determine if a tire is designed for winter use is to look for the three-peak mountain snowflake graphic located on the sidewall. For more on the benefits of winter tires, check out my other article on Wheels.ca.

Once the tires have installed, proof of purchase (such as a receipt) will need to be submitted to the insurer. Documentation may vary depending on provider and policy, so checking before purchasing is a good idea.

Something else to keep in mind is the tires don’t have to be new in order to qualify for the discount, but they do need to have the three-peak mountain snowflake that proves they are winter tires. All-season and summer performance tires are not eligible for the discount, but all-weathers could be depending on insurer. When in doubt, the best thing to do is check with the provider.

Are there any special terms or conditions?

Some insurers require that winter tires must remain on the vehicle for a specific time period, such as December 1 to March 31 or November to April, for example, for the discount to be applied. Policyholders should check with their insurers regarding conditions that may apply.

Is the insurance discount having any impact on winter tire use in Ontario?

This is a difficult question to answer definitively, but according to the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada (TRAC), the trade association that represents tire manufacturers, winter tire use is on the rise in Ontario. In its most recent Winter Tire Report, TRAC notes that in Ontario winter tire usage has risen from 56 per cent in 2014 to 69 percent in 2019.

The provincial upward trend mirrors the national adoption that has increased from 58 to 75 per cent over the same time period. Of note, according to the report only Quebec (100 per cent), which has a winter tire law, and Atlantic Canada (91 per cent) outpace Ontario in winter tire use. The insurance discount could be partly responsible for the increase in Ontario, but its impact is nearly impossible to measure with any certainty.

According to TRAC’s data, lower auto insurance premiums (11 per cent) rank behind winter tire laws (34 percent) and advice from family and friends (17 per cent), but ahead of media coverage (seven per cent) regarding reasons for winter tire use. These figures are national, however, so how much they differ at the provincial level (outside Quebec), is difficult to pinpoint.

Regardless of how motivated Ontario drivers may be to save money on auto insurance, the fact that more are putting winter tires on their vehicles is good news, not only for their bottom lines, but for improved winter road safety as well.