When the city was hit on November 12 with its first significant snowfall of the season, drivers who were prescient enough to have already made the switch from summer to winter tires felt pretty smug. I know because this year I was one of them — and it felt good.

Although the Quebec government moved up the required date to make the change from December 15 to December 1, it should be clear by now to the rest of you that waiting until the last minute was not a very good idea.

“I think what we saw two weeks ago proved that winter can suddenly arrive with a bang,” said Charles Chamberland, spokesperson for autoHEBDO.net, Canada’s largest auto classifieds site for new and used cars. “We saw all these people that were late, frantically trying to get them changed like it was Black Friday for tires. I mean, come on — plan ahead.”

Smugness aside, post-storm driving conditions vary depending on where you live. Busy, relatively pampered urban streets will be cleared far sooner than those in remote, weather beaten rural areas. Chamberland should know. “I live just beside the river in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and in a snap it was winter at its best,” he added with a laugh.

While many people look at the calendar to schedule their change to winter treads, Chamberland suggested also looking at the thermometer. When the temperature starts hovering between 0 and 7 degrees Celsius, it’s time. “When I see we’re getting close to 0 and we’re between 5 and 7 degrees, I put my winter tires on, which in my book is around the end of October. And then I do the same when it’s time to get them off. In the spring, when we’re back between 0 and 7 and we’re going on 10 degrees, it’s again time to change.”

And when you’re buying winter tires, don’t skimp. Try to buy locally-manufactured brands and make sure they have the little snowflake-on-mountain certification logo.

Now, how often you replace your tires altogether depends on a number of factors, including what sort of car you own, where and how you drive, and how well you care for your tires. According to the Kelly Blue Book, most tires are considered to have a life of between 25,000 and 50,000 miles before they need to be replaced. However, these numbers are only averages.

It really depends on usage and maintenance — fast cornering, heavy braking, rough road surfaces and overloading can all wear tires down significantly. Chamberland, who said he replaces his tires every three or four years, also goes by the well-known coin test. “Take a quarter and insert it into your tire treads. If you begin to see a little bit of the head of the queen when you put it deep in the tread, it’s time to change them.”

Other winter driving tips include clearing the snow off your vehicle, keeping your distance and making sure the windshield washing liquid never runs low. “It never really computes in my mind when I see so many people putting in windshield liquid on the side of the road. Put it in before you leave?”

And of course, the battery needs to be well juiced. “They say a battery will last four years but my personal experience, if you use your car on a regular basis you should begin to check it after two ½ to three years,” said Chamberland.

And last but not least, he also suggests having a security pack in the car. “I’m not plugging Canadian Tire but go to a store like that and pack a nice little winter kit which has booster cables, flares, a security blanket in case you get stuck for a while, a shovel and more. It’s not that expensive and boy does it help — not only yourself but the people around you. It’s all about safety and security.”

—anthony@thesuburban.com

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