By Adam Mayers | Hamilton Spectator
GTA readers are so hungry to reduce the cost of insuring their cars, they’ve seized on the morsel of the coming rate reduction from snow tires in a big way.
This discount is a crumb: Ontario insurers will be required to offer “something” as of Jan.1 if you have snow or all-weather tires. The cut will amount to no more than 5 per cent of a policy at best; since the average GTA car costs $1,600 a year to insure, you may get $80 off.
The reaction shows how fed up drivers in Canada’s most expensive car insurance market have become. The Ontario Liberals promised 2½ years ago to roll back prices by 15 per cent. They have managed less than half of that, and the desire to move this file forward seems to have stalled.
Readers have been poring over the fine print, only to discover that something that should be simple is anything but.
There are conflicting definitions about what constitutes an eligible winter tire. Some insurers will allow customers who are renewing this month and next to pro-rate the discount in the new year for the rest of their policy. Others won’t, making you wait until November or December 2016 to get a break.
So what, exactly, is a winter tire?
It is definitely not an all-seasonal radial. It is a winter or snow tire that you put on in the fall and take off in the spring. It may also be an all-weather tire that stays on all year.
How can you tell if it’s eligible? Look for a peaked mountain with a snowflake symbol on the sidewall. Transport Canada says that tires displaying this symbol meet specific snow-traction performance requirements.
Some insurers accept both the snow tire and the all-weather tire, some accept just one. A good explanation of the differences in the tires can be found on the website of Kal Tire, Canada’s largest independent tire dealer.
The link was passed on to me by Nancy Dmytriw, who is disappointed that The Personal Insurance Co. won’t accept her all-weather tires. It’s an “ongoing disagreement,” as she puts it.
“All-weather tires are a wonderful solution for people who do not want to change tires with the seasons and do not have storage,” she says.
RBC Insurance and TD Insurance Meloche Monnex also reject them. “All season or all weather tires cannot match winter tires in low temperatures,” says TD Insurance spokesperson Crystal Jongeward.
On the other hand, Intact Insurance and Desjardins Insurance say both types are good enough for them.
“For us, it doesn’t matter if the customer uses ‘winter’ or ‘all weather’ tires, as long as they include the alpine symbol,” says Joe Daly, a Desjardins spokesman.
I’m renewing before Jan. 1. Can I get a discount?
“I am really annoyed,” said Julie Dunaiskis, who is insured through RBC Insurance. Her policy is up on Dec. 17, two weeks before the law comes into effect. She was told she’d have to wait until her December 2016 renewal to be eligible. Even then, the cut would likely be about 2 per cent, the agent said.
“I have had snow tires since moving to Barrie in 2012,” she says. “I feel ripped off. It’s only 2 per cent, but it’s money in my pocket.”
RBC Insurance spokesman Greg Skinner says the discount will be 5 per cent, not the 2 per cent Dunaiskis was quoted.
Why must customers to wait a full 12 months to get a break?
“Auto insurance is a contract between RBC Insurance and our clients,” Skinner says. “At the end of the policy term and upon renewal, we apply all applicable discounts such as the 5 per cent winter tire discount and any rate increases and or decreases.”
Yet there are plenty of examples where policies are changed mid-term — when adding or removing drivers, when a new car is purchased, when deductibles are changed and so on.
Skinner says RBC Insurance does allow for changes in some of these circumstances to ensure clients and their vehicles are properly insured and protected. He could not say why this did not also apply to the tire discount.
TD Insurance Meloche Monnex has the same policy as RBC Insurance, while Intact and Desjardins will allow you to prorate the discount.
My advice: Check with your insurer; if you don’t like their terms, shop around. Prices are all over the place and policies differ widely. But some insurers aren’t going out of their way to help you, so why go out of your way to be their customer?