Good news, Ontario drivers: you’ll soon get a discount on your car insurance in Ontario.

By Danielle Boudreau | Insight

Starting January 1, 2016, Ontario has mandated insurers to give discounts to drivers who install winter tires on their vehicles when they start or renew a policy.

The catch? They don’t say how much the discount should be.

“The regulation does not specify the amount of the discount to be offered to encourage competition among insurers,”says Malon Edwards, Senior Communications Officer at Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) in an email.

He adds that customers who renew their policy before the new year should shop around for the best possible rates and coverage, and if your policy is renewed after January 1, call to ask about mid-term discounts on their premiums.

“Rates for the same coverage vary based on each insurers claims experience and the insurers rating system,”he says.

Do some companies already offer discounts?

Yes. “About 45 per cent of insurers already offer a winter tire discount,”says Edwards. “The benefits of using winter tires are well documented. Winter tires help drivers avoid collisions by reducing braking distances on snow and ice. The required winter tire discount will provide a further incentive for drivers to equip their vehicles with winter tires.”

There may be other ways you can lower your insurance bill, too. “FSCO has several resources to help consumers better understand auto insurance, including an understanding rates tool and tips on shopping around and saving on auto insurance,” says Edwards.

Do I really need winter tires?

If you drive in Canada you probably do, unless you’re a snowbird or planning to stay indoors until April (actually, that doesn’t sound so bad). Yes, even you, SUV drivers —your all-wheel drive system helps you accelerate better but it doesn’t improve braking ability.

Winter tires are for all cold weather, not just snow. Their rubber compound is designed to stay softer and have more traction than “all-seasons”in temperatures below 7 C. Modern winter tires offer up to 50 per cent or more traction than all-seasons, says Transport Canada.

If you’re still not convinced, check out the videos from the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada, which demonstrate the improved safety found with using appropriate equipment on your car.

What should I look for?

“Tires marked with the pictograph of a peaked mountain with a snowflake meet specific snow traction performance requirements, and have been designed specifically for use in severe snow conditions,”according to Transport Canada. You should always buy tires in sets of four.

What if I can’t afford an extra set of tires?

Having dedicated winter tires will cost you more up front, but since each set will only be used for part of the year, both sets of tires will last longer. Having the winter tires mounted on their own steel wheels makes it easy to change them yourself each season, saving you money and avoiding a long wait at your local shop. It also means less wear and tear on the tires compared with having them re-mounted and balanced each time. Store the other tires in a cool and dry location.

Can I drive on winter tires all year?

No. Winter tires are the safer option in the cold months, but once the temperature is regularly above 7 C, you’ll be much safer with all seasons. Since winter tires are made with a more pliable rubber, they will wear out faster in the summer.

Are there other ways to promote winter tire use?

Yes. For the second year in a row, individual Manitoba Public Insurance customers can get low-interest loans to purchase winter tires. The loans, at prime plus two per cent, are for up to $2,000 per vehicle and can be paid back over terms of up to four years. For example, a $1,000 loan would have a payment of $22.93 per month over 48 months.

Or, provinces could follow Quebec’s example and make winter tires mandatory from December 15 to March 15 for all cars, taxis, rental cars, motorcycles and scooters. Drivers there face a fine of $200 to $300 if caught without winter tires, says the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec.

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