Choosing winter tires for electric vehicles

There are a lot of factors to consider, and educating your dealership team will help provide valuable advice to EV owners.

Electric vehicles are similar to gasoline-engine cars in terms of the need to properly equip them for Canada’s winter months. In most of the country, winter months equal winter tires.

But should the criteria for selecting winter tires for an EV be the same as for a gas-powered car?

Many drivers only think of the price tag when it comes to outfitting their cars with winter tires. There are, however, a number of factors to consider when it comes to making the right decision. This is true for all vehicle types, and even more so for EVs.

Well-trained parts and service staff can make a world of difference in overall customer satisfaction if they can direct them towards the most appropriate set of winter tires for their EV. To better understand what this means, I’ve included some of the key criteria for dealers to consider when helping EV drivers pick winter tires.

Knowledgeable technicians understand the different performances and characteristics of winter tires, and how different tire models may be better suited for different driving patterns on different vehicle types. What’s tricky about EVs is that they tend to be heavier than an equivalent gas car of the same model.

For example, the Hyundai Kona EV is 11 per cent to 28 per cent heavier than its gasoline variants. That’s a substantial amount of extra mass that the tire is expected to bring to a halt in a short distance on slippery winter roads. Therefore, customers who used to cut back on performance for budget reasons when selecting winter tires will be in for a surprise.

If not equipped with good winter tires, that extra 28 per cent in vehicle mass (and the rest of the vehicle mass and occupants too!) could end up in the middle of the intersection, instead of being safely at rest behind the stop line.

Weight isn’t the only key difference between EVs and gas cars when it comes to selecting winter tires. Another major difference is the absence of engine noise in EVs.

A vehicle’s engine noise can often blend with and mask a tire’s baseline road noise. Furthermore, a tire’s punctual sounds when interacting with a bump or a hole will typically register as an annoyance if it goes beyond a certain level above the ambient noise. The issue here is that EVs don’t have engine sounds as ambient noise to mask a tire’s road noise.

A tire that seems relatively quiet on a gas car, may sound substantially louder on an EV. Since winter tires are often noisier than all-season tires, the occupant’s perception of this effect gets amplified in an EV. Therefore, EV drivers will often benefit more from selecting a “quieter” winter tire than other drivers.

Noise isn’t the only factor where typical differences between all-season and winter tires get amplified in an EV. Efficiency is another one.

Tires are always a blend of compromises between different characteristics. More often than not winter tires are optimized for driving traction and/or braking ability in snow and/or on ice.

Generally speaking, one characteristic that gets partially sacrificed in this optimization game is a tire’s energy/fuel efficiency. This potential sacrifice in efficiency on winter tires is particularly hard on EVs, since EVs are already facing a larger reduction in their range capability in cold temperatures due to climate control.

Combining this range loss, due to temperature, with an added efficiency loss, due to tires with poor efficiency, can be significant for EV owners. So while winter tires will rarely have as good an energy efficiency as their all-season cousins, selecting winter tires with above-average energy efficiency can make a significant difference to EV drivers.

Weight isn’t the only key difference between EVs and gas cars when it comes to selecting winter tires.

In the end, the customer has the last word, but a well-informed customer may make a different decision if they have a better understanding of how winter tire grip, noise, and efficiency will affect them—specifically if they own an EV.

Cost will almost always be a factor in their decision, but hopefully, thanks to well targeted education, it won’t be the only factor so they can enjoy more safe and comfortable kilometres per charge—thanks to their dealership team’s EV expertise.

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