With a mandatory snow-tire law on the horizon in Quebec, winter radials have emerged as a hot commodity.
The arrival of the new law on Dec. 15 has led to heightened demand, shortages of some sizes and a rash of brazen thefts.
Rumblings about shortages have rippled right across the country, with some dealers musing they are short of stock because of Quebec's needs.
"There are already shortages, spot shortages of certain sizes for SUVs," said George Iny, head of the Automobile Protection Agency.
"We're convinced by the time the Dec. 15 deadline rolls around there will be certain tires out of stock. This used to happen before. It'll just be exacerbated by the additional demand this year."
New law spurs snow tire rush
Quebec is the first province to introduce a mandatory winter radial law, which will run from mid-December until March 15 for all cars registered in its jurisdiction.
Motorists whose vehicles are spotted without winter tires face fines of up to $300.
With no grace period, Quebecers are rushing to get them installed, creating a booming business for tire merchants.
André Sansregret, president of the Association of Quebec Tire Specialists and owner of a garage in Joliette, says the mad rush started about a month earlier than usual.
"People like me have bought a lot more stock this year than in the past year," said Sansregret.
"For certain sizes, the manufacturers are telling us already that they won't be able to fill the orders for this year so it's starting to be a nightmare for some people and really the season is just starting."
Snow tires hot ticket for thieves
The new law has prompted a number of unusual thefts, including the jacking of tires right off personal vehicles.
Fifty new tires were also stolen from a dealership in Trois-Rivières, about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City.
"The tires were stolen over the course of a weekend when the dealer was closed," said Carole Arbelot, a spokeswoman for the Trois-Rivières police. "It's an isolated case. It's the first big theft and hopefully it is the last."
Montreal police are also probing a suspicious blaze this week that saw 4,000 new tires in a yard go up in smoke.
But police throughout the province say the incidents are isolated.
Law fuels second-hand market
There is also increased interest in selling used tires over the internet, which has experts advising people to check date codes on the tires or ask for proof of purchase with a date.
"We were convinced that a lot of older stuff would be coming out of people's attics and garages," Iny said.
"We're concerned because tires have a maximum life and you certainly wouldn't want to buy a tire that was made six or seven years ago – whether it was on the car or not."
But as for a countrywide shortage, that shouldn't be the case.
Gilles Paquette, a spokesman for the Rubber Association of Canada, says the industry was well aware there would be an increased demand for tires in Quebec this year.
"We made sure that we could meet consumer demands based on market projections," Paquette said.
"We don't expect there will be any tire shortage this season. We've reviewed basically the industry shipments and we have every reason to believe the supply lines will be adequate."
Quebec needs up to 2,000,000 tires
Paquette said industry projections estimated the province needed an extra two million tires — based on a Transport Quebec statistic that 90 per cent of drivers already use winter tires.
"I think this is a great law that should be rolled out (pun intended) to any area that is consistently below 5 degrees during the winter months."
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Quebec tire dealers dispute that figure. While some parts of the province are 100 per cent winter tire compliant, in Montreal and the surrounding suburbs the numbers dwindle to 70 per cent of drivers or less, Sansregret said.
Canadians, including Quebecers, use about 16.4 million winter tires a year, Paquette said.
"I think it's fair to say if they are experiencing difficulties, it's not that the tires aren't out there, I think it's probably that consumers need to shop around," Paquette said.
"Everyone and his grandma sells tires today, so the key for consumers would be to shop around because the tires are out there."