Buyer’s Guide: – Shopping For Winter Tires – What You Need To Know

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Considering winter tires for your vehicle? Good idea. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

 

Winter tires are a no-brainer in areas of the country where temps drop below 40F for months at a time. Winter tires help you not just on snow and ice, but also in conditions below the tire’s design temperature for safe operation. If you own a sports car or performance car, chances are you need snow tires. All-season tires are not bad in winter. They just aren’t as good or as safe as winter tires. If you are reading this, we’ll assume you are already convinced winter tires make sense for you and we will cut right to the chase and explain what you need to make an informed decision on which ones and how to manage the tires.

Buy Four

Accelerating is nice, but stopping and turning is pretty important, too, right? Winter tires change your vehicle’s performance pretty dramatically in winter conditions. Don’t buy two for the drive wheels, but instead get four. You will be glad you did.

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Pick A Plan – Strip Off The Tires and Use Your Rims, Or Buy Both Rims, Sensors, and Tires.

There are two ways that you can use winter tires. The first is to simply purchase tires only and have a local shop change the tires for you. They will strip off the 3-season tires and place them in your trunk or cargo area. Some shops even offer tire storage so you don’t have to store them in your garage.

The shop will then mount the winter tires for you and balance them. Then you are basically all set. You go home, store your 3-season tires indoors someplace like a shed or garage, basement, or in your living room if you’re a bachelor. Then you go back in the spring and have the 3-season tires put back on and store the winter tires. Easy peasy. Your local retailer will charge you around $30 to $55 to mount and balance each tire. Many franchise tire stores will even offer to do the future changeovers at no charge. They may offer this service to entice you to buy tires from them. Some also have price match guarantees, so it makes sense to shop around. Remember, your 3-season tires are hibernating while the winter ones are working. So, as long as you plan to keep the car for more than a few years, the winter tires are really costing you nothing. Also, switching rubber over carries almost no risk of tire damage if done by professionals. Some shops may charge you more for run-flat type tire swapping since they are harder to work with.

The second plan is a bit more money up front. With this plan, you buy not just winter tires, but also rims for them. You will likely also need tire pressure sensors unless you own a vehicle that does not use them (rare). There is really just one big advantage to this method. You can have anyone, any local garage with a lift, change the tires over for you. Since you are not stripping tires off rims remounting and then balancing, you can even do it yourself. The downside for some is that tires on rims weigh about 50 pounds each. Sometimes more. So unloading them at home is more of a lifting job. Some folks swap the wheels themselves with their own tools. Not really a big deal, but more work than you’d imagine if you have not done it before. This method will double your costs in year one, but then you will have the rims and sensors forever. Use whichever plan works best for you.

Tire Rotation

Ask your retailer to rotate your winter tires and also your 3-season tires for you. They will mark the tires for the next shop tech that does the swapping. If you do a lot of driving in the non-winter months you may need an additional rotation in between. Just be sure to inform your mechanic that you use winter tires so that she doesn’t rotate your tires unnecessarily.

Which Tires?

Every major brand has a series of winter tires. Bridgestone’s Blizzak line and Michelin X-Ice are popular choices. We have found Tire Rack and other online tire sales sites very helpful in selecting a tire. These sites have reviews from owners of your specific vehicle. Your retailer can also make suggestions. Modern winter tires have evolved and most no longer use metal studs. Rather, compounds with silica and small spaces in the tread called sipes grip the snow or ice better. We would suggest doing more research and considering a different shop if the brand they suggest was not familiar or if the retailer mentioned adding studs.

Tire Sizes

Winter tires use different compounds and tread designs than do all-season and summer tires. Larger diameter tires and lower sidewall profiles are not helpful in the winter, so don’t be surprised if the tire retailer you use (on-line or brick and mortar) suggest that you buy a different size tire and rim. What they are doing is offering you the size that your model uses, but in the base trims, not your fancier one. Obviously, this method only works if you are buying a complete wheel package. The term for this is “downsizing.” Unless the savings are dramatic, we would not bother doing this.

Resetting Your Tire Pressure Monitoring System

Some vehicles use rotation sensors to detect a possible flat tire. On vehicles like these, the TPMS system will need to be reset after you get tires. It is always a good idea to read the section on tires in your owner’s manual to be familiar with your vehicle’s specific systems.

Give Winter Tires Some Time To Wear In

When tires of any type are new they can feel a bit odd. There are manufacturing compounds that the tires will release over the first 500 to 1,000 miles of driving that can make them a little squirrelly. Winter tires also have a lot more tread depth than 3-season tires. They are going to feel a bit odd at first. In addition to you getting used to them, the tires will firm up a bit after a few hundred miles. Unless the vehicle feels dramatically different or dangerous, we suggest giving them some time. They will feel great after they settle down and it does not take long. We also would not suggest driving straight into a blizzard on day one to see how the tires will do. Rather, give them some time on dry or wet pavement before you challenge the tires and your driving skills in scary winter weather.

 

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John Goreham

John Goreham

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