About buying (snow) tires

Now that I’m in rural WA, I find that I have to be concerned with buying snow tires. Looking over the Les Schwab circular from our weekly local paper, I realized I have pretty much no clue about what to get. In my defense, thus far I’ve either lived in warm climes (Houston, Honolulu), not really had to consider it (four season tires in Indiana just for short commuting), or not owned a car. Some specific questions:
[li]How do I determine what size tires to buy? (We have a '92 Honda Civic.)[/li][li]Beyond the obvious (cost and ease of switching tires), what reasons are there for getting another set of rims (for or against)?[/li][li]What does “pinned for studs” mean? Are there studs or not?[/li][li]What qualities/features are important when choosing new tires?[/li][li]What about a warranty? Can I expect to get one? Under what terms?[/li][/ol]
Another thing that may be of importance is that we have to drive on some “primitive” roads – county highway driving comprises just less than 1/2 of our 25 mile trip to and from work. Of course, any other information is welcome, as I’d like to be as well-informed as possible before making a purchase.

  1. Your tire size should be written right on the sidewall of the tire.

  2. For you, probably not a whole lot. Many people with needlessly large wheels and rubber-band low profile tires do this, since no one makes low profile winter tires and road salt tends to cause corrosion on expensive custom wheels. Some of these spoked wheels also allow snow to build up on the inside of the rim, which then freezes and causes undesirable handling and wheel-spinning characterstics.

  3. Never used it, so someone else will probably have a better answer, but it’s my understanding that you can have studs installed when you buy the tires, at additional cost.

  4. Ask 10 people and get 11 different answers, but I personally think that for most city drivers, getting the cheapest winter-compound tires are about the best they can do. Anything beyond that is probably going to have little marginal return versus marginal cost.

  5. No idea, Opal.

The folks who sell the tires should check your tire size, not only what the car came with originally, but also what’s on there now.

I’d expect your tire dealer would be willing and able to swap the tires on your existing rims for far less than buying new rims.

Studs are (or were) little metal… um, studs that can be stuck into the holes in the tire. Great for ice, very loud, bad for the road. I’ve never driven up there but if you get a lot of black ice instead of heavy snow, studs might be a good idea.

The cheapest snow tires made my any brand you’ve ever heard of are going to be better in snow than the best touring or all-season tire you’ve ever seen.
The biggest brand recognition in snow tires seems to be associated with the Birdgestone Blizzak. I seem to recall the Dunlop Graspic as having made a name for itself.
Very few people need studs. Even people with very serious winter driving needs in states that get more snow than yours gets tend to do without nowadays.

For a one-time swap, sure. But snow tires imply two swaps each year, and mounting/spin-balancing can easily run $10/wheel (= $80/year). T.Mangrove makes the point that summer tires often are mounted on wheels not well suited to snow tires.

Separate wheels make a lot of sense. The last time I did this, steel wheels cost around $35 each, and they allow me to do my own swaps when I choose.

Steel rims from a wrecker can be scarcely more than the cost of a single tire installation, actually.

About the rims: my thought is exactly what was pointed out by Xema. That is, a one time buy, then I can change the tires any time I want without paying someone. However, I wasn’t sure there wasn’t some other reason that I couldn’t fathom weighing either for or against getting them. Gorsnak, I appreciate the tip about a wrecker/junkyard; although it should’ve occurred to me, I think I’d just have bought new ones.

Thanks all.

You can visit the Tire rack website Tire Rack and choose Products and then Tires. Use thie site to see what tires offer which benefits. They sell and will ship tires to a dealer near you for installation. However I found that just purchasing the tires directly from my local automotive service center was close enough to the Tire Rack price that it wasn’t worth the trouble of buying them over the net. Now if I wanted a tire that wasn’t locally available it might be a different story.

Some local dealers will be glad to source semi-exotic tires if you ask the parts guy nicely.
My buddy was able to get Park Mazda-Akron to order a set of Avon high-performance tires for his Mazda 3.
Horrible balance problems, by the way, but quite grippy in the dry if you get a set that doesn’t have a manufacturing defect.

That looks like a tremendous help. Thanks!

The price difference for me between ordering from Tire Rack and paying for shipping, then paying the local Dobbs service center to install and balance, vs. just getting the tires from Dobbs was only about $35. And I was able to get them installed the next day rather than wait for tire rack to ship.

So shop carefully, a local place might be the best deal even if it’s not the lowest price.

Go with the stock original size, or perhaps one full size smaller, it sounds counterintuitive, but the narrower the tire, the better it cuts through snow, wider tires “float” more and can cause snowplanin

convenience, mainly, and less wear-and-tear on the bead of the tires (the wire rim in the edge of the tire that holds it on the wheel), also, aluminum wheels don’t like road salt, neither do steelies, but steelies are cheaper

Pinned for studs mean the tire can be studded if you want, studs are little “pins” (they look like stubby, point-free nails) that increase the tire’s gripping power on icy roads, but they also wear out dry roads faster and are noisy, a good “Siped” snow tire can get you close to the performance of studs without the downsides

personal preference, but I tend to prefer the older “classic” style snow tires with a big, blocky, open tread and a good amount of siping, unless you have a high-performance sports car (which the Civic is not), the difference between a Hakka/Blizzak/Graspic “Supertire” and a simple, basic, blocky “classic” snow is minor, possibly undetectable

the other thing to think about is the “Supertires” use a much softer rubber compound for optimal grip on ice, but this “silica rubber” compounc comprises the upper 50-55% of the tire, the remainder of the tread is a standard snow tire rubber, on snowy/icy roads, the silica rubber does have exceptional grip, but it wears twice as fast as regular snow tire rubber on dry pavement, the average service life of a SuperSnow is one to two seasons tops, a conventional snow you can get three to four seasons out of

again, personal preference, if the warranty covers free tire rotations/changeovers at the beginning and end of the season, it might be worth it, otherwise, no, snow tires typically see 3-4 months of use per season, compared to street tires


other things to keep in mind;
snow tires have a softer rubber compound and wear much quicker than street tires, dry pavement driving is especially hard on them, and is where 90% of the treadwear comes from
snow tires have a much softer, more flexible sidewall, so you may notice a softer, “squishier” and/or more “squirrely” handling than your street tires on dry pavement
snow tires have more grip in slippery conditions, so getting started from a standstill is easier (less wheelspin), if your car has a manual transmission, starting off in second gear and keeping the RPM’s low can also help reduce wheelspin, as can traction control, if your car has it)
due to the enhanced grip in slippery conditions, snow tires do give you better braking, you’ll notice less activation of anti-lock brakes, and generally you can plow through rutty/slushy roads easier than with street tires

Snow tires DO NOT make you immune to the laws of physics, yes you have slightly better grip than street tires in slippery conditions, but they do not give you the ability to stop on a dime on a sheet of glare ice, you can still lose grip in icy conditions

since you have a lightweight economy car, and drive some less than developed roads, I’d reccomend going with a classic “blocky” snow tire, like the Cooper WeatherMaster ST/2, the Kelly Wintermark Magna-Grip (basically the old Goodyear Magna-Grip tire, as Kelly is owned by Goodyear and remarkets their old “outdated” designs as Kelly tires) or something similar

I’ve driven both Supertires, and Classic snows, on a small economy car (Dodge Neon, Honda Civic, Saturn Ion, etc…) the difference is marginal, almost unnoticeable

I’ve driven on;
Goodyear Ultra-Grip (classic snow, now remarketed as the Kelly Wintermark series, got 3.5 seasons out of them)
Goodyear Ultra-Grip Ice (Supertire, excellent grip, but horribly fast treadwear on dry pavement, wore out in 1.5 seasons)
Cooper Weathermaster ST/2 (classic snow, about 3 seasons or so)
Kelly Wintermark Magna-Grip (3.5-4 seasons, a new set is currently on the Ion)

of those tires, my favorites have been the Coopers and Kellys, excellent balance of price/grip/treadwear

I agree with most everything said above, but have more to add:

Get cheap second hand steel rims, but also get a 1/2 inch drive breaker bar and a socket to fit your lug nuts. If they were put on with an air wrench, you’ll need the extra torque. Add a section of pipe if this still won’t budge them.

Name brand is not completely unimportant, but Hakkepelitas (sp?) are not worth paying 3x the money for. I wouldn’t go with a brand I’d never heard of.

You want lots of wide channels for the snow to escape from under the tread.

How steep/well maintained are the roads you’re driving on? I use studs, but I live on the side of a serious mountain. Most don’t need them. They may even be illegal in your area. The tire place will obviously know if they are.

Uhh… 3x? Where I live we have snow and ice 6 months out of the year. The Nokia Hakkapeliitta is one of the most popular snow tires. My Wife runs them on her Jeep.

Yes. I run Firestone Winterforce tires at $50 each (2 years ago). Hakkapeliittas were going to cost me $150 each. I had Hakkapeliittas before these. In the opinions of the local tire dealer and myself, they’re no better than the Winterforce. They’re popular here too, but the dealer said they increased the price because people would ask for them by name and not pay attention to the price.

I’ve noticed a difference between the Supertires and classic snows, especially up here in New England, the Supertires, with their closely-spaced lugs and heavy siping (slits cut into the tread blocks) seem more designed for icy roads with very little snow/slush, the many biting edges of a siped tire give reasonable grip on ice, but tend to get packed up and bogged with snow, similar to a straight-tread street tire

a classic, blocky snow tire has fewer biting edges for ice traction, but the tread lugs are wider apart and more diagonaly spaced, this allows for a more “self-cleaning” type of tread, as the tire is able to throw thick, sticky snow clear of the tire tread

a Supertire is quieter on dry pavement, thanks to the “locking” effect of the siping, on dry roads, the sipes tend to stick to each other, giving it a more street-tireish profile, but the sidewalls are still soft, as is the tread compound, softer than a classic snow tire, and thus, they wear much faster than a classic, or even a street tire

a Classic snow is louder on dry pavement, and will wear faster than a street tire, since the rubber is softer than a street tire, it wears faster than one, it also has a softer sidewall than street tires, but the rubber is harder than a supertire, so it wears better than one

basically, you’re best to match the tires with your driving conditions, if you drive more on snowy/slushy or sticky snow covered roads, the classic snow is a better choice, due to the wide, agressive lugs and it’s “self-cleaning” design, if your roads are more icy than snowy, the supertire, with it’s heavy siping and numerous biting edges may be better

either one is a far better choice than “all seasons” which are a compromise design at best and useless at worst

FWIW, since we seem to be past that part of the conversation, studs do appear to be allowed in Washington State: Studded tires are approved for use from November 1 to March 31. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) determines additional periods in which they can be used. - from their State Patrol.

Not sure where you are in Washington but I got my Michelin X-Ices from CostCo.

I’d recommend getting them put on wheels. If they’re on wheels you can just take them to where you bought the tire and they’ll bolt them on for free (after rotating, naturally). You can also get out quicker since there’s no need to remount them.

I think most of your questions have been answered already. There’s really no warranty from what I’ve seen on winter tires. As has been mentioned, they wear MUCH more quickly because they tend to be made with a softer rubber.