Monday, September 19, 2011

Snow Tires, have you got yours yet?

Ok, for those of you who do not get snow or ice in your region, please ignore this post. But for those who live where it snows and where ice can coat the roads now and again, shame on you if you try to go through winter without dedicated winter tires.

Here is the reasoning: Winter tires cost about $400 a set for many vehicles. That’s cheaper than almost anyone’s deductible, which means that if you slide off the road even once, you will have already saved money.

Further, dedicated winter tires have much better traction than any all season tire. They give you more confidence in bad weather and increase your odds of avoiding an accident. That reduces the odds of injury to you and yours or to others.

It’s common sense, and anyone who still chooses to cheap out and take the risk should be made to pay a severe penalty should someone be hurt or killed in an accident caused by their lack of traction. It is akin to playing Russian Roulette with random strangers without their consent. What exactly would be the penalty for that?

So now you’ve decided to get snow tires after all … excellent choice! So what brand? That answer is fairly easy. If you will be mainly in snow and ice, get the Michelin X-Ice. It continues to win the Consumer’s Report tests every year. But it’s not great on wet roads. So if you are going to be on wet roads pretty often (as we are in Ottawa all the time), then your choice should be the #2 tire the last few years running … the General Tire Altimax Arctic. This is the one I have on the CR-V and it is superb. Seriously good.

Other brands are also quite good of course … I like the Toyo G2 Observe, which is what I had before the Altimax. Very nice. I know people who Swear by the Bridgestone Blizzak. Anything you get will be vastly safer than running your summer tires in snow and ice.

What about tire and wheel size? Well, here it gets interesting. I searched the web and found that every credible reference is quite clear that you should drop a wheel size and increase side wall ratio to improve your traction. This follows the laws of physics, where narrower tires put more pressure on each square inch, thus pushing down through the snow for better contact with the surface underneath. Further, narrower tires do not have as much resistance against deep snow, in the same way that skates have less resistance than boots would when sliding forward.

Here is my example: my stock size on the Mazda 3 Sport is 205/55 R16. I priced some nice wheels (about $120 more than black steel wheels) -- I have found aluminum wheels more reliable long term, in that a slight dent on a steel wheel will vibrate, whereas the aluminum tends only to get gouged a bit – and the total package came to $728usd. Not all that bad for nice wheels and the best tires for my conditions.

Then I priced the 195/65 R15 tires, which are almost exactly the same diameter. I figured this out with the excellent tire size comparison calculator at the 1010TIRES.COM web site. Check that out here. The speedometer difference is that I would read 44/100ths of a percent slower. In other words, when going 100kph, the speedo would 99.5kph. Similarly, 60mph would show as 59.7mph. For any typical speedo with a needle indicator, that difference is invisible, period.

Here is the full data from 1010TIRES.


Here’s another hint from the Tire Rack web site. I chose the Mazda 3 – 4 door without TPMS so that I could select the 15” wheels. In later years, those just are not an option.


In 2011, the bottom one is the low end selection here in Canada. Also, my care is the GX model (lowest) and does not come with TPMS, which by the way saves me over $200 when buying new rims.

Anyway … the smaller tires are not only better in snow and ice than the larger, they are $100 cheaper. Go team! So the price is now $628 and I am much happier.


These tires cost only $76 per corner at this size. Versus $97 per corner at stock size. The shown wheels are also inexpensive at this size, being $79 per corner. These tempt me …


… but I am also a fan of the machined look instead of the painted look. For $2 per corner extra, I can grab these …


Tough call …

Final issue for Canadians. Should you order directly from TireRack and pay the very high shipping costs?


Ouch, and there is still the HST of 13% on top of the package and other fees.


Double ouch.

There is another option, which is to ship to Ogdensburg’s UPS Store if you are in and around Ottawa. Obviously, there will be similar arrangements near other major cities near the border. Anyway, this changes things considerably.



Now, if I drive down and pick these up myself, I know that I will pay the HST on the way back, plus $20 at the UPS Store for storage. That means about $846. Oops … add the provincial tire fee (disposal) and duty and you get something like $900 or so …

Well, that’s a pretty penny still. I could save another $150 or so by dropping to steel wheels, and I just might. But I really like this setup and will enjoy it for years to come. I tend to keep cars for 8 to 10 years, so we’re talking a small increment when divided that far.

Just to keep it real … the same smaller sized tire and and comparable rim set would approach $1200cad after all fees -- I just did the search and calculation – so I can ship to Ogdensburg and pay all fees and save $300. Not bad. Plus, Tire Rack does dynamic balancing while Canadian Tire does not. That may count for something (like finding tire flaws before shipping them out.)

Anyway … good luck. If you live in a snow bound area, please seriously consider this ounce of prevention.

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