Why Winter Tires Can Pay For Themselves
A set of winter tires doesn’t cost as much as you may think. You may be able to get one without increasing your overall costs much, if at all, when you buy them early in your ownership of a new car.
That’s because using the tires from around Thanksgiving til just before federal tax day April 15 will extend the life of your regular tires, explains Woody Rogers, director of tire information for online retailer the Tire Rack.
Winter tires use specially formulated rubber and tread patterns to improve your vehicle’s handling on snow, ice and in cold weather.
“Winter tires are better suited to cold temperatures,” IHS Markit senior analyst Stephanie Brinley said. “A good winter tire will give you more control whenever the temperature falls.”
That’s because modern tires use carefully tested formulas to keep their rubber supple and grippy in cold temperatures. The rubber compounds in high-performance summer tires and so-called “all-season” tires lose some of their flexibility and ability to stick to the road on days below 40 degrees, particularly if the pavement is wet.
The new compounds also mean the tires last longer and make less noise than old-fashioned snow tires, which got their extra traction by having deep, knobby tread like a tractor or ATV.
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Winter tire season starts sooner the farther north you live, or if you regularly drive very early in the morning, before the day begins to warm up.
Even all-wheel-drive vehicles benefit from tires that keep their grip when it’s cold.
“Today’s tire compounds improve traction at the molecular level for snow and cold pavement,” Woody Rogers, Tire Rack director of tire information. (Photo: The Tire Rack)
The extra traction makes the vehicle more responsive to steering and braking. It’s likely to accelerate better to clear busy intersections.
“Today’s tire compounds improve traction at the molecular level for snow and cold pavement,” Rogers said. “Using summer or all-season tires on a cold day is like putting a Snickers bar in the freezer: You can shatter it with a hammer. The rubber of a summer tire can actually crack in 15-degree weather.”
Buy PhotoTraffic on I-96 in Detroit headed into downtown craws slowly during a morning snow storm that hit the area on Wednesday, February 5, 2014. (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)
Winter tires wear out quickly if you use them when temperatures are consistently in the 50s. Just as summer tires’ rubber compound is less sticky at cold temperatures, winter tires lose grip because they become too soft in warm temperatures.
Prices for a set of four winter tires can start as low as $100 each, depending on the vehicle.
“If you use winter tires four months of the year, you’ll extend the life of your regular tires by a year” over five or six years, Lynch said. Wetmore’s sells about 40 sets of winter tires a year.
Many people buy rugged steel wheels to go with their winter tires and protect expensive sport wheels from dings and salt, said Chris Lynch, owner of Wetmore’s Tire and Auto in Ferndale. Steel wheels can start below $40.
Most tire shops will change and balance four tires for $80-$100. If your car has tire pressure sensors, the tire service association requires service shops to install them with new tires, at around $50 apiece.
“If my insurance deductible is $1,000, the tires pay for themselves if I avoid one bent wheel or fender bender,” Rogers said.
If you buy a set of snow tires when you get a new car and drive about 15,000 miles a year, the winter tires should extend the factory tires’ life enough that the original tires are still OK if you sell the car after six years.
“You trade your car with a half to two-thirds worn all-season tires,” he said.