Are dedicated snow tires worth it?
December 3, 2011 1:50 PM   Subscribe

We have a Ford E150 van (2005) and are driving from Utah to Oregon. The last time we made this trip in we had to put on chains when crossing the blue mountains around 2003 (via I-84). Should we get dedicated snow tires this time around?

The van handles terribly in the snow as it is, and we got stuck several times last winter. So I'm wondering if we should spring for dedicated snow tires, and if dedicated snow tires (without studs) are going to be a nightmare to drive on if the roads are clear.

Currently the vehicle has two new all-weather tires on the front and two rear tires that have some life in them, but could probably be replaced in the next year.

I guess I'm asking if I should get really good all-season tires, spring for snow tires, or something else.

Our van has p235 70-r16's on it.
posted by craniac to Travel & Transportation around Oregon (15 answers total)
One more datapoint: my wife was driving around this morning after a light dusting and said she was sliding quit a bit at stops signs. There may have been ice.
posted by craniac at 2:07 PM on December 3, 2011

Dedicated snow tires are not at all a problem to drive on with clear roads. Noisier, less efficient, shorter lifespan, sure, but otherwise not a problem. Generally, you only want to use them in the winter for those reasons.

Whether you should get them though, depends if you will need them regularly. If you only need them for this one trip or occasionally, just make do with chains.
posted by ssg at 2:10 PM on December 3, 2011

We'll need them for a few months of the Utah winter, and for this trip. We'll have chains as well.
posted by craniac at 2:16 PM on December 3, 2011

Just for creds: grew up in Montana, family in SLC, lots of visits and a LOT of winter mountain driving.

Even most tire dealers will admit -- all-season tires are nearly the definition of "jack of all trades, master of none." The very best will not give you the kind of winter-road traction you'll get from a decent set of snow tires. If you live in Utah, you see enough snow to be worth the investment in rear snow tires, especially on a hard-to-handle vehicle like a van. You and your family will be safer.

In fact, consider studded snow tires. If you come to a pass marked chains-required by the highway patrol, studded snow tires will usually be both legal and safe. Without the studs, you may still need to chain up your snow tires to cross.

Just be sure to get them off when spring breaks. Driving on mostly dry roads with studs is hard on our highways and wears the studs down more quickly.
posted by peakcomm at 2:25 PM on December 3, 2011

Studs may be illegal in Utah, and we really only have heavy snow for a couple of weeks (Where the streets are unplowed and compacted). It's a tough call. Snow tires are going to cost us at least $500, although they should last for a long time.
posted by craniac at 2:40 PM on December 3, 2011

If you come to a pass marked chains-required by the highway patrol, studded snow tires will usually be both legal and safe. Without the studs, you may still need to chain up your snow tires to cross.

ODOT considers studded and non-studded snow tires to be equivalent in terms of meeting their definition of "traction tires". (Note that you still have to carry chains when crossing the passes.)

Honestly, if you are going to keep the van at least a few years, I think having good winter tires is a pretty minimal investment with a huge safety return.

Snow tires are going to cost us at least $500,

TireRack will sell you winter tires only for less than $400 for the set, but it might save you money over time to go ahead and buy a tire/wheel package -- it's more money up front, but you don't have to pay for mounting and balancing on all four wheels twice a year, which is expensive in the long run.
posted by Forktine at 2:49 PM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the tip on the tire/wheel package--I hadn't considered that.

So can I get away with just snow tires on the back, perhaps?
posted by craniac at 2:56 PM on December 3, 2011

So can I get away with just snow tires on the back, perhaps?

Do you ever need to steer or brake? If not, then sure, skip the front tires. Seriously, decent tires are a basic safety issue for your family. Save money somewhere else, buy a used set on Craigslist, or something, but don't be penny wise, pound foolish with tires.
posted by Forktine at 4:04 PM on December 3, 2011

Actually, the tires I'd consider based on my past experience with that drive would be ice tires like Blizzaks. A set of Blizzaks got us to the 2002 Olympics from Portland, OR without any trouble, and I was glad I had them on one of the long-straight stretches up the pass that had a lot of ice build up over the highway surface itself.
posted by SpecialK at 4:26 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Back in the day, my dad solved the wheel/tire conundrum by buying 4 wheels from a junkyard that came from a similar car, which cost him next to nothing.

Oh, and you'll need a place to put these wheels/tires in the summer.
posted by schmod at 5:39 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I found a set of four Blizzaks on sale tonight at a big box store and they were much cheaper than I thought they would be. Interestingly, the tread depth on the next cheaper brand of tires was not significantly deeper than the tread on my new all-season tires.
posted by craniac at 8:10 PM on December 3, 2011

My dad always told me that a set of snow tires/rims is cheaper than an insurance deductible. He's right, and my snow tires have saved me from numerous potential fender-benders. You will not regret them.
posted by Maarika at 10:13 PM on December 3, 2011

Seconding get a second set of rims. If you also pick up a torque wrench (I like the kind that click) you can do the wheel swap at your house really easily. Takes me about 20 minutes using the crappy jack that came with the car. Just remember to loosen the nuts slightly BEFORE you jack up the vehicle.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 3:24 PM on December 4, 2011

Winter tires are better in the snow but they're also better in the cold.

"As a rule, whenever the average outdoor temperature falls below or climbs above -7 degrees Celsius (19.4 degrees F), your tires will be affected. "
posted by Gor-ella at 7:45 AM on December 5, 2011

Update: Costco didn't have Blizzaks rated for our van, which I discovered after an eighty mile round trip drive, so we went to a dedicated tire store and got some Nittos, $500 mounted. Now I am facing one of the warmest, snowless winters in recent Utah history, but hopefully we'll get snow soon, and it's good to hear they help in the cold as well. My wife's initial sliding about was due in part to two of our tires, the rear ones, being quite worn, but I still think these are worth it. We drove to Portland in them and my unscientific sense is that we were a little more secure driving back through the gorge in cold rain.
posted by craniac at 10:37 AM on January 4, 2012

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