How to buy new tires for old AWD wagon in snowy climate?
June 5, 2014 10:32 AM   Subscribe

We recently bought an old 1995 Subaru Legacy L wagon (2.2L, AWD) and find ourselves needing to replace all of the tires. Complications: snow, AWD, no storage for winter tires, and we need to be able to use the car on poorly maintained logging roads for field work in the summer.

Here's more detail on what we're looking for:

- We currently have 16" wheels with 205/55R16 tires. We aren't buying new wheels but we aren't married to the other dimensions, if something else would be cheaper or better.
- We live in Missoula, MT so we get a fair amount of snow. We made it through the last (worse than usual) winter driving a 2006 Civic Hybrid with mud & snow tires in FWD, but we weren't able to leave main streets or get out of town to go hiking or anything like that.
- We would be using the vehicle as a daily commuter year-round, and for road trips and field work during the summer.
- We live in a small apartment without a garage and don't have family nearby, so we'd like to avoid doing the separate snow tire thing if at all possible. Separate snow tires also seem prohibitively expensive, especially since tire life is limited not just by mileage but also by time - we'd get half the wear on them but the rubber keeps aging even in storage.
- Our vehicle has AWD, so we're locked into replacing all four tires (they all need replacing anyway)
- I'm an ecologist and I need to be able to take the wagon out on logging roads and the like during the summer - although I won't be doing this in snowy conditions!
- We don't have a ton of money but we know it's smarter to buy a quality tire because we know that we'd just end up spending more in the long run buying poor tires that will wear out faster.
- The car is obviously pretty old but in decent shape, and while we're hoping to get another 50-100k miles on it before it totally craps out (currently at 180k miles), I would hate to drop a ton of money on tires just to have the car die on us. We'd likely end up replacing the vehicle and could hopefully either sell the new tires or put the new tires on whatever used beater we buy to replace the Subaru when it passes away.

We've been endlessly pondering the tire question and going around in circles, even with the help of Tire Rack. We've keep coming back to a few specific models:

- Michelin Premiers - I like the idea of the sunflower oil rubber mixture that will supposedly keep the tires supple at low temperatures, but these just came out recently and nobody has driven them on snow yet as far as I can find. We could get a great deal on these at Costco right now.
- Continental ExtremeContacts - Consumer Reports & Tire Rack agree that this line is really high quality and good on snow. If we bought at Tire Rack, these would be about the same price as the Premiers once we paid for shipping & installation, plus the extra hassle to get them installed.
- Michelin Primacy MXV4s - these would be a bit cheaper than the Premiers but without any of the cold-weather/wear characteristics that make the Premiers sound like such a good fit. Also reviews of this tire in snow are very mixed (although that seems to be true about every tire).

The nice/name-brand tires all seem to run around $600 total once all the other fees are taken into account. My main questions, besides just asking for any advice you might have, are these:
- Could we get away with anything cheaper but still have decent handling in the snow & cold? Or should we just spring for the high-quality tires and plan on transferring them to the next vehicle if our wagon suddenly dies on us?
- Is it stupid to spend that much for tires for a really old car?
- Are we totally wrong to dismiss snow tires, even though they'd probably end up being much more expensive for us once storage and biannual remounting was taken into account and we made it through last winter on 2WD M+S tires? Winters in western MT are not really that terrible, and we wouldn't be trying to do anything fancy in the winter, just maybe get a couple miles out of town for a hike and not have to worry as much driving on snow.
posted by dialetheia to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I hope your searching found this answer. All-season tires may be a reasonable solution for you, given your requirements, but I would suggest you ask one of the recommended tire stores for their recommendations.

In some Canadian cities, I've seen services offered where a store would store your winter tires for you. Perhaps a local tire store would offer a similar service. You'd have to ask.
posted by blob at 10:54 AM on June 5, 2014

I would definitely get good tires for an old car. If it dies in a year, you can craiglist them or save them, but in the meantime, as I am sure you know, a good set of tires can make a world of difference in handling and reliability in off-pavement situations.

I think you'll be fine with some All-Seasons. You might do slightly better with snow tires in winter, but I'm not sure they would be so much better as to be worth the trouble and cost.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:12 AM on June 5, 2014

Not a specific tire reccommendation per se, but two years ago I put the best all-season tires I could find in the size (Yokohama AVID TRZ) for my then 18 year old Mazda Protege. And I have never regretted it for a second. Because good tires can make all the difference even on streets. The last two winters here in RainLand, my little car hasn't hydroplaned once and I'm pretty sure they saved my life and car from serious harm when some lunatic dead-stopped on a freeway merge about a month after I got them. We don't get much snow here so people don't seem to take their tires seriously, but once you've seen someone with summer performance tires nearly lose it and barely miss a barrier, it makes you think.

TL;DR, my car is worth maybe $1500 and the tires cost me $500. I'm greatful for them every time I drive. Good tires are worth the extra couple hundred.
posted by monopas at 12:11 PM on June 5, 2014

I live in Missoula.. Last winter was pretty mild...

If I owned your vehicle, was in your situation, and it was up to me: I would probably just do a lot of research on All-Season Tires and order them off Tire-Rack. I'd also carry a set of tire chains just in case. (This is what I do now on my 4x4 Frontier and I have yet to need the tire-chains.)

If I was a more sociable type, I'd do the smart thing and talk to some local tire-selling folk about my specific driving needs, research what they recommended, and then go talk to them again.
posted by herox at 12:14 PM on June 5, 2014

I don't know that much about snow conditions, but I recently had to deal with a similar issue and have a similar attitude towards tires. I drive a mid-2000's German coupe. I was actually looking at Michelins and Continentals.

Respectfully, $600 for 4 tires out the door (installed and balanced) is not a lot of money. I think if you look at Tire Rack, there may be a certified installer in your area, and if there is, you may be able to avoid paying any delivery fees if that tire is already in stock. I ended up replacing my two front tires with Hankook Ventus and it came out to about $225. I don't think you can get any cheaper than that.

I should also mention that there is a market for used tires. If you have any mechanics in your area with stacks of tires in their lot, you should ask and haggle with them.
posted by phaedon at 12:26 PM on June 5, 2014

Response by poster: re: chains - we aren't supposed to put chains on the Subaru for some reason, I think it has something to do with the way the brakes are mounted. Just in case this affects the responses.

re: herox: Greetings, fellow Missoulian! What I heard about this winter from my climate scientist buddies was that we got a lot more snow this year and it stuck around much longer than is usual here - but not many of them are native Montanans, either, so I'm happy to take that with a grain of salt. It's also possible that this was true in the mountains where many of them work but that it was still pretty mild here in the valley. Appreciate the local input, that helps a lot!

Sounds like high-quality all-season tires are the way to go. If anyone has specific recommendations, either for brands or for specific models that have performed well, I'd love to hear them! Especially any feedback about the Michelin Premiers - I feel gullible buying Brand New Hype-Model tires, but if the hype is even sort of accurate, they'd be a great fit with our needs and maybe even hold their resale value a little better if worse comes to worst with the car and we want to sell the tires. Since the Premiers are so new, though, there aren't many user reviews, none of them long-term.

Either way, it's great to hear that $600 isn't exorbitant, and that spending upwards of a third of the car's value on new tires isn't a spendthrift thing to do - my partner and I both have really ... frugal ... families (strong "who do you think you are to deserve nice things?" mentality) so I think we're price-anchored at the low end (and likely the low end circa 1998, even), but it sounds like we need to adjust that upwards to fit the current reality and safety requirements.
posted by dialetheia at 12:46 PM on June 5, 2014

I have the Michelin Primacy MXV4s for my all season tires (on a Mazda 3 but same size). I bought them last spring and I'm really happy with the purchase. Good tires are worth every penny and the difference between those and the tires that came with the car when it was new was very noticeable.

I don't use them for winter driving (we get a lot more snow than Montana) but the few times I have been stuck driving in snow they were fine. If I had AWD, they'd probably be fine for most winter driving.

FWIW, my folks both have AWDs and leave their all seasons on all year. I have driven their vehicles in winter and it was just fine.
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:04 PM on June 5, 2014

There are some tires around now that are "all-weather" tires. These are suitable for year-round use but also meet the snow traction requirements to be considered winter tires (which regular all-season tires don't). Took me a minute to remember what they were calling this, so if your searching hasn't included that term, maybe give that a try?
posted by FishBike at 10:19 AM on June 6, 2014

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