Snow tire information overload - what should I buy?
February 11, 2015 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I have a 1999 Ford E150 van with iffy tires. I want to get some snow tires but the variables are driving me nuts.

I just need some tires that will keep my van on the road. My choices are used / new, with / without rims, cheap / expensive. I typed my van info into the Canadian Tire website and got 10 options, ranging from $40 to $153 per tire. Are $40 tires junk, or are $153 dollar tires overpriced vanity items? I have no idea. Wheel info: P235/75R15 105T. Any advice appreciated!
posted by crazylegs to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Based on my experience, the expensive tires will drive better at speed & on dry pavement.

Rims are a good investment if you're keeping the car & tires more than a couple of years, as you'll make up the cost by avoiding the mounting & balancing fees.
posted by mr vino at 7:32 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cheap tyres are junk. Always. It is cheaper to get tyres on rims if you can swap them over yourself (it will pay back within a year or so of swapping them back and forth and saves time and money).

IF you are on a budget, then used better quality snow tyres are superior to new cheap snow tyres. Also if you are on a budget, buy the second tier most expensive winter tyre, but go no lower as you'll likely just pay later in other ways (getting stuck, hitting people, being terrified in a snow storm). Ignore the people that will doubtless tell you "well, I bought the cheapest ones I could find and I NEVER had any problems so you can do the same" - they don't know what they're talking about and it is the worst kind of anecdata.

Best winter tyres at present (in my opinion) are Michelin X ice 3 - both our cars have them and they are excellent - with possibly Continental Winter contact/extreme winter contact being the next best bet. I don't know if they do those sizes, though.

I firmly believe that saving money on tyres is a false economy - think of it more like cheaper home (or similar) insurance: You might not need it, but when you do you REALLY need it.
posted by Brockles at 7:43 AM on February 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

Definitely rims not only tires. The hassle is SO minimised.

I'd go for more expensive, and research a bunch of the brands and kinds online, specifically for reviews. Snow tires are safety items, not vanity. Look in the reviews for friction-on-various-kinds-of-snow-or-ice specs, durability, and if possible, info about how fast the material hardens and gets old.
posted by Namlit at 7:43 AM on February 11, 2015

The cheap tires are almost certainly all-seasons and will be basically shit in snow and ice. Get rims as well if you don't mind changing your own tires, will save you a ton of time and money in the long run.

I live in the frozen wastelands of northern BC so I get spendy with my winter tires. A hundred and fifty bucks per corner is a normal price for decent winter tires, and assuming you switch them out with the seasons and make sure to rotate them properly they will last for years and years.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:44 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

A cheap mountain and snow flake tire (which I doubt the $40 tire is or that you can even buy a tire for your van for $40) is going to be better than all but the best tires you could buy when the van was new. So while a really good snow tire would be better it not like you will be rolling on rubber death with a cheaper tire.

Choice really depends though on your expected conditions. A good independent shop can beat Canadian tires price and make a recommendation applicable to the area. You have the most common lt tire so every type is going to be available.
posted by Mitheral at 7:59 AM on February 11, 2015

When I first started working, I "saved" money by buying off-brand winter tires. I was lucky to get three years out of them, and they were pretty slippy in those later years. I've since switched to recipe that Brockles suggests and am getting much better durability.

And yes, buy rims. Not only are they more convenient, they make both your summer and winter tires last longer too as you're mounting and demounting them twice a year.
posted by bonehead at 8:01 AM on February 11, 2015

This is what Costco is for. I'd head to your Costco (looks like you have one in town). They have tires and wheels, and for 15 dollars per tire will rotate, do nitrogen fills for free and replace stems for free for the life of the tire.
posted by beccaj at 8:07 AM on February 11, 2015

I see you're in SE Ontario. My brother has had quite a bit of luck by ordering through Tire Rack to a northern NY garage. The garages have a deal with Tire Rack to receive the tires and install them when you arrive. Takes a couple of hours usually.

I don't know how well that would work right now with the recent change in the dollars, but it's free to check prices on their website.
posted by bonehead at 8:07 AM on February 11, 2015

I came to say Michelin X Ice are great, and since Brockles agrees with me that proves beyond any possibility of doubt that I'm right. Getting them made a huge difference for us. They are basically magic.
posted by medusa at 8:31 AM on February 11, 2015

Visit All the answers you need for tires are on that website.
posted by JohnE at 8:33 AM on February 11, 2015

If you don't care about the extra noise, get your tires studded (except where the manufacturer recommends against it). Especially if the roads in your area tend to get packed down and icy, or if you have to negotiate hills, they are well worth it. In ice-racing time trials, street-studded* snows on all four wheels of front-wheel drive cars generally perform as well as four-wheel drive vehicles with unstudded snows. (*Street-studded as opposed to specialty ice-racing studs.)
posted by beagle at 8:40 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Get them on rims. My brother swapped between summer and winter tires on the same set of wheels. He could get it done for free but it ended up being really hard on the tire and one of them broke when they were mounting after a couple of years (he was just glad that it didn't fail while he was driving).

When you take the wheels/tires off in the spring, put each one (or two if they'll fit) in a big, plastic garbage bag like you'd use to gather up leaves. It prevents the tires from wearing out as fast (there is some compound in them that will degrade over time) otherwise the tires can wear out before you've used up all the tread (since you're driving on each set of tires for only half the year). I don't remember exactly what it is that breaks down but I remember reading a Car and Driver article where they asked industry experts about tires and they said that it's something people should do if they switch between winter and summer tires.

3rd'ing the Tire Rack. They're often the least expensive for a specific model of tire, their website is great, having tires shipped to a shop that can install them is super easy, and any time I've called or chatted with them I've been left with the distinct impression that every one of them can really nerd out about tires (not cars in general but specifically tires).

Your tires are the only part of your car that actually touches the road (unless something has gone VERY wrong) so tires are one of, if not the most important pieces of safety equipment on your car. Don't cheap out on them. Also keep in mind that if you're able to swap between summer and winter tires each set gets used half as much so they don't end up costing all that much more. The tires make a big enough difference that, on snow, a front wheel drive car with winter tires can out-perform an all-wheel-drive version of the same car with all-season tires.
posted by VTX at 8:46 AM on February 11, 2015

They have tires and wheels, and for 15 dollars per tire will rotate, do nitrogen fills for free and replace stems for free for the life of the tire.

While I agree with Costco as a sometimes cheap source, nitrogen refills are total snake oil and $60 for 'rotating' tyres that are removed and installed twice a year anyway is no value at all. In addition, tyre valves are maybe $2 and need replacing every 7-10 years. That is not good value for $60 being as the only part of it of value gets done automatically when the tyres are swapped at spring/autumn time.

If you have some wheel chocks, a jack and a breaker bar/torque wrench a relatively fit and only mildly handy person can change all 4 wheels within an hour (takes me 30 minutes including wrapping them up) and you'll spend more time driving to the place that does it for you, never mind the time waiting or going back to fetch the car.

I don't remember exactly what it is that breaks down

UV (sunlight) screws up tyre rubber. Putting them in bags and keeping them in a garage/basement in relatively stable temperatures will ensure longest life.
posted by Brockles at 9:03 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

In re. studded: that comes with a lot of restrictions in Canada -- "It is illegal for southern Ontario residents to use studded tires in southern Ontario; they can be fined up to CA$1,000," for example.

There is now such a thing as an all-weather tire, which is not the same as the much maligned all-season. This year I bought the Hankook Optimo 4S all-weather and I am thrilled and...and it looks like they don't go up to your size. But "all-weather" is a thing worth looking in to. "Allows you to have only one set of tires year round - both a summer tire and RAC approved winter tire," and I have a nice un-slippy safe ride even in poorly plowed rural Ontario.

Useful articles on all-weather tires: Are all-weather tires a good compromise?, All-weather tires now affordable, last longer, All-weather tires are not the same as all-season, and here's why.
posted by kmennie at 9:08 AM on February 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Worth noting, though, that all weather tyres - while being better than 'All season' - are still not as good as full winter tyres.

If a tyre will not fall to pieces in a week or so of mildly spirited driving in 30 degC weather in Ontario during the summer, like full winters tend to do, you are giving up grip in the winter. There is no substitute for Winter tyres, only compromise.
posted by Brockles at 9:24 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

That tire size is very, very common and LT (light truck) all terrain tires are readily available. While not as good as a dedicated snow tire in bad conditions on pavement, all terrain truck tires are pretty good-

NOTE: THIS is an all terrain tire, NOT THIS. That is a mud tire and they suck on anything but mud.

All terrain tires are tougher, last longer on warmer dry pavement. They can be used year around and are decent, if not great, highway tires.

The downside is they make more noise, they ride rougher and they cost more than typical passenger tires.

And specifically for your vehicle-it is a large heavy van. Cheap passenger car tires ARE NOT designed nor capable of handling the weight and load your vehicle will put on them safely especially if you are hauling cargo or towing a trailer. LT rated tires are. There is a reason they cost more. Higher quality P rated tires will do an ok job.

NOTE: the first letter on a size designation denotes service type-p235/75/15 is a passenger car rated tire and a common size on things like a ford LTD/panther platform (think police car). LT235/75r15 is Light Truck tire and rated for things like f150/e150 trucks and vans and were the standard size for many, many years on these vehicles. Another difference is the maximum safe inflation pressure. LT tires usually are capable of at least 50% more tire pressure than an equivalent sized P rated tire. That compressed air is really what holds up your vehicle, not the tire. The tire just holds the air and provides traction. If you have a heavier vehicle (say a full sized van...) you need more air to support that extra weight. In addition a van is significantly taller than a passenger car which also increases the side loads on the tire, which needs a stiffer sidewall to handle that load. Increased air pressure does this.

This is all from about 6 years working in a tire store and explaining to numerous people why the 4 for $100 deal at pep boys on tires on their pickup truck or camping trailer directly lead to their blowout and being towed at best into my shop. (this was about 1995-2001, prices have gone up). Those cheap tires would work ok if the vehicle was being used for in town commuting while empty but as soon as you loaded up the kids, camping gear/road trip gear and spent hours on the interstate at 80 mph in 100 degree weather (this was arizona) those tires came apart in exciting and bowel emptying ways.

So either get a GOOD Quality name brand snow tire or all terrain truck tires with an LT designation and check your inflation pressures. It actually matters, ask firestone

p.s. I put a set of Dunlap all terrains on a Chrysler minivan for about 2 years in a mountain town that got 10+ feet of snow. That thing was great with the all terrain tires. Rode like brick but it got my single mom sister to work and her kids to school on days most couldn't get over the snow plow hump in the driveway.
posted by bartonlong at 10:22 AM on February 11, 2015

Damn it, kmennie beat me to it (even the same tire). Mountain and snowflake tires without any hassle of changing at the end of the year? I'd say sign me up, but I'm already a member. On preview: it might be a compromise, but I've found it to be an acceptable compromise. Worst kind of anecdata and all :) .

re: costco for changing tires? Remember that in the fall and spring when everyone switches their tires at about the same time that costco will be backed up. And getting appointments with this is a hassle and a half (show up in the morning, wait to see if you can get an appointment, and if so, your appointment might be several hours later).
posted by nobeagle at 12:27 PM on February 11, 2015

Bartonlong beat me to it. If you want a good all-terrain tire, the BFG AT KO is among the best. I've got them on my truck and have been exceedingly pleased with the performance on road and off-road, and especially, snow. If you can find the KO2, get those as they are an upgraded version, but those were just released last last year, and not available in all sizes yet.

There are arguably better tires, but the BFGs are a solid recommendation - I live in the mountains and you see them on half or more of the trucks.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:57 PM on February 11, 2015

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