Help me buy a new set of winter tires!
September 24, 2015 8:53 AM   Subscribe

What winter tires should I buy this time around? And where is the best place to get them?

I'm in the market for a new set of winter tires for my 2010 Mazda 3 sedan. Tire size is 205/55/16.

I live in a place with snowy, rainy, slushy, wet, miserable winters. Here is a picture of what my street looks like often in the winter. I often come home to find out that the spot I shoveled out has been taken, so I end up parking elsewhere, often on top of packed-in snow. Our temperature hovers around 0 degrees celsius for most of the winter, so keep in mind that there is a lot of melting, freezing, and thawing. Our municipality uses salt on the roads.

So what tires would be best for my car for these sorts of conditions? And where is the best place to get them? (I'm in Canada btw). I want a good set of tires that are optimal for the winter conditions we get. Not looking to go cheap here at all. Not interested in studded tires either, thanks.
posted by futureisunwritten to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Bridegestone Blizzaks and Michelin X-Ice seem to get a lot of points. I've used the Michelins for a couple of years. They do work well, and are holding up quite well in terms of wear.

I would take Costco (both Bridgestone and Michelin) and Canadian Tire (Michelin) as a benchmark for prices. Don't forget rims and installation too.

If you want to go mail-order, is the big vendor in the US. However, with the exchange rate unfavourable and the cost of shipping, ordering from the US may be more expensive than a local retailer right now. The usual trick in Ontario or Quebec is to get the tires delivered to a US garage, then drive down and get the tires changed. Unless that's possible for you somehow, your best option is likely to buy local.
posted by bonehead at 9:49 AM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best places to buy, in my opinion (echoing both options listed by bonehead above):

1. Costco, if you have a membership or a friend with a membership who can buy you a gift card there to get in the door. (You can pay for any extra amount with cash or American Express only at this point, I believe.)

2. The Tire Rack has been pretty good for me in past years, but call and check that shops listed on their local certified installers program are still active in the program - they appear to have some steady turnover.

For what to buy, check out Consumer Reports, maybe? Costco generally stocks good locally-suitable stuff, and Tire Rack has extensive reviews (but I guess you should be suspicious of those?)
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:00 AM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I used to drive on Blizzaks in the dry-but-frozen winters at my old place. But in my current snowy, icy, and windy location, I don't feel like I have the control I should have driving on ice. I switched to studded tires and am much happier with the way my truck drives. If I couldn't use studded tires, I'd try to find out if anyone bought out the Diamond Tire manufacturer in Sweden that went under a few years back. Those tires combined the softness of a Blizzak with carbide bits imbedded throughout the rubber. They were awesome - new carbide was exposed as the tire wore away. I haven't found anything that came close to giving me as good a winter ride as they did!
posted by summerstorm at 10:39 AM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

That photo shows some very nasty stuff.

For that kind of weather The General Altimax Arctic would do.
They're a popular well reviewed tire.
Easy to find at Canadian Tire.
Main drawback is they will give a softer ride than you're used to, especially with a Mazda

I use a performance winter tire.
H speed rating, handles well.
Does well on packed snow and especially wet or bare roads in Southern Ontario.
However performance winter tires are not really meant for that depth of snow pictured.
posted by yyz at 10:44 AM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

the Diamond Tire manufacturer in Sweden
I think you mean Green Diamond? It was originally Icelandic. Interesting concept. Looks like they were trying for a comeback in 2012. It looks like they are in business now and selling tires online and at limited retail locations. However, these are retreads, so caveat emptor.
posted by beagle at 11:02 AM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

On some other occasion Brockles recommended X-Ice, and dude knows from cars.

The other main brand I've heard recommendations for here in WNY that hasn't been mentioned yet are Hakkapeliittas from Nokian.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:20 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to get specific winter snow/ice tires, I just put a set of Pirelli Cintauro P7s on my 2014 Mazda 3 because I didn't like the numbness and skittishness of the stock Bridgestone Ecopia LRRs. And they are a revelation, as almost every review of the P7 says, it's like getting a brand new car that really handles right. They bring out nuances of the 3's dynamics I never noticed before with the Bridgestones, they hold a line much more happily even on rough or grooved pavement (I joke that driving got more boring, but it's just taking a lot less corrective input at speed). They are miles quieter than the stock Bridgestones, handle rough surfaces much more smoothly, and as every consumer review I read said (including Consumer Reports) they handle better than any A/S tire I've ever driven on wet surfaces. I haven't driven them in snow or ice yet, but people who have say they are fabulous for an A/S and beat the equivalent Michelins (which are $30 more a tire!) up and down the line in every way. I have driven them in very heavy rain on very bad roads and been just so pleased with the confidence they inspire and their excellent stopping power. I've been driving for 33 years. These are, bar none, the very best rubber I've ever experienced on any car I've ever driven. I waited a year to replace the OEM tires, now I wish I hadn't, best $450 I ever spent on a car.

Go on Tire Rack or one of the other big tire websites (or any of the Mazda enthusiast forums, which is where I first encountered them as a recommendation) and read the customer reviews of P7s. There almost are no bad ones. Many people say it's the best tire they've ever experienced, and CR rates it the best tire for an all-season grand touring tire. And a lot of those reviews *rave* about the P7's (unexpected) strong performance in moderate snow and ice. It's an A/S, and a real snow tire will always be better in really bad conditions, but for anyone looking at this question wondering about new tires for a Mazda3 and considering just getting one A/S tire for most conditions in most places -- people who don't live where winter gets really bad or who can avoid driving in the worst of it where it does -- trust me you want this Pirelli P7 rubber on your car. I did tons of research, but in the end this was the no-brainer choice. I almost didn't believe the hype, it was so voluminous and so uniform. Now I'm a volunteer Pirelli salesman.

The only downside is a very slight mileage hit over the Bridgestone OEMs, which were obviously chosen to get the car's MPG to best in class, at the expense of driving dynamics and road feel. But it's a very minor hit. I got 41-43 highway on the Bridgestones. I drive more assertively with these P7s so the comparison might be skewed (all that not-slowing-down-as-much on curves!) but my estimate so far is about 1-2mpg worse on the Pirellis. I don't give a shit. I feel twice as safe.

I am actually really curious to see how they do when we get our first snowfall here in New York.

But holy cow these P7s are great tires. If you drive a Mazda3, trust me you want them.
posted by spitbull at 12:24 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

IIRC, Consumer Reports a yearly report on tires sometime in October or November.
posted by bentley at 1:42 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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