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The winter wheel and tire shuffle can be a test of patience, attention to detail

I recently bought a very high-mileage 2004 BMW X5 with the rare combination of a six-speed manual transmission, the sport package, and the towing package. The intent was to have a vehicle that I wouldn’t hate daily-driving and could also use, if necessary, to hitch a rented U-Haul auto transporter and tow another car home, enabling the crimes of opportunity that have resulted in my little I-don’t-call-it-a-collection.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/12/02/winter-wheel-and-tire-shuffle-test-of-patience
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Great article, want to reemphasize getting several prices for the complete new changeover. Discount Tires and Costco frequently have rebates lowering total cost. Your earlier article mentioned receiving a set of rotors which could provide verification of at least two of your fitment issues. Finally you mentioned downsizing for winter tires and a smaller contract patch will increase psi loading in winter.

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Rob, thanks for the great article and reminder of the importance of winter traction, especially in an all-wheel or 4 wheel drive vehicle. All wheel drive doesn’t give you traction on a slippery road, it just means all four tires can lose grip! As an employee of a major tire company, I like your last line the best - “May your used WINTER tire shopping…” (not the used part though…:)), throughout the great article, you said ‘Snow’ tire - Winter is the preferred name, as many folks need to tackle ice, slush, cold wet roads, etc., not necessarily snow-covered. The compounds used today include much complexity for all conditions, including the ‘void’ for snow. Older tires, which we called ‘snow’ tires, had aggressive tread for traction and lots of ‘void’ areas for the snow to go - think about how traction is attained, the rubber MUST get to the road, so the void is where the material - snow, slush, etc. goes to allow the tread to get to the hard surface. Today’s tires must also have siping for grip on ice, compound that works in slightly warmer temps, and a design that evacuates water, etc., so technology has come a long way since I started in the industry over 30 years ago! Thanks again for the great piece.

I’m surprised you mention looking for the stock size when shopping for snows. It used? to be de riguer to go with a minus one fitment i.e., 1 size smaller width and 1 size taller ratio. Having a smaller cross section supporting the same weight allows the vehicle to exert more force for sq inch.
With the proliferation of very low aspect ratio tires, my wife looks forward to snow tire season when her 30 and 40 aspects are swapped with 50 or 55’s. Pretty sure my X1 with M package doesn’t need 255 35 cross section snows!
I try to navigate the Craigslist detrius by search BMW 17 snow, or BMW 18 studded. It does take time but the vigilant are often rewarded with less than 2 season old gear for less than the cost of just the tires. Of course today you have to factor in TPMS and as I learned the hard way, there can be differences in manufacturers units even if they came off another model of the same manufacturers year.
Happy hunting.

Just a few days ago I pulled the OEM wheels off our 2013 Land Rover LR2 and installed a set of new Blizzaks mounted on minus-1 conversion alloys (17 inches instead of the OEM 18s) just in time for a big winter storm as luck would have it. The first time I used them was on several inches of snow and slush and it felt like driving on a dirt road. The Blizzaks were fantastic. The worn OEM Continentals would have been hopeless in those conditions. An expensive setup, but stepping down a size in wheel and tire reduced the price. Taller sidewalls are better for snow, and the smaller sizes offer more snow tire choices. I’m not commuting either, but when needed, they are needed. They showed up at the door about 15 minutes after I ordered them from The Tire Rack, mounted and balanced with the TPMS. They were difficult to mount, unbelievably heavy, and I hated the locking lug nuts that came with them and the garish wheel manufacturer logo that called for some black paint. But winter snows are the way to go when it snows. I prefer fresh and new when it comes to tires, especially for snow and gravel. A fellow rallyist once told me he’d rather use the front half of the tire than the back half. This spring I’ll stick the OEMs back on, saving the snow tires for next winter.

AWD + Nokian Hakkapeliitta = unparalleled traction. (great article, tons of information!)

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I am in month #1 of my own scientific study. You see, I just bought a 15 year-old Ford Ranger (FX-4 Level II suspension) for the specific purpose to get through (the recent trend of) snowy Minnesota winters, especially in the far Northern part of the state. I’ve had winter tires on every vehicle (about 10) that I have driven in the past 20 years, and had them on my new GTI. They were fantastic on icy roads, and overall the GTI handles like a cat on loop carpeting. But there is no substitute for the fact that the snowplows sock you in, and if the snow depth exceeds 8" in the GTI, you’re screwed. The Ranger, with its skid plates, just bashes anything and everything. It went easily down our 3/8 mi. unplowed driveway this week in an 18" fresh dump of the white stuff. With the GTI I would be marooned. That said, I hate the Ranger on icy roads, and pretty much every driving characteristic there is, aside from deep snow. This because it’s a truck- high center of gravity, so-so brakes, etc. It’s just physics. What I find astonishing is that 95% of people think the truck is the answer, and that it is by far superior to the GTI. Not even remotely close. I do not really have an option though, but in reality I should put Winter tires on the Ranger, however I am not doing that because I work from home too, so I will just try to avoid it. The BMW X5 seems to be a good choice compromise. That being said, I’ll race you with our new Explorer ST. Anytime, anywhere. haaa

Since 1982, I have followed something like this advice, save that I don’t bother with used mounted snow tires.
It’s not at all difficult to find a set of proper stock wheels for winter tires. (Unless you want fancier wheels for summertime use, you don’t really need fancy winter wheels.) As a general rule, figure 80-100 for a set of four.
Unless you enjoy checking out manufacturing dates for tires, don’t bother with used. New ones, if properly stored in the summer, will have a much longer tire life. Just wrap them in a plastic bag th tire stores supply at no charge, and store them out of the heat and sunlight. They should last 5-6 winters anyway.
New Michelin Latitude X-ice snow tires have lately been on sale at Costco (with a discount coupon) for $600/set, mounted and balanced. Nokian Haakapellita run to $800 at an independent local tire store. I’ve had both, and the difference is barely noticeable.
The changeover winter to summer from the tire dealer where purchased is usually done at no charge.
Though Oregon allows studded snow tires, by and large for most driving situations they are worse than studless snow tires, and cause excessive damage to road surfaces, concrete and asphalt both. Avoid them.
Across 38+ years, this approach has proven to be both money-saving and improved winter driving safety. It’s worked on a series of 4wd and awd cars - which are also recommended for winter riving. Extreme conditions are rarely encountered, but localized surprises in icy and packed snow conditions in mountains or even rolling hills are fairly common.
Good snow tires won’t keep you safe by themselves. Learning and practicing winter driving skills like skid recovery are still necessary.
But good winter tires will give you the extra edge that can matter.

YMMV, but my rule for tires is that when they are 5 years old I start looking for replacements regardless of tread wear, anything over six is for static display or storage only. I have seen eight year old tires have their sidewalls fall apart into dry rotted powder while driving. My other rule on this is that you should always ask Paul Walker what happens to the traction of a tire that is over five years old, I’m sure he would agree that it is not good if he wasn’t so dead because of this problem. All that said, I have put more than one set of used tires onto my cars over the years, and yes Snow Tires make a huge difference.

YES and NO - Snow tires are a BIG Safety factor in the winter in the snow belt, bar none. When you buy a set, go the minus size direction -1 or -2 is what you want, a skinnier tie, smaller wheel but the same diameter is the target. Tire Rack does a great job of offering that combination. A combination package (tires /wheels) for a very reasonable price can be had. Its ridiculous to just buy the tires and have them mounted twice annually - why fight that cost and hassle? Now, when you use the Snows in the winter, the Summer tires are stored, you get longer life out of them. A good set of snow tires will last at least three years, perhaps more if you do not drive a lot of miles like I do, and the summer tire will go that much longer as well. I’ve told many a friend of the advantages of Snows, ones with small cars to four wheel drive trucks, they have all thanked me once they purchased them and experienced them first hand. You get peace of mind, Braking and Steering is what I find to be the biggest improvement. It’s your life, and that of any family member who gets behind of the wheel, but, it’s the life of one you encounter on the road that should matter as well. Do as as you wish and GOOD LUCK. You cannot buy safety, after the fact it’s TOO LATE!

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$100+ to mount and balance 4 wheels?? I had no idea. The last time I paid for it it was $15 each and I thought THAT was too much so I acquired my own machines and have done it myself ever since. Rob if you’re not too far from Foxboro I’d be happy to do it for you for the chance to meet and chat.

I wish I could find wheels for that kind of pricing! I could not find steel wheels or factory alloys for my girlfriends Jeep Renegade or my '98 Chevy 1500 for under $60 a wheel–used! Any pick-a-part or scrap yard around here will not go below $50 for steel wheels, and that is before yuou check if they are straight. I don’t understand it.

I’ve always looked at snow tire/rim cost as compared to fender repair and being pulled out of a ditch. After years of looking at auto claims in upstate NY (year round) and four new Nokian Hakkapeliitta tires each fall, my AAA membership was never used. Had no collisions in well over a million miles on four different cars.
All the fancy technology on today’s vehicles means very little if the tires fail to offer any grip. All season tires (no season in my opinion) have only 1/4th of the tread designed for snow, ice, rain or dry conditions - a poor choice for any vehicle any time of year.

I needed new snow tires this year. Back in October, I checked Canadian Tire (yeah,I’m in Canada) for discontinued snow tires. Found 17" General Altimax Arctics for just over $100 each - normally $179. Bought 4 at one store and got them mounted on my steelies at my local store for $50. Their production date is 2016. It doesn’t bother me as I will wear them out in 3 years.

Winter tires are the best in cold, cold and wet and snowy conditions. When I bought my '04 Honda Accord 6 speed coupe new, I got it with the HFP suspension and body kit. I insisted on getting back the wheels it came with, as they are replaced with Honda accessory wheels of your choice with the “package”.

I put on, at the time Dunlop Winter Sport M3 in stock size on the original rims. They lasted 9 seasons and the difference it made in the car is like nothing I ever expected. I can easily go past 4 wheel drive and all wheel drive cars/trucks on snow covered roads. I replaced them with same brand Winter Sport 3D tires, great tires. Once the crap OEM all seasons wore out on the other wheels, they have dedicated summer uhp tires, a set of Firestone Firehawk Indy 500s, fantasticly grippy tires above 50 degrees.

I had to drive in a sudden unexpected blizzard in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy hit here, I was able to manage, fairly easily on some treated and plowed and un maintained roads, nearly a foot of snow. I could move easily along at 35 mph, passing people in their awd supposed sport utility vehicles crawling along as to be unable to climb the many rolling hills to my home.

Not knowing where “around here” is for you, I don’t know about local pricing. It’s also worth noting that the older the car is, the search for OEM wheels will be that much more difficult and probably expensive.
My price quote was a private sale off of Craigslist. It’s also specifically timed to the summertime – since looking for winter tire wheels in the late Fall is likely to come up against increased prices from sellers. It’s that old automotive rule about not shopping for something when you need it rfn.
I bought my OEM wheels for my 1999 Yukon in August for $100. They have been sitting in my shop since. The X-ice appointment is day after tomorrow at Costco – $600 mounted and balanced.
The X-ice tires on my wife’s Rav4 had the changeover two weeks ago. And I just sold a 1998 Jimmy with the extra wheels and 4-year-old X-ices, which had the winter changeover two weeks ago as well. The buyer was quite pleased.
I’ve had only about 3-4 situations in the past 5-6 years of winter driving where the studless tires actually mattered quite a bit. Each was about accident avoidance when confronted with incompetent drivers on snowy roads in the mountains.
I consider it a form of insurance with a really important payoff.

Which means they have been worth every dime I paid for them.

Great article and I learned a lot. I know I’m showing my age here but those photos show tires that do not look that different than all season ones and are as wide as regular ones too. I remember an article in C&D maybe 30 years ago now comparing snow tires and their conclusion back then was narrow snow tires penetrated down to the pavement much better and the best snow tires had much more open areas in the tread. Are these new ones more of a compromise to match different conditions than just snow?

Ew! If you are not a left handed guitar player, that thumb nail is gross. Get a manicure when you do those hand close-ups!

Rob, as you may know, I once had a 1969 BMW 1600 that I bought new. As to snow driving, it was the worst vehicle I ever owned. It had no traction in the snow over a couple of inches. I tried different snow tires, added weight to the trunk, tried different tire pressures,starting in a higher gear, etc.,etc. It was not operator error either. I went to high school in upstate NY and the driver’s ed class at my h.s. was great. My class was in the winter and the instructor took us out on snow covered roads. With the controls on his side of the car he would put us into slides, or lock the brakes up so we would learn how to control the car in the winter. There was a shovel in the trunk for miscues. Most invaluable. Getting back to the Bimmer, all the other vehicles I have had never were that bad on snow covered roads. I always wondered why a car built in Bavaria was almost undrivable in the snow.

Actually, it’s very difficult to find steel wheels at that price, and many aren’t even available for cars that came with cast wheels made to clear oversized caliper/rotor options. It all depends what you’re driving. Sometimes you’re stuck buying used cast wheels from junk yards, and they’re often around $100 each depending on the car and local market.