Choosing Winter Tires and Rims

When it comes to purchasing winter tires there are many things to consider. In most cases, purchasing winter tires will be one of the largest investments you are likely to make in your vehicle. With that much hard earned dough going towards your car, you are going to want to make right choices the first time. Having spent years selling tires, I can tell you that there are more things to consider now than ever. Every year there are advances in tire technology and vehicle specifications that force us, as tire experts, to reconsider the needs of our customers. As I did my review for the 2011 winter tire season I took notes on all the major considerations that a customer should have in mind when choosing a winter tire package.


Do I need Winter Tires?

The very first thing you need to decide is whether you need winter tires at all. If you live in Alberta, the answer to this question should be ‘Yes’. Although an All-Season tire is designed to function in the winter, its aim is usually only to meet the minimum standards in order to get you through an average winter and receive a ‘Mud and Snow’ rating. A winter tire, however, is designed to provide you with a much higher level of control in even the worst conditions. Where an all-season tire begins to harden and lose its grip at temperatures as high as 7 degrees Celsius, a winter tire made with modern compounds stays soft and retains grip even in the coldest Alberta winters. Furthermore, where the major design consideration for an All-Season tire is the dissipation of water using large channels in the tread design, a winter tire is designed to deal with Ice and Snow. This means that small interlocking sipes for gripping snow are used extensively and small holes called capillary tubes for sucking the slippery water off the top of ice are a common feature of today’s winter tires. So, while you can probably get through a winter using All-Season tires (and many people do), most people will feel much safer with a set of winter tires between them and the road.

How hard is it to find Winter tires?

In recent years, the popularity of winter tires has spiked as more and more people experience the performance of winter tires and spread the word. In prior years, this spike has caused supply shortages for certain tire sizes and many people were left searching for tires that would fit their vehicles. Most tire shops depend on a central warehouse that they share with other shops, and when the supply is done, that’s it. In our case, we stock over 400 winter tires covering the complete Toyota line-up and are backed by a large network of tire warehouses (7 in the Edmonton area). This means you will not need to wait weeks for your tires.

Should I consider getting a set of Winter Rims?

It is a common practice for our guests to mount their new set of winter tires on a set of steel rims. The reason most people choose to do this is to ease the changeover of their tires in the spring in fall. This is because, with a jack and a wheel wrench, most people will be able to change their tires on short notice and avoid the rush to the tire shops that occurs the first day that snow hits the ground and save a couple bucks in the long run on labour. As practical as this reasoning is, there is often a much larger financial reason for purchasing steel rims that is often over-looked. The aluminum rims that likely came with your vehicle are very expensive (around $700 for the average Toyota rim) and in some cases hard to replace, while a steel rim is relatively inexpensive and readily available. Given that most rims get damaged in winter, you do not want to be driving around on slippery roads with your nice aluminum rims. Regardless of your reason for going with Steel Rims, the chances are that you will be saving money in the long run.

Will I need to change tire sizes?

You may find that you will need to change your rim and tire size in order to accommodate a winter rim for your particular vehicle. Generally speaking, steel rims are not made in sizes larger than 17-inches. This size limit means that if you have a vehicle like a Venza with a 19-inch factory rim, you would need to find an alloy rim for 19-inch winter tires. This can be quite expensive and will usually defeat the purpose of getting winter rims. However, by using a 17” rim and changing the tire size to a 17-inch size that will have the same overall diameter as the original tire, we can get around this problem. We recommend that you consult with a tire expert prior to changing your tire size so that you do not adversely affect systems such as your speedometer, ABS and Vehicle Stability Control.

Do I have to worry about Tire Pressure Sensors in my winter rims?

Most new vehicles today come with an active Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). These systems consist of a special computer and a pressure sensor in each tire. These sensors are part of the valve stem and each one has its own unique identification number that must be programmed into the computer in order for it to be recognized. The TPMS system is considered by most to be a safety feature of you vehicle. Because of this safety aspect, all vehicles that are equipped with the TPMS system must use winter wheels that equipped with sensors. We will not install new rims without sensors unless the vehicle is not equipped with TPMS. If you are unsure whether or not your vehicle is equipped with TPMS, the easiest way to check is to put your key in the ignition, turn it to the run position (don’t start the vehicle) and look for the TPMS light. In a push button start vehicle, with your foot off the brake, hit the start button twice. .

Who should install my winter tires?

Just as important as the tires themselves, where you have your tires installed should be one of the biggest considerations. Start with the people who will be helping you choose your tires. Are they tire experts? A tire expert should be able to look up your tires, rims and sensors in a timely fashion and be able to answer all your questions. They should be experienced Journeyman Parts Technicians who know your vehicle and will ensure that the tires you purchase are correct for your vehicle and meet your expectations. The technician installing your tires can also have a serious impact on your purchase experience. For safety reasons a trained Journeyman Technician or Registered Apprentice should be the only people working on your vehicle. Mistakes such as loose lugnuts, incorrect mounting of directional tires and even damage to your new rims and tires are not uncommon when dealing with an untrained or unsupervised installer and many shops do not have the proper equipment to deal with Tire Pressure Sensors.

Is there anything else I should consider?

Finally, you should also consider some of the added services that your installer may provide. Do they offer a No Hassle Free Replacement Road Hazard Warranty? Will they mount and balance your tires and rims to save you time when you come in for installation? Do they have tire storage program to free up room in your garage? These extra services can make your winter tire experience easier and are designed with your time and money in mind.