Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Snow Tire Rant

When I purchased my little Volvo coupe late in the spring, I knew that it had big honking wheels with high-performance summer tires, but did not give the matter much thought beyond noting that I would need to change over to snow tires for the winter. Over the last month, I have had cause to give the matter much thought. Here are some of my learnings:
1. Very few snow tires are manufactured in the 215/45-18 size. Those that are manufactured are all high performance and very expensive.
2. In addition to being very expensive, snow tires in this size are not particularly effective in the snow. It is the equivalent of trying to walk in clown shoes: tires that big and wide spread the car’s weight over a larger surface area, and therefore do not grip snow and ice very well. They also have a tendency to push the snow ahead of them, functioning like rubber snowplows.
3. Because the fancy alloy wheels on the Volvo cannot accommodate clip-on weights, stick-on weights must be used to rebalance the wheels every time you switch from summer to winter tires or vice versa, raising the cost to $60 - $100 a pop.
4. The ideal for winter driving is smaller, narrower snow tires, meaning buying a second set of wheels that are 2” smaller in diameter and mounting 205/55-16 tires.
5. These will look kinda dorky in wheel openings designed for bigger wheels.
6. In theory, buying smaller wheels and tires will cost less over the course of two or three years than purchasing big honking snow tires that do not perform well. This is because many different snow tires are made in the smaller size, and most of them cost less than half what the big, high-performance ones do. Also, there is no ongoing cost of remounting and rebalancing twice a year. Sounds like a winner, right? Ah, but…
7. Federal regulations will not permit any tire dealer to sell or install wheels that disable an “essential safety feature” of an automobile (just as a licensed electrician cannot install a non-GFI outlet near a water source).
8. The Volvo has pressure sensors mounted in each wheel (as I believe all new automobiles are now required to, or soon will be).
9. Pressure sensors are essential safety features.
10. Pressure sensors are also expensive. Which takes us back to point six, which is now negated by the additional cost of having pressure sensors mounted in each winter wheel.
11. Just as I as a homeowner can install a non-GFI (“ground fault interrupter” for those who enjoy technical terms) outlet in my own kitchen but an electrician cannot, I am free to buy wheels without pressure sensor and install them myself, so long as I do not admit that they will go on a car equipped with pressure sensors (See point six, where tire dealers may not knowingly sell a wheel that will compromise an “essential safety feature”).
12. Exercising my rights as a citizen would require me to store the wheels not in use in my crowded garage, swap them out twice a year myself, and spend the winter looking at red lights on my dashboard warning me that my tires are all completely flat. So,
13. I have bitten the bullet and ordered tires and wheels with pressure sensors. But now I am starting to wonder if I should have voted for McCain after all.


Cathy Stratton said...


Harry said...

What happened to your theory of applying black electrical tape to hide the flashing warning?

your mom said...

Interesting that this should cause you to question your voting choices, and not your cold-climate choices. (Related note: what are snow tires?)