2009 Winter Auto Guide
An ice blue convertible car with a light blue background with ice in the corner
auto
Snow tires: Investment can save money

Narrow works better

"A narrower tire will more easily dig through snow, whereas something wider will have a tendency to 'float' over the snow," Jambor says, adding that downsizing winter tires will require the additional purchase of four new wheels for you vehicle.

But forget any advice you might have once heard about mounting snow tires only on rear- or front-drive wheels. You should always mount snow tires in sets of four in order to maintain safe handling in the snow and on dry pavement, says Edmonds.

If high-traction snow tires are mounted only on the drive wheels, the other two wheels can lose traction during cornering or braking on snow or ice, leading to a spin out. Snow tires on all four wheels lessen the chances of that happening.

"It's also a safety issue, because so many vehicles today utilize stability control, traction control and anti-lock brakes -- technologies that monitor and modulate wheel-speed and wheel-rotation at all four corners of the vehicle," says Edmonds.

Downsides

That high upfront cost is the biggest negative when it comes to buying winter tires. They'll cost you $50 to $200 per winter tire, depending on size. Budget for four extra wheels, too.

The extra wheels might seem an extravagance -- especially if you don't downsize -- but it's likely to be money well-spent. Not only will you then be able to easily swap out your tires when the seasons change, but you'll greatly reduce the wear and tear on your existing wheels and summer tires. "Mounting and dismounting a tire places a lot of stress and wear upon the tire's bead and shortens its life," says Jambor, noting that tire removal and mounting-and-balancing at an automotive service center twice a year can also get expensive.

Inexpensive steel wheels, fortunately, work just fine with winter/snow tires. Because snow tires use softer rubber compounds than those found in regular tires, they wear more quickly in warmer temperatures. Consequently, a good rule of thumb to follow for their use is "T-day to T-day" -- Thanksgiving Day to Tax Day.

In "normal use," a set of winter/snow tires should last about three winter driving seasons. While this might sound like a big, triennial financial commitment, that's significantly less cost than most insurance deductibles and potential rate increases should you have a winter-driving related collision, not to mention the cost of occasionally being towed out of a snowdrift.

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