Whether you’re buying your first set of new winter tires or looking to replace your old ones, you may ask yourself, “Can I actually afford winter tires?” or “Do I really need winter tires?”
As another Canadian winter approaches and the first snowfall looms, 76% of Canadians, or 69% outside of Quebec (where winter tires are mandated) switch over to winter tires to give them better traction and control on snowy and icy roads.
This short guide breaks down how much you’ll end up paying for a set of tires and second set of wheels (also called rims) (optional, but recommended), other services available, as well as a few ways to save money along the way. The cost varies primarily based on size/popularity, quality grade and brand/origin.
How much do winter tires cost?
In total, a set of 4 winter tires with wheels including mounting, balancing and installation can average around $800 to $1,000 for a midsize car.
The winter tires themselves cost $125 to $200 per tire or $500 to $800 for a set of 4.
|Mid||$125 to $200|
The table below shows the regular prices (before sales and rebates) of top-rated winter tires are for the popular 205/55R16 size, which is suitable for compact cars like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. Prices are based on TireRack.com, Kal Tire, 1010Tires and Canadian Tire and do not include the cost of installation and balancing.
|Tire||Price per tire|
|Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3||$190|
|Michelin X-Ice Snow||$220|
|Bridgestone Blizzak WS90||$215|
|Continental VikingContact 7||$210|
|Pirelli Ice Zero FR||$210|
|General Altimax Arctic 12||$150|
|Yokohama BluEarth Winter V905||$200|
|Nokian Hakkapeliitta 9||$200|
A set of 4 steel wheels for $70 to $100 each or $280 to $400 for a set of 4. Alloy wheels are more expensive at $125 to $200 each.
Steel wheels are more popular for winter driving as they are cheaper to replace and easier to match, so you don’t have to worry as much about hitting curbs or potholes.
However, all steel wheels will eventually start to rust – a form of corrosion. The iron they contain reacts with oxygen to form iron oxide (brown rust). The constant presence of water and salt in the winter months accelerate the process.
Alloy wheels, made of a combination of aluminum or magnesium are often purchased for their better appearance – coming in a wide variety of finishes and designs. They can also be lighter, and if so, will provide better agility, braking and acceleration and more grip.
Some tire retailers will claim “alloy wheels don’t rust”, which is technically true, but ignores that once the factory clear coat finish is broken, they too will start to corrode. It just takes one scratch from a curb or abrasion from sand and salt to leave an opening for corrosion to start. The aluminum reacts with oxygen to form aluminum oxide – which looks like whitish patches and pitting. However, they can be refinished for a cost.
Either way, ensure the wheels you buy are winter approved/rated, which means they’ll have more layers or a more durable coating.
Below we analyze whether it’s worth getting a second set of wheels dedicated to your winter tires.
Mounting, balancing and installation
Mounting tires onto wheels and balance them costs $20 to $40 per tire, or $80 to $160.
For reference, Costco charges $19.99 to mount, balance and install, but is only available for tires purchased from them.
Tires and wheels are sold separately and tires must be professionally mounted onto the wheels and balanced using specialized equipment to ensure they are securely attached with an airtight fit, provide a smooth ride and wears tread evenly.
If you only have 1 set of wheels, mounting and balancing must be done every time you change over to your other set of tires – so twice a year. If you buy a second set of wheels, you only have to mount and balance your winter tires onto them once and then just change between the 2 complete sets at the start of each season.
Installation (swapping) only
If your tires are already on their own sets of wheels, swapping them is much easier and costs $10 to $20 per wheel, or $40 to $80.
Example winter tire cost breakdown
|Tires x 4||$500||$800|
|Wheels x 4 (steel)||$280||$400|
|Mounting, balancing and installation||$80||$160|
|Tire storage (optional)||$40||$100|
|Tire Pressure Monitoring Sensors (TPMS)||$400||$600|
|Total, no options||$860||$1,360|
|Total, with options||$1,300||$2,060|
Factors that affect the cost
Smaller passenger car tires (14″ to 15″) are cheaper than larger truck and suv tires (19″ to 22″). Generally speaking, prices can rise sharply above 17″ for tires of any season.
Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG)
UTQG are a set of standardized tests developed by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to measure the durability, traction, and the heat resistance of tires.
Brand and origin
Chinese brands such as Sunfull, Westlake, Sailun, Maxtrek, Linglong, Rovelo, Indian brands Apollo, Alliance, and Indonesian brands Giti, GT Radial are considerably cheaper than major companies and their flagship brands like Michelin, Bridgestone, Goodyear and Continental.
In between these two are lesser known, but reputable offshore companies such as Nexen, Kumho, Federal and Nokian as well the discount brand names owned by the big companies including BFGoodrich, Firestone, General Tire and Dunlop for good quality at mid-range prices.
|Cost||Price range per tire||Brands and company headquarters|
|Low||$80 to $100||Sunfull, Westlake, Sailun, Maxtrek, Linglong, Rovelo (China)|
Apollo, Alliance (India)
Giti, GT Radial (Indonesia)
|Mid-range||$125 to $150||Firestone, Falken, Dunlop (Japan)|
Nexen (South Korea)
General Tire (Germany)
BFGoodrich, Uniroyal (France)
Kumho (South Korea)
|High||$150 to $200||Michelin (France)|
Bridgestone, Yokohama, Toyo (Japan)
Goodyear, Cooper (US)
Hankook (South Korea)
|Truck, SUV and specialty||>$200|
Installation and maintenance cost
The cost associated with installation and required maintenance will depend on having 2 sets of wheels or not. Size may also increase fees but you should be informed if this applies.
1 set vs 2 sets of wheels – cost analysis over 5 years
The following is the cost comparison over the 5 year period that your winter tires will last, on average, before they need to be replaced.
Changing tires with 1 set of wheels (re-mounting and balancing every time)
If you have one set of wheels then your summer/winter tires have to be removed and the other installed. Mounting and balancing tires onto wheels costs $80 to $150 for a set of 4 (Costco charges $19.99 per tire).
- $120 x 2 changes per year = $240
- Total: $240 x 5 years = $1,200
Changing tires with 2 sets of wheels (each with its own set)
If you have two sets of wheels then your tires – summer and winter – are already mounted so the time/labor that is required is much less. This should include an air pressure check and top-up. If you are having other services performed some shops will not charge extra to change them over.
- 4 new wheels = $300
- Initial mount and balance = $120
- Seasonal changes = $80 x 4 years x 2 changes/year = $640
- Total: $1,060
As you can see, it’s cheaper in the long run to have a second set of rims for your winter tires, conservatively saving up to $150.
Swapping with dedicated rims is half that cost (twice a year, it adds up quick), is a lot quicker and much easier to do. If you have a tire iron or torque wrench and a decent jack (and some space to do it), it’s not all that hard to do it yourself in 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Swapping the tires on and off of a single set of rims is pricey and it also causes some wear on tear on your rims and tires.
Even if you factor in a couple of tire balances ($50) over 5 years your maintenance costs are from $100 less to about equal, but using a second set of wheels means it takes much less time to change tires, you can change them yourself, you own 2 sets of wheels instead of 1 and limiting the number of times a tire is removed and mounted to a rim reduces the chances of damaging the bead.
A few things to consider are tire balancing, tire storage and tire pressure sensors (TPMS). Although balancing is included when 1 set of wheels are being used it should not go unchecked with already mounted tires. A small imbalance can increase tire wear.
Mounting and balancing
Seasonal balancing costs $50 to $150 (high-end is if road force balancing required)
The cost to rotate 4 tires is $20 to $40.
Seasonal tire storage costs $40 to $100.
If you live in an apartment or condo, you may not have space to store the set of tires that aren’t on your vehicle.
Other than the price, you should ask about the storage conditions and if storage will be handled by a third party. Improper storage conditions (eg. not climate-controlled) will have an adverse affect on tire rubber compounds and can lead to premature tire failure.
You may also want to ask if your tires will be insured and how you will be reimbursed if they are misplaced, damaged or stolen.
Tire Pressure Monitoring Sensors (TPMS)
Tire pressure monitoring sensors (TPMS) measure the current pressure in the four tires and cost around $100 to $150 per sensor.
They are not required by law but can be a reliable safety device when used properly. You may have a dashboard light on at all times if the system does not have sensors installed.
Keeping a close eye on your tire pressures can greatly improve the longevity of the tire, improve fuel mileage and, most importantly, alert you to any sudden changes in air pressure that may indicate a leak or puncture.
How to save money on winter tires
Here are a few ways to save on winter tires:
Buy used tires
You can find some great deals on winter tires on Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace where they sell at deep discounts. However, just like for used cars, it can be hard to determine how well they were treated by their former owner and how much life they have left just by looking at it.
Follow the tips in our winter tires buying guide to ensure you get the right type, size and age of tires. Other tips:
- Bring a toonie or tread depth gauge to measure the remaining tread depth (a new tire typically has 10/32” (8 mm) to 12/32” (9.5 mm) tread depth and is against the law in most provinces to use tires with less than 2/32” (1.6 mm). Transport Canada states that tires with less than 5/32″ (4 mm) remaining should not be used on snow-covered roads.
- If you notice any cuts or cracks in the sidewall, bulges or blisters or tread distortion, it’s probably best to pass on them.
- If you get the feeling that the tires were stored outside or have long-term exposure to the sun, rain, or extreme temperatures, it’s probably best to pass on them.
Swap tires yourself
Have a shop has mounted and balanced the tires onto a second set of wheels. The company you bought the tires from should be willing to do this for a small fee, but the average cost is $20 to $35 per tire. Don’t pay to install them, instead, take them home and change them yourself which will save you around $50 to $60.
How to change your tires
Check with your insurance company
As of Jan. 1st, 2016, all Ontario insurance companies are required by law to offer some type of winter tire premium discount. A similar requirement was put into place in Newfoundland in 2020. The average discount is 5%.
Check for rebates
Most tire retailers will regularly offer rebates at the beginning of October such as the common “Buy 3 Get One Free”. Some of these are direct rebates and others may be customer mail-in rebates. They usually come in the form of gift cards or prepaid cards and rebate amounts will vary from size, model and brand.
Wait for end of season closeout deals
If you can afford to wait, better deals can be found during season closeout clearance sales at the end of winter in April or May as retailers are looking to get rid of previous years’ stock so they don’t have to store them and to make space for all-season/summer stock.
However, selection can be limited to less popular models, incomplete sets or older stock (3+ years old). Be sure to check the manufacturing date before buying or at least before installing them on your vehicle. You also lose half a year of shelf life as you won’t use them until the next winter.
All-season tires cost
All season tires cost $80 to $125 per tire (including installation and balancing).
All season tires remain affordable but have been referred to as “no season” tires because they don’t work as well as they could in warm weather and don’t work well in anything worse than light snow. The tread design of an all season tire offers a quiet and smooth ride but at the expense of handling in adverse conditions – wet or cold.
Related: Best all season tires
Are winter tires worth the money?
The increased safety and control in harsh winters and rainy summers is more than enough to justify the decision to purchase of winter tires – especially if you drive a lot throughout the winter – and you may also benefit from insurance savings along with better fuel mileage that comes with having properly maintained tires.
For reference, 76% of all Canadians (69% outside of Quebec, where winter tires are mandated) switch over to winter tires in the winter months to give them better traction and control on snowy and icy roads – with 79% of owners believing that they have saved them a potentially hazardous situation.
Where to buy winter tires
In Canada, the most popular brick-and-mortar retailers are:
- Canadian Tire – It’s in their name
- Kal Tire
The most popular online retailers are:
Over to you
Here is what I personally paid for my tires and wheels in 2018. Leave a comment and let me know about your winter tire buying experience!
- Tire Discounter – Kitchener – Tires – $410 set of 4 Cooper Winter Tires
- Tire Discounter – Kitchener – Steel Wheels – $212 set of 4