Cost of Winter Tires – Are They Worth it?

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Cost Guides

As another Canadian winter approaches so will the countless ads for winter tires. After seeing many of these ads you may ask yourself, “Do I really need winter tires?” or “Can I actually afford winter tires?” In many cases the answer is that you can’t afford NOT to get yourself winter tires. After setting some simple guidelines and doing a little math you will easily be able to make an informed decision.

We will start with your options if you choose to not get winter tires.

All season tires remain affordable but have been referred to as “No-Season” tires because they can be lousy in the warm weather and worse in cold temperatures. The tread design of an all season tire offers a quiet and smooth ride but at the expense of handling in adverse conditions – hot or cold. Initially any new tire with good treads will provide decent traction but after a few kilometers of wear the performance fall off is drastic.

The science behind tires and temperature is relatively simple. As a rubber compound gets colder, it gets harder. Think of a hockey puck sliding on ice.

Conversely, as the same compound gets warmer it gets softer. At this point the tire will act like a pencil eraser used on paper, push hard enough and the rubber peels away onto the paper, or road for our purposes.

So a winter is made of a softer compound so that it remains soft at colder temperatures, usually 7 degrees Celsius is the industry standard. A summer tire will maintain proper handling characteristics when temperatures climb.

How Much Do Winter Tires Cost Per Tire?

Prices listed in the table below apply to the 205/55R16 size, which is suitable for compact cars like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Toyota Corolla. Prices are based on TireRack.com, KalTire, 1010Tires and Canadian Tire and do not include the cost of installation and balancing.

 TypePrice Per Tire
Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2$190
Bridgestone Blizzak WS 80$170
Michelin X-Ice Xi3$180
Continental WinterContact SI$160
Gislaved Nord*Frost 100$120
Pirelli Ice Zero FR$170
Toyo Observe GSi5$140
Dunlop Winter Maxx$140
Goodyear Ultra Grip Ice WRT$170
General Tire Altimax Arctic$120
Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8$170
Michelin Latitude X-Ice Xi2$190

The initial cost required for winter tires can lead some to assume they can’t afford them. Including a set of new rims, you can expect to pay $800 to $1500 for a midsize car. However, you will find several tire promotions available all year that offer good discounts and you may qualify for insurance rebates by using winter tires (safety).

Cost of All Season Tires

  • $80 to $125/tire + tax per tire (including installation and balancing).

Cost of Winter Tires

  • $80 – $200 plus tax for each snow tire.

This would apply to most 15 inch tires. (Ex: 205/60/15) and will be used to determine prices onward. As the diameter goes up 16, 17, 18 and beyond the cost will increase. Generally speaking, tires that are 17 inch and below will remain affordable but prices can rise sharply above that for any season tire.

Installation and Maintenance Cost

The cost associated with installation and required maintenance will depend on having 2 sets of rims or not. Size may also increase fees but you should be informed if this applies.

One Set of Rims

If you have one set of rims then your summer/winter tires have to be removed and the other installed. It is labor intensive and should include wheel balancing as well.
$60 to $80 + tax (most shops)

Two Sets of Rims

If you have two sets of rims then your tires, summer and winter, are already mounted so the time/labor that is required is much less. This should include air pressure fill and check. If you are having other services performed some shops will not charge extra to change them over.

  • COST OF RIMS (SET OF 4) = $200 – $360 = tax
  • COST TO ROTATE 4 TIRES = $20 – $40 + tax

Optional Costs

A few things to consider are tire balancing, tire storage and tire pressure sensors (TPMS). Although balancing is included when 1 set of rims are being used it should not go unchecked with already mounted tires. A small imbalance can increase tire wear.

Tire Balancing

SEASONAL BALANCING = $50 – $150 (if road force balancing required)

Tire Storage

SEASONAL TIRE STORAGE = $40 – $100

Tire storage is a relatively new feature in the auto service world and prices are not always consistent. It is a nice perk if storage is troublesome for you.

An increasing number of shops are starting to offer tire storage. Aside from the price you should ask about the storage conditions and if storage will be handled by a third party.

If your tires are misplaced, damaged or stolen you should know if or how you will be reimbursed. Improper storage conditions will have an adverse affect on tire rubber compounds and can lead to premature tire failure.

Tire Pressure Monitoring Sensors (TPMS)
TIRE PRESSURE SENSORS = $100 / SENSOR

Tire pressure monitoring sensors (TPMS) measure the current pressure in the four tires.

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 close track of your tire pressure can 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.

5 Year Cost Analysis – 1 Set vs 2 Sets of Rims

The following is the cost comparison over the 5 year period that your winter tires will last before they need to be replaced.

1 Set of Rims

  • $75 x 2 changes per year = $150
  • $150 x 5 years = $750

2 Sets of Rims

  • 4 new rims = $210
  • Initial install = $75
  • Seasonal Changes = $35 x 4 years x 2 changes/year = $600

If you factor in a couple of wheel balances over 5 years your maintenance costs are equal. If you opt for the TPMS then you would average approximately a $300 cost increase to install pre-mounted winter and summer tires. That’s $60 / year.

Insurance Benefits

As of Jan. 1st, 2016, all Ontario insurance companies are required by law to offer some type of winter tire premium discount. Currently 45 per cent of private insurers do so and the average amount is five per cent.

The potential insurance savings along with better fuel mileage that comes with properly maintained tires plus the increased safety and comfort in harsh winters and rainy summers is more than enough to justify the decision to purchase winter tires.

Buying Steel Rims

When buying another set of rims, steel or other, you must be sure that the rims are going to fit properly. Some rims may even bolt onto the car and look and feel normal but can be causing unseen stress on parts that they shouldn’t.

Consult a parts professional or have any rims you buy privately checked by an authorized shop. It is possible to change the diameter of a rim and tire combination as long as the factory recommended total diameter is maintained so check what options you have with rim size before buying.

Additional Cost Savings

There are still some other ways to save money when you have 2 sets of rims and tires. Some people take advantage of a garage or driveway to change their own tires.
Simply jack each tire one at a time and install the tire and rim.

The basic tools needed to do this are provided with your spare tire kit. When tires are removed, it provides a good opportunity to inspect the braking and suspension systems so you should keep that in mind if changing your own tires.

Manufacturer Rebates

Look for tire rebates and specials. During peak sale times rebates such as the common “Buy 3 Get One Free” can be a great incentive to entice buyers. Some of these are direct rebates and others may be customer mail in rebates after sale. They usually come in the form of gift cards or prepaid cards and rebate amounts will vary from size, model and brand

Summary

Having two sets of tires that are each only used for half the year and last for 6 years (with proper maintenance) instead of one set of tires used year round that lasts for 3 years is a “pay now or pay later” situation.

The additional cost associated with having a set of winter tires, in the end, is not much more than you would spend otherwise and is mostly from having to swap the tires twice a year and the significant safety and handling improvements you get far outweighs the additional cost.

What to Read Next

Over to You

Here’s what I personally paid for my tires and rims. 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 Rims – $212 set of 4
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