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Winter Tires Probably Cost Less Than You Think

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author photo by Russ Heaps November 2016

If you refuse to buy winter tires because you're convinced they're too expensive, you just might be mistaken. Sure, there's a cost involved, but a little math may prove that the expense is less than you think.

Even places with moderate snowfall -- such as Columbus, Ohio, which gets an average of 25 inches per year -- often have weeks or months of temperatures too cold to allow all-season tires to function effectively. At 44 degrees Fahrenheit, the rubber compound of all-season tires begins to lose pliability and grip. So although the average snowfall in Columbus may not justify ponying up the cash for winter tires, its average high temperature in December, January and February is below 44 degrees.

But, there's still that cost issue, right?

Setting the Stage

Let's forget, for a moment, the value that safety and maintaining your lifestyle bring to the winter-tire cost equation. We'll just look at the dollars and cents of buying winter tires for a driver who lives in Columbus, Ohio, and drives a 2017 Chevrolet Malibu with 18-inch wheels.

Obviously, winter-tire prices vary by brand, model and retailer. For this exercise, we'll shop at Tire Rack, arguably the best-known online retailer of tires and wheels. Tire Rack features primarily premium tires. Here, we'll choose as our winter tire the 18-in Michelin X-ICE X13, which at the time of this writing sells for $167.55 per tire or $670.20 for a 4-tire set. Under normal usage, this tire will last for 35,000 to 40,000 miles.

Two Plus Two

To play it safe, let's say our Columbus driver mounts his winter treads on November 15 and removes them on March 15. He drives an average of 12,000 miles per year, which breaks down to 1,000 miles per month. That means he averages 4,000 miles of wear on his winter tires per season. It also means he rests his all-season tires for that same 4,000 miles.

According to the most recent R.L. Polk & Co research, Americans hold onto their new cars an average of about 6 years. Multiply that by 4,000 miles, and you get 24,000 miles of winter-tire wear. This is well below the X-ICE X13's estimated life of at least 35,000 miles. Our driver will probably only need one set of winter tires during his Malibu ownership.

Meanwhile, his original all-season tires, which will probably deliver 45,000 to 50,000 miles of wear, will last an extra 2 years thanks to resting them for the total of 24,000 miles while running on winter rubber. Following me so far?

Rather than replacing his all-season tires at around 4 years, he doesn't need to replace them until about 6 years -- by which time, if he falls into the average, he will sell or trade his Malibu with the original all-season tires still on it.

Even if he keeps the Malibu longer than 6 years and needs to replace his all-season tires -- remember, his snow tires should be good for 8 years or more -- he avoided that expense for an extra 2 years. If he replaces his original tires with a midpriced Continental ProContact TX, which Tire Rack currently offers at $193.55 each or $774.20 for a set of four, those additional 2 years saved him more than $400. I arrived at that number by dividing the cost of the four replacement all-season tires by their 3.75-year life expectancy when driving on them for 12,000 miles per year.

Yeah, But...

What about mounting and balancing? Without getting into the weeds of annual mounting and balancing costs, here's a suggestion: Buy a cheap set of wheels, and permanent mount your winter treads to them. Tire Rack will ship four X-ICE X13 tires mounted to $109 P3 wheels, including tire-pressure monitor hardware, for $1,250 before shipping costs.

Our Columbus driver's winter-tire and wheel package prorates out to $208 per year against the $67 per year he saved on wear and tear to his all-season tires if he has to replace them, or $129 per year if he doesn't. Which means, in real costs, his winter-tire and wheel package works out to either $141 or $79 per year.

What it means to you: Even at $141 per year, the investment in winter tires and wheels to maximize safety and keep you rolling through most winter weather is pretty reasonable. It's less than 60 days worth of Venti-sized cups of coffee from Starbucks. A pretty good trade-off, if you ask me.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Winter Tires Probably Cost Less Than You Think - Autotrader