Winter tires

I always dread making large purchases. I go through this process where I first convince myself that I really need the item, then I research the heck out of it to make sure I’m getting the best deal possible. The larger the item, the more time I spend researching, in some cases consuming my every waking thought until I’m a quasi-expert in the field[1]. Sorry, you won’t find any spontaneity here – at least none that costs more than about $50. Yeah, yeah, I know, boooooring.

My most recent purchase was a set of winter tires and rims, which I ordered from Tire Trends in B.C. (saved the PST, woohoo!). The whole process was kind of strange because my parents have never used winter tires, so I’ve always had the mentality that they aren’t necessary. I guess it’s different now that I have my own car.

It started in the last two weeks with the first snowfalls of the season. I noticed the ABS on my car going off more than I thought was healthy. Sure, it was easy to blame it on me just driving too fast for the conditions, but in some of the cases I was going a reasonable 20-30 km/h. The only way I could have avoided the now-too-familiar pulsing of the pedal would be if I drove at a speed where it would be faster to walk instead.

I’ve read articles in the past about how ABS and traction control can do more harm than good, but I just chalked them up to FUD[2] spread by farty old luddites that were used to driving their old beaters. It wasn’t until I saw this FAQ that it all started making sense. ABS just prevents the braking system from applying more braking force than the amount of available tire traction. Likewise, traction control just prevents application of more accelerating force than the available traction. So in the worst possible case where the tires have almost zero traction (e.g. a skating rink with racing tires), ABS would prevent the car from stopping, and traction control would not allow the car to start moving.

Clearly, the OEM Michelin MXV4 tires on my Accord just don’t cut it in the winter. “All-Season Tires” my ass.

So the quest started for a set of winter tires. Initial searches showed people raving about the Bridgestone Blizzak, Michelin Arctic Alpin, and the Yokohama IceGuard IG10. The technology behind them sounded pretty cool – hollow “vacuum packed” beads embedded in the tire, designed to break on contact with the ground. The broken vacuum sucks up any water on the surface of the ice, allowing the tire to grip.

I was sold, it sounded cool until I found out about the tradeoff. These types of tires are so soft that they just get eaten up on dry pavement, which is unfortunately the norm for the GTA. Main roads and highways are usually dry, side streets just have slush and packed snow rather than ice. The solution? A whole different class (or oxymoron, depending how cynical you are) called “performance winter tires”. They use a rubber mix that isn’t as soft, so they last much longer and handle much better on dry pavement, but unfortunately they don’t have the beads so they don’t literally stick to ice like the Blizzaks.

I eventually settled on a set of Kumho KW-17s, plus 4 OEM Honda steel rims, taken from other Hondas (legally, I assume). Total after shipping and tax? Roughly seven bills, and I still have to install them myself. Good thing they come on the rim pre-balanced. At least this’ll give me practice changing tires, in case I ever have a flat.

[1] Some future purchases that I’m really not looking forward to, ’cause the research will be difficult: 1) A house. 2) A home theatre. 3) My next car.
[2] FUD = Fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

One Comment

  1. Tanzy says:

    Not looking forward to researching for your next car? Oh my goodness! I love thinking about what cars other people should get! (Because I am, uh, somewhat meddlesome, haha.) So yes, when you do need another car, you should let me know! :Þ~