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Ways to Save Money on Winter Tires

With the snow season just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about winter tires again.  I don’t know about the area that you live, but here in Newfoundland, the snow can get pretty intense which makes snow tires an essential added cost to owning a vehicle.  As we own a compact car and an SUV, the cost of getting tires can really add up, so looking for ways to save money can result in a few dollars back in my pocket.

Here are some of the ways that we save money on winter tires:

Shop Around

This is perhaps the most obvious option to getting the best price on snow tires, and something that I always do when making big ticket purchases.  What has surprised me is that the dealerships that I have dealt with are all very competitive with their tire pricing, so make sure get a quote from them as well.  I know others who have purchased their tires online and have saved hundreds (if not thousands over the years).  For Costco members out there, I know that they typically have a coupon on winter tires, so make sure to give them a call as well.

Size Down

Most cars/SUV’s these days have over sized tires, but the problem is that over sized tires are expensive and may not  be the best for winter traction.  It may seem that the larger the tire, the better the traction, but in fact it’s the narrower the tire, the better the traction as it’s gives greater force per square inch of tire.  With that in mind, sizing down the tire may save money and give better traction.

Sizing down the tire isn’t as simple as getting a tire that’s one inch smaller in diameter as the speedometer would be off, and it may not fit the brake calipers.  What I’ve used is a tire calculator online to see which tire sizes match.  Better yet, call your local tire expert and they’ll be able to tell you pretty easily which tires will work with your model.

To give an example of how much sizing down the tire can save, when pricing 17″ tires for my SUV tires at Costco, the equivalent 16″ tires were about 10% lower in cost.

Buying a Car? Negotiate Winter Tires

One thing we have done in the past is use winter tires are part of the negotiation when purchasing a vehicle.  If the dealer is willing to negotiate, then it’s pretty common to get winter tires thrown into the deal, or at the very least give you the tires at dealer cost.

Consider Buying Used

If you use kijiji or other online classified service, there you may find a good deal on a set of winter tires.  Just be sure to get the details before the purchase, and make sure to get a close look at the tread depth/life remaining.  Note that the rubber on winter tires tend to harden over the years, so besides tread depth, verify that they are fairly new.  Personally, buying a used set of tires is not at my comfort level, but there are good deals out there if you’re willing to do your own due diligence.

If you’ve gone through the process of looking for the best deals on tires, how do you save money on winter tires?







25 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. 1. Geo

    The other thing to consider is the tire pressure monitor system, if applicable. We have a newer car and didn’t want the annoying ‘low tire’ warning every time we started it. I called the dealer and got the part numbers and a quote that would have added an extra $400 to the price. Instead, I went on ebay, and got the tpms system for $100.

  2. 2. Gerry

    Buying the tires mounted on winter rims eliminates seasonal balancing charges if you only use your main rims. When I priced it out, my rims paid for themselves in 2 seasons.

    Another great addition is an inexpensive tire stand that keeps the rubber off the ground when the tires aren’t in use. This prevents the tires developing a “flat” spot if they sit on the same spot for many months.

  3. @Gerry good point on the winter rims. They really do pay for themselves quickly by saving on mounting and balancing costs. I bought 4 steel rims from Costco as I found they were the cheapest. Some of the online places will also install and balance the tires on rims for free if you buy a tire/rim package.

  4. 4. saveddijon

    It might be worth adding one way NOT to save money on winter tires:

    Just buy two, for the driving wheels.

    DON’T DO THIS! Although only two wheels may be used for going, all four are used for stopping, and that’s more important. On a front-wheel drive car if you leave the all-seasons on the rear you may find yourself doing a 180 if you brake hard on an icy road.

    Shop around.

    Data points, for winter tires on rims, balanced and installed:

    Previous car: dealer: $500. My mechanic: $600+.
    Current car: dealer: $1200. My mechanic: $975.

  5. You should take a serious look at 1010tires.com and tirerack.com for prices. 1010tires.com is Canadian.

  6. 6. nobleea

    i’ll second 1010tires.com and tirerack.com. I bought a full set of performance winter tires on fancy rims from tire rack for around 1200$ (big 245/35R17′s). 1010tires also had good deals on tires. the TPMS add on is like $60 through the online sellers (they install it on the wheels for you).

    And spend $60 on a car jack from crappy tire and change the tires over yourself in fall/spring. It takes like 30 mins, tops.

    the tread is much more sensitive on winter tires. i don’t remember the number, but they become pretty useless as snow tires after a certain tread depth (6/32″ vs 2/32″ min for summer tires). however, once they pass that depth, they can still be used for summer/fall tires if you want to save some money.

  7. 7. Ramona

    Right now, Ford dealers (in Ontario) are running a promotion on winter tires – including these with a new purchase of several types of vehicles. This is a great way to get the correct tires included with your purchase – no negotiation required!! If you buy the vehicle now, they’ll even install them for free. (no, I don’t work for a Ford dealership – we just bought a new vehicle…)

  8. I guess I’m not allowed to post links because my original post wasn’t approved. However, buying tires at JCWhitney.com is another great USA site to buy from because they will ship to Canada with no additional border fees or taxes with much cheaper shipping rates than TireRack as long as you aren’t ordering tires larger than 16″.

    You don’t even have to pay the HST because they include all costs in the price they quote you. I bought recently bought 4 General Altimax Arctic tires from them delivered to my door (all in) for half the price that Canadian Tire was charging for the same exact set of tires.

    Their initial price seems higher than TireRack, but once you factor in the cheap shipping, no brokerage fees, no HST/tax, and coupon codes that give you an additional discount or free shipping … it is really much cheaper.

  9. 9. BluenoserinCowtown

    I just purchased winter tires for my car. Due to an odd tire size, they were rather expensive ($1700), but the price was similar everywhere I looked so I went with my usual mechanic/tire guy. He accidently gave me the invoice for the tires, which showed a 35% mark up! Had I known, I would have negotiated on the price of the tires. As the price was similar everywhere I looked I assumed that the markup was resonable…turns out it wasn’t!

  10. 10. Warren

    Great article, thanks for the tips.

    One question…are you sure that the following statement is correct?

    “It may seem that the larger the tire, the better the traction, but in fact it’s the narrower the tire, the better the traction as it’s gives greater force per square inch of tire”

    I’m not a physicist or an automotive expert, but this doesn’t sound right. Taken to the extreme, this would suggest that bicycle tires would be even better than narrow snow tires.

    I believe that a lower force per square inch (FPI) results in greater traction. You lose traction when you exceed the maximum FPI that the road can handle, so the goal is to keep the FPI as low as possible.

  11. Nice post FT.

    When my wife and I bought her car 2006, I negotiated with the salesperson to throw in winter tires in on the deal.

    I made it a deal breaker type situation and even though my wife was anxious (because she liked the car), the dealership caved in and agreed.

  12. Thanks for the tips guys, much appreciated.

    @ SavingMentor, if a comment has a link or multiple links, it’s highly possible that my spam filter caught it. Unfortunately, I emptied the spam folder this morning without much double checking as it was quite full. Sorry about that!

    @ Warren, that is the tip that I gathered from surfing around the web and talking to a few tire guys around town.

  13. 13. DAvid

    +1 on buying rims and tires. This allows you the freedom to change them when you need. Since the rubber on good winter tires wears more quickly than on summer tires, this also allows you the option to wait until the weather actually turns cold before changing tires, and let’s you take them off earlier in the spring. Since I live in a mountainous area, depending on my travel plans, I can keep my summer tires on for a month to six weeks longer than I would if I had to have them mounted, extending their lifetime considerably.

    @ Warren: From http://www.motortrend.com

    Myth: Wide tires provide better traction under all weather conditions. In fact, putting oversize snow tires on a car delivers better snow traction.

    Fact: The opposite is actually true. Wide tires tend to “float” on deep snow, and the tread lugs never have a chance to “dig” through to the road surface to gain traction. Narrow tires are a better option in deep snow. The tire acts similarly to a knife cutting through butter; the blade works best when using the narrow edge to push through the butter rather than the wide flat side of the blade.”

    DAvid

  14. 14. AKIP

    I will second what Nobleea stated earlier, that once your winter tires are no longer effective on the snow & ice, you can almost always get at least one summer season out of them-delaying the purchase (or wear and tear) on your summers or “all-seasons.” (If you can handle driving the summer with your ugly winter rims!)

    I was surprised to be told that by one our our local tire shops (Kal-Tire) when I went in to replace my summers. Apparently there are still some honest folk out there! :-)

  15. Question for those who have reduced tire sizes, does it affect insurance coverage? I just got an email from a reader that changing OEM specs may affect auto insurance benefits should you need them.

  16. 16. nobleea

    FT:
    On your doorsill, the manufacturer will mark the standard tire size and one or two acceptable other sizes. Usually one of those will be a smaller size useable for winter.

  17. 17. Stefan Alexander

    Just got mine put on yesterday. A few interesting points:

    1. My mechanic found a supplier clearing out last year’s Blizzak tire, $98 instead of $150 for this year’s model. So see if there’s any inventory left over from last year. Also, he said they start clearing out last year’s inventory at the beginning of August, so try to start looking then.

    2. Canadian Tire often has cheap rims, $30 or so (which is about half price) but these are a lot thinner metal than the better rims and can dent easily if you hit a piece of ice or hard snow, so it may be better to buy the thicker ones.

    3. Tire width is one spec, and it’s good to pay attention to this, as one poster correctly pointed out wide tires can float on snow, narrower tires will cut through better. However the diameter is a different spec (according to my understanding), the tire will be the same outer diameter, but the inner diameter is different. So your rims will be a different size. And this is mostly about aesthetics vs. price (in most cases). My car has 16″ tires, but I went to 15″ for the winter tires. Performance is about the same, they just don’t look as cool, but saved around $50 per tire in my case. But you get to choose diameter and width separately.

  18. 18. Finance_Addict

    There is no better deal on winter tires than to buy them used from Kijiji. Your comfort level tells you not to buy used. When you buy a used car you get used tires… Buying new from ANY place adds on huge markup+tax. Some places offer slightly better deals than others but all know how to markup their tires otherwise they will soon be out of business. You REALLY can get a good deal when you buy from someone off Kijiji who does not know what their winter tires are worth and who has sold their vehicle and the winter tires no longer fit their new vehicle and they want to get rid of the space they take up. Plus usually these tires are already balanced and on rims waiting for the next winter season. It’s easy to tell the quality of tire and the tread life left. It’s easy to save well over 60-80% off of someone who buys the exact same rubber new.

  19. I buy mine used from a garage. If you buy a new car with different sized tire, some garages will take trade-ins.

  20. For those of you interested in buying used tires, I just got a tip from a friend. As winter tires have a limited life (even without use), each tire has a date stamped on the sidewall. It’s 4 digits within a rounded rectangle. The first digit represents the week, and the last two, the year. So 2208 means 22nd week in 2008.

  21. 21. Aaron

    Great tips from all posters!

    One thing that is important to mention when installing your winter tires/rims on your car yourself: RETORQUE YOUR WHEEL NUTS!

    After drive for 100 km or so, retighten all your wheel nuts. The can and usually will back themselves off from the initial torque they had upon installation.

    Saving money by doing it yourself doesn’t help anything if your wheels fall off on the highway!

  22. 22. Zip

    Talking about tires, here’s an excellent episode on tires from the ABC News few years back. It talks about the importance of checking the dates on tires that FT mentioned above.

    http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/aged-tires-driving-hazard-4826897

  23. 23. Greg

    If you go the dealer route, call at least a handfull. Each dealer often sources their tires from different suppliers and not from the car manufacturers. For example, I have 2 Mazdas and their is one dealer in the Toronto area whose owner is also a Pirelli importer. So, their prices on Pirelli tires are cheaper than other dealer’s low end tires.

  24. 24. crackerasscrackhead

    tires on rims pay for themselves in two years? and then? new tires after three years will need mounting, so there will be no benefit in the third year, and when I sell my car two years later, the rims will be worth almost nothing unless i buy a car with the same size rims.

    i am still not convinced that rims are cheaper, especially if you change your car every 5 years. I buy 3 year old cars and ride them for 6 years. are rims a better option in this circumstance?

  25. 25. Colin

    I’m very skeptical about the claim that narrower tires are better. While the argument that they work better in deep snow sounds plausible, there has to be a limit to this and the usefulness seems like a tradeoff. If the snow is very deep, you risk getting stuck if you sink too deeply (this is one of the ways to get stuck in the first place). This is why snowshoes work. This is also why you see big, fat tires on almost every vehicle designed to operate in the snow. Also, being that it normally only snows some of the time, the rest of the time the road surface is usually hard packed snow/ice. Skinny tires are not going to help you there and could only hurt.

    For these reasons I severly doubt the merrit of what is being passed off here as a blanket rule. I caution anybody to do their own research and consider the driving conditions they will be experiencing the most before they buy.

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