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Do your tires ‘stack up’ for winter?

By Staff | Sep 26, 2010

While most people no longer switch out their regular tires for snow tires, they still need to think about tires before winter hits.

“We get a lot of people coming in for tires this time of year,” says Randy Matheson, manager of Bauer Built Tires in Blue Earth. “They know they need to have good tread when there is snow and ice.”

In fact, many people are surprised how much difference in traction a new set of tires can make.

Matheson suggests drivers have their tire tread checked for wear every time they get the oil changed.

“And when the tires have 30,000 to 40,000 miles on them, they really need to start looking closely at the wear.”

Checking the tread wear is not the only measure drivers need to be cognizant of.

“People should be checking their air pressure in their tires every month,” Willie Prescher of Blue Earth Tire says. “Hardly anyone does, but everyone should. Tires will leak air, especially in the winter months.”

Low tire pressure increases wear on the tire, and decreases gas mileage, Prescher says.

“It will also cause winter traction to decrease,” he says. “It is very important to check the pressure.”

Rotating tires is also very important, he says.

“Tires should be rotated every 8,000 to 10,000 miles,” he says. “But once again, most people don’t do it that often – but they should.”

Prescher also says it is a myth that snow tires are no longer available.

“We still get them in and sell a few of them,” he says. “They are a bit pricey, though.”

One of the main users of snow tires these days are law enforcement officers.

“Highway patrol, our county deputies and our local cops usually put snow tires on their squad cars,” Prescher says. “They want that extra traction, and the ability to get through snow fast and safely.”

The local tire man says when they mount snow tires on a vehicle they always do all four tires.“We used to just put them on the front of a front-wheel-drive vehicle, or the rear if it was rear-wheel-drive,” he says. “But now we do all four.”

Prescher says he still has customers who want the added traction of a snow tire.

“It is usually people who live in the country and have to get out in the winter, and can’t wait for the plow,” he says.

Snow tires have bigger ridges in the tread, and a different pattern than a regular tire.

“Most folks just put on ‘all-season’ tires, and they work well,” Prescher says. “But some all-weather tires are better than others when it comes to driving in snow, and people need to be aware of that.”

Years ago everyone kept a set of snow tires, mounted on their own rims, and had them put on just the two rear wheels, Prescher says.

“I sold a lot of extra rims to folks back then,” he says with a chuckle. “People just put their regular tires and rims in the trunk for the winter, when their snow tires were on – then switched back in the spring for the summer.”

Bauer Built’s Matheson also says snow tires are still available.

“We sell some every year,” he adds. “But it depends on the weather. Last year, with all that snow, we had a lot of people come in and want them.”

Matheson adds that the problem is the rubber companies only make so many snow tires each year, and they quit production on this year’s supply back in May.

“Sometimes they are difficult to get in, later in the winter,” he says. “There is a limited quantity available.”

Traction in snow isn’t the only safety consideration drivers need to be aware of.

Tire safety now includes watching for various types of uneven wear.

Car owners need to watch the wear bands on their tires, to see when they are getting too worn to keep driving on, and need to be replaced.

“The wear bands are located between the treads,” Prescher says. “When the treads and the wear bars are the same height, you need new tires.”

He says the old trick of putting a penny in the treads to see how much of Abe Lincoln’s head shows still works, but isn’t the best way to check a tire.

Matheson suggests always having a professional check the tread on tires.

“Some new cars have wider tires,” he explains. “When they start to wear out, it can become dangerous. The wider tires can start to hydroplane more than narrow tires, when the tread is worn, because there is nowhere for the rain, snow or slush to escape from under the tire.”

He adds that it may look like there is still some tread left, but it may be worn off more on one side or the other.

That is where things like wheel alignment come in, which can help with saving wear on tires.

The main rule is to be aware of your tires’ condition, and have a professional check on them from time to time, especially before the snow and ice of winter hits the area.

“And to check the tire pressure and rotate them often,” Prescher quickly adds. “It will save on gas money, as well as extend the life of your tires.”