Winter tires important, but so are the right rims

WATCH ABOVE: With forecasts for colder weather and snow ahead, thousands of Canadians are turning their attention to installing winter tires. As Sean O'Shea reports, the right tires can enhances handling, and so can using correctly-installed rims.

OAKVILLE — A mild November may prompt some people to believe winter won’t ever arrive, but drivers who weathered heavy snowfall and icy temperatures last year aren’t buying it. They’ve put on their winter tires, or are about to.

“More people are doing it now especially earlier than they ever did before,” said Richard Jensen, of Oakville-based Jensen Tire.

Tire advertisements, safety warnings and complicated specifications may serve to flummox some consumers, but auto expert Lauren Fix uses a clothing analogy to describe why drivers in cold climates need to invest in winter weather.

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“When the weather is nice you wear nice dress shoes, when it gets sloppy outside, you go to a snow boot,” said Buffalo-based Fix, who is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

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Each season, she tests a variety of winter tires back-to-back against all-season tires, and says there’s no comparison between the two.

“When you test an all-season tire versus a winter tire you can see the difference in grip, handling and safety–and it truly impacts your safety,” Fix told Global News.

More often, drivers are buying a second set of wheels on which to mount their winter tires. But all rims are not created equal.

Wheels designed especially for a particular vehicle are known as hub-centric wheels. The wheel fits snuggly on the hub and is bolted on using nuts or bolts.

Another type of wheels are known as lug-centric or multi-fit; the same wheel can be used on a variety of sizes of vehicles.

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“Those need to be balanced a lot differently and they require a lot more effort,” says Fix.

While not unsafe, lug-centric wheels can be disappointing to motorists who later sense that the wheels do not fit tightly.

It can feel like the wheel is floating, or shaking, according to Adrian Dawson of Kal Tire in Toronto.

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If not installed properly–sometimes, the bolts are over-tightened–the vehicle can be damaged.

“An over tightened wheel will prematurely wear your brakes,” said Dawson. “You came in for tires, you’re not expecting a brake job.”

Big-box stores will frequently sell a package of multi-fit wheels with winter tires at a fraction of the cost of packages sold at specialty-tire retailers.

But if motorists aren’t satisfied with how the wheels feel on the road, there’s nothing they can do except replace the wheels at an extra cost.

Jensen says the multi-fit style wheels are fine if installed correctly.