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Tire Talk – Tackling Winter Tire Issues

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The snowflake branded on the sidewall of a winter tire isnt there for decoration. The designation means the tire addresses three winter driving concerns: traction, cornering and braking. Put on a set of todays winter tires, and driving in the winter becomes irrelevant. Thats a direct quote from long-time tire test driver Bob Strange, who lives just west of Minneapolis. Never again will you have to get up and check the weather forecast.

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Well, in a perfect world where everyone was a test driver, that might be the case. Todays winter tires are good, but they dont cure stupid. With the growth of all-wheel-drive, the resurgence of rear-wheel-drive, the continued popularity of front-wheel-drive and the always-present four-wheel drive systems, where do you mount winter tires?

Its a very popular question this time of year, and the answer is surprisingly easy: Always mount winter tires on all four corners. Period.

These tires are so adept at what they do that if you mount them on the back of a rear-wheel-drive car, the traction, cornering and braking difference between those tires and whatever is on the front axle will turn that car into a merry-go-round. If you mount winter tires on the front axle of a front-wheel-drive, the back of the car will try to catch up with the front with the expected results. Even all-wheel-drive cars equipped with snowflake-branded tires will stop shorter and turn better in the snow than those with all-season tires. Push or pull, AWD or 4WD, the drivetrain question is always the same. If youre mounting winter tires, they must go on all wheel positions.

On the Road
Taking that information to the next level application means we need to know still more about the new breed of winter tires. Its up to us to remind consumers that driving on snow is only one winter-weather driving condition theyll encounter. In northern states, such as Minnesota, or snowy provinces like Quebec, motorists also drive on ice, wet roads, slush and dry roads. Winter tires must perform consistently under any and all of these conditions.

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For driving on snow, theres no question winter tires are a vast improvement over all-season tires. If a tire customer wants the best winter-driving tire experience available, a winter tire is nothing short of phenomenal.

Technological advances, such as vehicle stability control, traction control and ABS systems, add more safety punch to a purebred winter tire. Still, while these systems enhance vehicle control, it should not be forgotten that it is the tire and only the tire that provides better snow traction, better snow braking and better winter weather cornering. Take that to the bank.

Although winter tires appear to be indomitable, they do have an Achilles heel. A winter tires treadlife suffers dramatically if used in non-winter conditions. Thats why its so important to replace them with summer tires when the snow quits falling. Fortunately, this isnt a deal breaker because it makes good sense to enjoy years of safe driving rather than worrying about it every year.

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Do the Math
Speaking of banks, lets turn to some arithmetic as it pertains to selling winter tires and an extra set of wheels. If your customers plan on keeping their cars long enough to buy a set of replacement tires, you should be selling them winter tires plus wheels for those tires. Owning four winter tires and four summer tires is the ultimate solution, both from a financial and safety perspective. A customers investment in eight tires and four more wheels will amount to a wash after three winter-driving seasons.

In general, a winter tire is an easy sell. And the purchase has added value: Once youve sold eight tires, youve just extended the service life of the customers summer tires as well as the treadlife of the brand-new winter tires. The math is uncomplicated.

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If the customer drives 12,000 miles a year, having winter tires on for three months trims 3,000 road miles off the summer or all-season tires each year. After three winters, the customer accumulates 9,000 extra miles for his/her regular tires basically one full year!

You also need to calculate the cost of replacing the customers bright summer wheels. After a winter season or two, theyre going to be in bad shape. If they are expensive custom wheels, the sale should be easy. Four decent-looking wheels will cost about $500 or less; four steel wheels cost next to nothing about $40 each.

And recognize that what youre doing for them is valuable. For starters, youre selling them the best possible tires for every driving season and amortizing out their tire costs over additional years. You will keep track of all tire changes and rotations. (Be sure to mark all takeoffs for reference.) And, if you sold them some inexpensive winter wheels, you saved them the cost of buying new custom wheels that would be damaged by the ravages of winter.

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Second, youre selling technology, safety and mobility. There can be no nobler goal than to give your customers the safest, most secure winter-driving by selling them the finest technology available in todays tires. If that isnt a selling point, what is?

Who Are the Customers?
The answer is: Anyone who has to drive on slick winter roads. Sport utility vehicles and light trucks are especially good applications for winter tires, as are minivans. But so too are many passenger car applications, particularly those with performance tires designed for dry traction and handling. Many of these cars can become very difficult to handle on wet or slick roads, even with ABS, traction control and stability control.

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People who buy winter tires should buy four tires, not just two. Replacing all four tires is recommended for all four-wheel drive and front-wheel drive vehicles, though it is acceptable to replace only the drive tires on older, rear-wheel drive vehicles.

Snow-Rated Tires
Something else tire dealers should make their customers aware of is the Rubber Manufacturers Association’s Severe Snow Performance Marking. The mountain/snowflake symbol on the sidewall indicates a tire has a snow spin traction rating of 110 or higher compared to a standard reference test tire. Tires that meet the severe snow tire standard are listed on Canada’s road safety website at www.tc.gc.ca/roadsafety/Topics/-winter/wtirlise.htm.

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Winter Tire Challenges
One of the challenges winter tire manufacturers face is the proliferation of tire sizes. One manufacturer says you need a minimum of 40 different sizes to provide fitment in a winter tire line, and probably 50 or more to provide reasonably complete coverage.

Another concern is matching OE speed ratings, particularly on sporty passenger car applications. Though many of these vehicles come factory-equipped with H-rated (130 mph) or higher tires, is it really necessary to provide a winter tire with such a high speed rating? Nobody in his right mind is going to drive 130 mph on ice or snow, but who’s to say how fast someone might drive on dry pavement? Replacing a speed-rated tire with one that has a lower rating may create a potential liability risk, so customers should be warned (verbally and in writing) if this is done, and be advised to drive at more reasonable speeds.

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Protecting Investments
Todays de-icing chemicals and road salts are extremely harsh on wheels. In some areas of the country, permanent damage can occur to expensive wheels. And those UHP tires that look so great on that customers 2000 Honda Accord may not perform so well on ice and snow.

First, a note on customer service: If you want to make fast friends with your performance customers, sell them a set of winter-use tires and wheels and offer free changeouts before and after each winter. Some tire dealers even offer free storage of takeoffs, freeing up valuable garage space for their loyal customers and creating yet another opportunity to get the customer in the bay.

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In terms of winter wheels, probably the easiest and least expensive option for customers is a set of boring old steel wheels. They arent very sporty, but they will hold up to winters wrath. For some customers, particularly those who dont have a lot to spend on higher-end custom wheels, steel wheels for winter are the best choice.

For those customers who still want to look sharp regardless of the weather, there are plenty of options. Here are some of the most popular and least expensive wheels to offer for various types of vehicles. In this case, looks arent the issue; rather, its durability and ease of maintenance. The first wheel that will fit most front-wheel-drive cars is the black mod.

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These are built in a wide variety of 13- through 16-inch sizes and will fit on most cars and clear the calipers. Dual bolt patterns on these wheels help reduce inventory cost. Remember, always dry fit the wheel to make sure the hub and bolt patterns match.

An additional opportunity would be to offer the TPMS sensors that work with the OE system, if so equipped. Install them in the new wheels as an add-on sale. Be sure to check with the wheel manufacturer to determine if the specific sensor you need to install will fit in a particular wheel. Next, we have the basic wheel for pickup trucks and older RWD cars.

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These white spoke wheels are staples for winter and off-road use. Powder-coated and cheap, what more can you ask for? For everyday drivers, hook them up with a set of good winter tires. If your customers hunt, mount up a set of mud tires to help them get out to the camp.

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