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Tire dilemma: Should you use snow tires year-round?

When it comes to tires, is it better to use one set of tires for the whole year or do the two-tire tango for winter and summer?

Published August 25, 2011
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Q: I just purchased a pre-owned Acura MDX (2008) which came off lease from Quebec. The previous owner had recently put on Pirelli Scorpion Ice & Snows – P255/55R18. The dealer is saying we’re better off with these tires as they’ll perform fine during the summer months, but of course they’ll be great next winter.

My wife is pushing to have them replaced with an all-season set instead (the dealer is willing to do this, but I suspect the tires he’s going to give us in exchange will be cheaper than the Pirellis). So — bottom line — should we keep the tires or push for a swap? Can we use these tires year round here in Toronto? Will we suffer this summer, or will they work just fine? So far, we’re really happy with the ride quality, noise level, etc.

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A: If you are only using one set of tires all year round, I would keep the Pirelli Scorpion Ice and Snow. There are no all-season tires on the market that will give you ice and snow grip like the Pirelli. If you are planning on using two sets of tires for the year, then keep the Pirellis and get something like a Michelin Latitude Touring for the non-winter season.

Looking at the big picture, going with one set of tires for the whole year always has some compromises. Tire wear is a factor to consider, as all-season tires wear faster in winter than winter tires. Winter tires wear faster in summer than all-season tires. So, there is no winner in wear. Grip should be the biggest consideration for your safety. In the summer, the good quality all-season tire will grip better than a winter tire. In the winter, the all-season tire is a disaster. That’s why the two-tire tango is best.

Should you opt to just go with the Pirellis all year round; the good news is that its design for winter grip does not rely on chunky tread blocks. The chunky blocks wear quickly. The Pirelli has nicely integrated sipes (little cuts in the tread blocks) on the tread blocks. This type of design can take the abuse of running on bare pavement. Therefore, at least if you go the one-tire route, you have the right tire for the job.

Q: We have an ‘05 Mustang GT that we purchased new. It currently has the original-equipment tires and wheels. But as we expected to need to change the tires this year (the car has just under 50,000 kilometres on it, and is only driven in the summer — and only in the rain if we get caught!), we also want to change the wheels. The look of wheels we are after is the classic 5-spoke chrome Bullitt design. As well, we would like to have a staggered look — like back in the day.

We really don’t want to go with a 9-inch-wide front wheel due to the rubbing issue. Ford Racing recommends a limiter be installed if going with a wider tire on the front and we’re not sure we want to do this. Are there any issues with doing that that you might be aware of?

We can’t find a 17-inch x 8-inch front and 17-inch x 9-inch rear wheel, with the correct offset in the look we want. or find the same tire tread pattern for both the front and rear. The 18-inch wheel rubs if the limiter is not installed, but does seem to have a few more tire options.

A: The setup for the Mustang you are looking for only has a couple of options. I believe the correct wheels are the American Racing Hot Rod Torq Thrust M. The come in 18-inch by 9-inch for the front and 10 inches wide for the rear. Ford recommends that a steering limiter be installed with any wheel/tire combo over 8.5 inches. This essentially just stops the steering from going full lock to lock to stop the tires from rubbing the inside of the front fenders. This rubbing would only take place when you are turning the wheel full lock as in tight parking situations.

If you go with this 18-inch setup, the correct tire sizes are: P255/45R18 for the fronts and P285/40R18 for the rears. At present, there is only one quality tire that suits your Mustang. That is the Continental ExtremeContact DW. It is an excellent summer high-performance tire, it works well in the wet and dry. It is not an all-season tire, so can only be used in summer.

The other option is to stay on 17-inchers on the car. If you want to do that, I do not know of any company that makes the wheel look you want in the correct offsets. In 17-inch, you can get tires to give you a bit of the staggered look. For the front, you would use P235/55R17 and for the rears, the correct size is P255/50R17. Since there are no staggered offset wheels in 17 inches you would need to buy 8-inch-wide wheels. The wheel size will take both tire sizes. There are many 17- by 8-inch wheels for your car, but I don’t know of the bullet design in 17-inch. Incidentally, the only tire available for the staggered 17-inch option is the Kumho Ecsta ASX, a summer performance tire.

Personally, if I were keeping the car for any length of time, I would go with the 18-inch option. It has a big pronounced stagger in size and gives the Mustang that real traditional tough muscle-car look.

Got a question about tires? Ask John Mahler at: thetireguy_1@hotmail.com