Benefits of two sets of tires

Are you thinking of going bi-polar? We're asking not in the psychiatric sense, but in the tire sense. You know, considering moving to a lifestyle that entails changing to a winter wheel/tire set in the fall, and swinging back to another, totally different wheel/tire set come spring?

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Are you thinking of going bi-polar? We’re asking not in the psychiatric sense, but in the tire sense. You know, considering moving to a lifestyle that entails changing to a winter wheel/tire set in the fall, and swinging back to another, totally different wheel/tire set come spring?

Well, if you are, you will join a growing majority in Canada.

Joining a new social group can be unnerving and fraught with tension.

To help you make a smoother transition to this new lifestyle, we assembled a panel of tire experts, and put to them some pertinent questions.

The panel consisted of: Greg Cressman, technical director of Yokohama Canada; Anthony Paulozza, marketing manager for Pirelli Canada; and Paul Ross, owner/operator of RNJ Tire Sales of Pickering, Ont.

WoW: Are there any circumstances where you would not recommend a two-set lifestyle?

Ross: No, it is very inexpensive insurance. For Canadian winters it is not always the ice and snow. It is the cold, dry pavement. Summer and all-season tires cannot create a friction value to cold pavement. It does not even have to be wet.

Wow: Is it even an option to have one set of rims for two sets of tires?

Ross: When tires are removed from rims, damage to the tire beads can occur. Also, when tires are removed from the rims they tend to shrink in the bead areas. When re-installing, the tires have to stretch to achieve a good set on the rim. It is more convenient to have tires on dedicated rims.

WoW: You could either buy a set of steel rims for your winter tires, or use your original equipment rims for the winters, and buy upgraded rims for the summers. Which is the more popular option?

Cressman: A new set of steel rims for winter is definitely the less expensive alternative, and the one we see most in areas that are heavy into two-set use, like Quebec and Northern Ontario. An additional set of steel wheels also allows you to save a bit on tires, because you might be able to go down a tire size. Going down a tire size, but keeping the same diameter and load carrying capacity of the OE tire, would mean a slightly narrower and taller tire, which can actually benefit winter performance, especially in snow.

WoW: If you want to upgrade your OE rims, for performance or aesthetic reasons, there are rim size decisions to be made as well…

Cressman: Yes, but that depends on what you desire in your summer fitment. If you desire more aggressive handling, you could look at what is known as “plus sizing.” For example, if you currently have a 15-inch rim, you could move up to a 16-inch. To keep the same diameter of the original tire, which might be a 205/65/15, you could install a 215/60/16 tire. With a shorter, stiffer sidewall, combined with a wider width, you will benefit from increased responsiveness and higher levels of adhesion. (See diagram.)

WoW: Those are upsides to higher performance tires and wheels, but what are the downsides?

Ross: “Plus one” and “plus two” enhance performance and the visuals, but ride quality drops drastically due to the rigidness of a shorter sidewall in the tire, causing “less flex.” Shorter sidewall tires also offer less protection against potholes and rims bend very easy. Larger, performance-orientated rims are also more expensive. So there is always a price to pay for vanity.

Paulozza: Tire wear is also an issue. High performance tires are obviously designed to offer lots of grip, and high-speed stability, but that comes at the expense of wear. They have softer compounds. As an example, Pirelli’s P3000 has a treadwear rating of 620, and can last as long as 130,000 kms, while our top performance line, PZero, has a treadwear rating of 160 to 120. You have to appreciate what you’re paying for; some first-time buyers of performance tires are expecting them to last much longer, and are disappointed.

Cressman: You should also be aware of noise issues. Full-blown performance tires are already not as quiet as a touring tire, but as these tires wear, they can get even nosier. The inside shoulder is an area particularly susceptible to wear. Wide tread patterns can also wear unevenly, to cause additional noise and vibration.

WoW: So, while a winter-only tire opens up the possibility to go to a more aggressive non-winter tire, that doesn’t necessarily mean that would be the best choice for any given motorist.

Ross: It is all a matter of choices. You have to figure out what it is you want and go for it. Ride with someone who has already done this and get his or her comments, preferably someone close to your own age. I think a good H-rated tire is the best all round tire for longevity, ride, performance and, most of all, cost.

Paulozza: You can rely on the expertise of your tire retailer to help you get the right tire. But make it very clear what your expectations, needs, and wants are.

Cressman: If you have a high-end Lexus you’re probably not going to buy the same tire the Porsche driver would, who is willing to sacrifice a lot to get ultimate performance. That Lexus buyer will probably look for a combination of high-speed stability, good manners, quietness, etc.

WoW: Would you recommend that an alignment and balance be performed each time a new wheel set goes on the car? That’s twice a year?

Ross: Yes, because I usually inspect and rotate them before they go back on the vehicle. I do on-car wheel balancing, so they have to be balanced for their new location. Regardless, a balance check is always suitable. The alignment question can be addressed after the wheels are on the car. If the car doesn’t track straight, an alignment would certainly be recommended.

Cressman: Two complete wheel/tire sets represent a significant investment. I would think you would want to protect that investment, and get the full benefit of that investment, by ensuring everything is balanced and properly aligned. So I would recommend an alignment and balance each time a wheel set goes on the car. But you can rely on your tire retailer’s expertise here. He would be able to discern what is needed by a thorough visual inspection of the tires, and by asking you some questions.

WoW: Do retailers usually offer to store the other wheel set?

Ross: Yes, I refer to this as bonding or umbilical marketing. This is suitable as a service for people who cannot handle their own off-season tires because of space or physical reasons.

Paulozza: This is definitely a growing trend, because it ensures customers will return for subsequent services. We’re seeing a lot of new-car dealers beginning to offer this service as part of their expanded efforts to get more tire business, and to keep current customers from going elsewhere.

WoW: Is there anything to be aware of, if you’re storing the wheel sets yourself?

Ross: Clean them before storage and let them dry. Store them out of their bags in a clean dry area and away from sunlight.

Cressman: The tires can be stacked. I would take about half the air out. If they are high performance summer tires, I would keep them out of extreme low temperatures.

WoW: Anything else we haven’t covered yet?

Ross: Air pressure is always important. Check your pressures.

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