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Winter Tire Blues: Auto Advances Add Complexity to Winter Tire Servicing

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The snowflake branded on the sidewall of a winter tire isn’t there for decoration. The designation means the tire addresses three winter driving concerns: traction, cornering and braking.

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“Put on a set of today’s winter tires, and driving in the winter becomes irrelevant.” That’s 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.”

Well, in a perfect world where everyone was a test driver, that might be the case. Today’s winter tires are good, but they don’t cure stupid.

The real issue with winter tires is, what do you do with them? More aptly, where do you put them?

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?

It’s 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.

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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 you’re 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. It’s up to us to remind consumers that driving on snow is only one winter-weather driving condition they’ll 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.

For driving on snow, there’s 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.

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Although winter tires appear to be indomitable, they do have an Achilles’ heel. A winter tire’s treadlife suffers dramatically if used in non-winter conditions. That’s why it’s so important to replace them with summer tires when the snow quits falling. Fortunately, this isn’t a deal breaker because it makes good sense to enjoy years of safe driving rather than worrying about it every year.

Do the Math

Speaking of banks, let’s 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 customer’s 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 you’ve sold eight tires, you’ve just extended the service life of the customer’s 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 customer’s bright summer wheels. After a winter season or two, they’re 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 you’re doing for them is valuable. For starters, you’re 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.

Second, you’re 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 today’s tires. If that isn’t a selling point, what is?

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Sidebar:

Scandinavian Tire Studs

In Sweden, a new-vehicle buyer must buy nine tires – four for winter, four for summer and one spare.

According to Gary Wessel, president of Bruno Wessel Inc., a marketer of tire studs, Sweden, Norway and Finland reduced the use of tire studs in winter tires by 25% a few years back and imposed heavy fines for violators.

But today, the three countries have reversed their laws and now stand in agreement that, at least in their part of the world, tire studs are a necessity. So, instead of outlawing studded tires, those Scandinavian governments are developing more stud-resistant road surfaces.

Why the turnaround? Simply put, accident rates went up and socialized hospital systems were seeing far too many winter accident patients. Even the best stud-free “friction” tires have a hard time keeping up with winters there.

Since tire-stud use restrictions went into effect years ago in the U.S., the sale of tire studs has remained flat to slightly up in bad winter years. “Our business has remained level in the northern tier of states and where mountainous travel is the norm,” says Wessel.

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