Corner Wrench: Dealing with tire supply chain blow-outs
Changing size or type can keep you rolling, but shop smart
You’d have to have been under a particularly large rock (or in a deep survival shelter) for the last 2 years not to have heard of (or experienced) goods’ supply chain problems. In the automotive industry it started with semiconductor shortages grinding assembly lines to a halt — a situation not expected to improve until sometime in 2022. But now, almost no hard goods seem to be exempt from some type of delivery problem. If you’re going to be in the market for new snow tires this fall, you might have an easier time if you expand your options. To date, the only supply constraints I’ve experienced in my day job have been with off-shore companies (specifically Asia-based manufacturers), but get ready: when the heavy demand hits on the first substantial snowfall of the season, all bets are off for guaranteed choices.
When your first choice in a snow tire is in short supply, there are usually a few options.
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This is almost a given when the original equipment size is in the 19-20” rim diameter range or larger. First, those sizes bring some large costs to begin with; second, it’s almost impossible to find steel winter rims in those sizes; and most importantly, those wide tires don’t provide the best snow dig-in traction, even with the most advanced tread design and rubber compound mix. To find out how small you can go you need two resources; knowledge of how smaller rims will clear the braking units, and the overall circumference measurements compared to original factory tires.
For the first bit of information, knowledgeable tire retailers or dealership parts and service personnel will almost always have the answer. The circumference size change can be found with almost any tire size calculator you can find online. Industry experts recommend staying within 3% of the original circumference (either plus or minus). Anything greater risks problems with transmission shift points, anti-lock brake and traction control systems, or anything else that requires accurate vehicle speed and distance data to operate various functions. Usually the best results are obtained by selecting a narrower tread with a higher side wall.
Troubleshooter: What do those numbers on tire sidewalls mean?
When it comes to winter tires, follow the three-per-cent rule
Expand your shopping
A lot of lesser known brands are made by multinational firms with great reputations (such as Goodyear’s Kelly brand). Some of these models are sold under exclusive agreements with certain retailers, like Canadian Tire. Don’t rule out slightly older tires (either new or used). There is no published expiry date on tires, so if they’re kept in proper conditions, they can remain useful for several years. That said, a common rule of thumb for winter tires is five years before compounds harden and traction is reduced.
Inspect older or used tires carefully for any weather-cracking (this is easier if they’re not mounted on rims and you can fold the surface slightly to see small cracks). When checking out used tires, take along a depth gauge and measure the treads. Buying any traditional snow tire with less than 5/32” of remaining tread depth won’t get you much traction.
Some light truck owners have turned to actually using ‘Light Truck’ rated tires for winter (and 12 month) use instead of the ‘P’ series passenger rubber the trucks came with originally. It gives them the option of more aggressive tread, and sometimes longer life. But be warned, the harder rubber compounds of these tires, combined with stiffer sidewalls, can make these work shoes as slippery as regular summers in panic stops or sharp turns.