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Tire Rack and Michelin team up for a lesson in winter tires

Josh Ostrander September 25, 2017 All Things Hoon 4 Comments

Winter tires have always been an enigma to me spending most of my life on the beach. Still, I lived in Colorado for a time, yet even then I left the summer tires on my Subaru Impreza. This was more so because I was a broke kid then pure ignorance. As it turns out not everyone can enjoy 70 degree breezes year round, most of the country has seasons, and a large percentage of those places get cold. Really cold. Those places need winter tires.

“But Josh” you say, “I don’t get much snow where I live and when I do the plows are always on their A game, it’s just balls cold in the winter.” And I respond with “how cold are balls really?” and you still need winter tires because the summer tire compound does not perform well if at all when it’s under 40 degrees outside. Even most all seasons aren’t safe to use under about 20 degrees. That’s not me trying to convince you to spend money, it’s facts.

Speaking of money you won’t be spending double if you purchase a set of winter tires. Think about it. 2 sets of tires being used for roughly half of the year that are being worn at half the rate if you were to use one set. You will however have to either buy an additional set of wheels or pay for the mounting and dismounting fees. I call that tax for living in a place that isn’t Southern California.

(Disclaimer: Tire Rack flew me out to South Bend Indiana and out me up in The Morris Inn for 2 nights and gave me enough beer to finally make Jeff proud of me.)

Tire Rack wanted us to learn all about winter tires. So they setup some perfect testing conditions to illustrate their many points. On 60 feet of ice at the Notre Dame hockey rinks is where it unfolded. A pair of Kia Sportange SX Turbos and Kia Cadenzas were equipped with all season tires and winter tires. Michelin’s X-Ice Xi3 on the Cadenza and Latitude X-Ice Xi2 on the Sportage. News flash! The X-Ice out performed the all-season in every way in every test.

Now if you are confused on why the stopping distance increased, that’s because the speed was higher on both runs by 4-5 miles an hour which doesn’t seem like much but factor in we were driving on literal ice. Not a road with some icy spots and slush, but an actual ice rink. 

When driving on the ice either of the cars equipped with all season were borderline sub walking speed. (Fun fact, Bradley Brownell and I on foot both out ran the Cadenzas. Winter Olympics here we come.) Foot to the floor, feathering the throttle, brake boosting nothing seemed to help the all seasons get off the line. All tests were performed with traction control on for consistency. The winter tires still spun but after a very short distane they gripped up and provided a sense of control. Stopping was much the same story. The all season equipped cars fought the ice with ABS fully engaged almost immediately. When the winter tire equipped cars stopped you would hear a sound I can only describe as the sound tires make when they die. Turned out that awful noise was the winter tires working as they should. I was later told the sound was basically the tires squeegeeing away water from the contact patch.

The main takeaway from these exercises is to prove that if you experience winter with sub 40 degree temps, then you need winter tires. It’s peace of mind knowing you can stop when you need to and keep you, your passengers, and those who you share the road with safer.

We also got a tour of Tire Rack’s headquarters. The morning started off with a short briefing session before we went outside to the Tire Rack test track. Waiting for us were two BMW 440i Gran Coupes wearing Michelin’s Premier A/S tires. Yes, I know I just told you how crap all-seasons are, but this isn’t cold weather testing and the tires here are surprisingly good.

We all got a total of four laps. One group sighting lap with a Tire Rack test driver walking us through each section on the course, one slow lap going over the sections again, and two laps at speed. The only things that stood out to me on these laps was that cone slaloms are way harder then you’d think, and that in everywhere except one point on the track (where I definitely overcooked it) the rain didn’t affect driving in anyway minus the water on the windshield. Under hard braking, taking a quick hairpin turn, and even through a fast sweeping left hander the 440i felt very planted.

After watching people kill cones for another 20 minutes (I think I nicked one… maybe) we left the track to go inside for a tour of the whole facility. Only so many things really stick out about a big warehouse. How big you ask? I’m not totally sure to be honest. I heard numbers thrown around from 540,000 square feet to 700,000 square feet. Nonetheless the place is huge. Inside this giant place houses Tire Rack’s very own photo studio which they use for every single product photo on their website, a functioning shop with does tire installs and alignments for the public, thousands upon thousands of tires that ship same day, and a fleet of staff who zip around on forklifts that reminded me of Pod Racing for reasons I’m still unaware.

I grew up in a tire shop owned by my grandfather and ever since I can remember Michelin being the only tire our vehicles wore up to his death some time ago. I have fond memories of him and my uncle waxing poetic about tires to customers who almost always became friends. Diving a bit more deeply into what makes a tire “good” has been a great reminder of my family’s past… and the freezing hockey rinks a healthy reminder of why I left Colorado to come back to Southern California.

Regardless, if I were to stay in a colder climate I know that my vehicle would be wearing the appropriate shoes when the thermometer dips. And your should too.

  • Corey Lewis

    Gotta put down the beers for a minute before you hit publish. Holy grammar.

  • Fred Talmadge

    I’ll be getting my first set of winter tires soon.

  • wunno sev

    you grew up in a tire shop?

  • Steve Buckshire

    Stay safe and get some winter tires.