Monday, March 23, 2009

Tires: Snow tires - Michelin Alpin PA3 or Blizzak WS60?

Based on my insurance nightmare posts, you can tell I've had a lot to think about this winter without use of my Benz (at least, not in working order until recently, when I had the steering rack replaced). Even though I used to be one of those people who thought winter tires were silly now that we can all buy all-season radials, I've done a 180 and now believe in snow tires.

In my vehicle in particular, only 35% of the torque is going to the steering wheels. Sixty-five percent goes to the rear, and in my 2002 E320, this is a full time system - not like the new BMW XDrive or Infiniti's system which are both performance and safety-based.

As a result, and as I mentioned in a prior post, I have never been happy with the way my Conti all-seasons turned in snow. They also - in part - caused the accident as I was going slow, but still hydroplaned sideways into another car while trying to maneuver a curve in the road (while it was icy). Snow tires could have helped solve this problem - and will in the future, as I've decided to buy a set for next winter.

A couple of things one should know before purchasing:
  • If you have 17" rims or larger, it's probably better to go with a 16" rim for your new snow tires. Try to get H-rated if you can, vs. T-rated, unless you live in Canada or a remote area where little plowing is done. Most of the time, in areas like Massachusetts, the roads are plowed so well that 90% of your driving time on the snow tires will be done in somewhat dry conditions, and the treads on these tires do not last long.
  • It's much easier to go with another set of rims AND tires at the same time, even if you only have steel wheels or rims smaller than 17". You're increasing your up front cost by $400 or more, but the convenience you get out of not having to swap tires on the same rims each season is worth it. You can even do it yourself, then simply take the car with its seasonal tires for a balancing & alignment without having to lug tires around. Plus, reducing the number of times your rubber has to be taken off one rim and put on again later is a good thing.
  • Though I'm just about to recommend Michelins, don't take that as a slight on other brands. There are a dizzying array of tire brands out there, so if you're intent on researching each and every kind, go to and have a ball.

First things first: I posted on my favorite Mercedes forum about this and sought out recommendations from other trusted forum members. Make sure that you belong to a good online forum where bloviating and drama are kept to a minimum. A healthy community of vehicle owners who swap tricks and solve problems together will be a car owner's most valuable resource.

Many Benz owners seem to gravitate toward Michelin, Blizzak, or Dunlop snow brands. By posting in the forum, and looking on, I found out the following:

  • I have 17" rims and it would be good - and cheaper at least in terms of the tires - to go down to 16" and narrower for my snow tires. Narrower helps give the tire better traction with less weight dispersed on a wider piece of rubber.
  • Michelin X-Ice's were highly favored, but are being replaced by the Michelin Alpin PA3 brand. This is important because if you ever blow one out, it will be more difficult to find the same tire if it's been discontinued for a while. Even if the X-Ice is a slightly better tire, it's not worth the potential of having to replace two vs. one if something happens to one.
  • Blizzak WS60 seemed to give slightly better traction in ice & snow, but were a bit choppy on dry pavement. As I mentioned above, most of my driving even in winter months will be on dryer roads as plowing and salting are done constantly during storms, and high budgets for clean-up work abound. So while the Blizzaks were tempting because I wanted to get the best snow tire based on my accident experience, I don't think I'd be missing out on too much by getting a highly rated Michelin that still got the job done while giving me better highway performance than the Blizzak.

So the decision is to seek out Michelin Alpin PA3 for snow tires next winter, along with a set of used OEM 16" rims or new, cheaper 16" rims. Always check your owner's manual for required offsets, etc. when downgrading wheel size to a non-stock size. For me, I have optional 17" factory rims on my car, so I can go down to a 215/55/16 size with no issue.

Another great thing about purchasing snow tires is that you can have more fun with your three-season tires. I may end up going with Michelin Pilot Sport A/S plus, which are essentially summer tires that can handle a dusting of snow very well. This may help provide the driver with better performance in the summer months, as you can buy a stiffer tire that still sticks to the road very well.

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