Winter Tires – Are they worth it?

time value money

It’s that time of year again around here when it is cooling off and promising snow. I grew up in a small town in Northern Ontario where we could actually ski from late November to late March. We had to appreciate the snow since we had it for such a big chunk of the year. Now, living in a more southern area of Canada, many people don’t share the same appreciation of snow. Some even get freaked out and put winter tires on their cars.

In this post we will examine:

  • Are winter tires worth it from a safety perspective?
  • Are winter tires a financially viable option?
  • Is it worth it to change your own tires or should you outsource the job?

Are winter tires worth it from a safety perspective?

I remember my uncle telling me, “The only thing worth spending money on in a car are safety features.”

He was an engineer and also followed that sentence up with, “All the engineering in the world won’t change the simple laws of physics…… Force = mass X velocity squared.”

He drove a massive Chevy Suburban; really slowly. However, these are definitely true words of wisdom that apply to winter tires. Winter tires can be worth buying for safety reasons, but they don’t overcome the laws of physics – you still shouldn’t drive fast like an idiot in the snow.

Safety facts on snow tires from the Canada Safety Council:

  • They are made of a softer rubber that grips better than all season tires when the temperature drops below 7C. On the other hand, they also wear faster and don’t perform as well in warmer temperatures.
  • They have deeper directional treads to channel away snow and slush.
  •  In -20C on 3-5cm of compacted ice and snow on asphalt, for a car or minivan going 50km/h, the stopping distance is reduced from 165 feet to about 125 feet. So, snow tires make a big difference when it is cold and snowy, but you still have a long stopping distance – and this was only at 50km/h. Source: Government of Ontario.
Time money
Winter tires won’t help this doc much as they rush in for that stat call.

So, whether snow tires are worth it from a safety perspective depends on how cold your winters are (below 7C) and how much snow you get.

They also don’t make up for bad driving habits and they need to be touching the ground to work 😉

Are snow tires worth it from a financial perspective?

Putting aside the fact that your safety and that of your family and other drivers is priceless, snow tires do come at a cost. This is a financial blog, so let’s look at this aspect.

The Cost of Winter Tires

The best winter tires, as rated by Consumer Reports, were the Michelin X-Ice Xi3s. They are also not the most expensive and were on sale at Costco for $590 after tax and installed for a set of four for my Subaru Impreza. I have mine mounted on some plain steel rims making it easy to swap them each year – they cost about $100. So, winter tires will set you back some money up front. About $700 in my case.

Two things that offset the cost:

Most insurance companies will give you ~5% discount. That is about $80/yr in Ontario.

Using winter tires has prolonged the usable lifespan of my all season tires. They only have about 40000km on them after 4 years. That is not bad, but apparently they have some extra wear because I am an aggressive driver in the summer. The tread on them is good for summer, spring, and fall – definitely not for winter. I would have had to replace them a couple of years ago, but they are still going strong.

Do winter tires pay for themselves?

I am not a big driver, so my tires will probably need to be changed out due to age rather than mileage. Tire rubber slowly deteriorates with exposure from sun and heat, lasting 5-7 years or so. Given the lifespan and my insurance savings, my winter tires will just about pay for themselves by the time I need to get new ones. If I count how they prolong the usability of my all season tires, it is even better.

Is it worth it for you to change your own snow tires?

Money is just a vessel to hold value – a currency of convenience. We exchange our time and effort to make money. Conversely, we spend money for experiences, services, and stuff that comes from other people’s time and effort. You should deliberately think about what money is worth in exchange for that.

Step 1: Know what your time is worth.

This is not what you charge someone for your services. This is what you bring home per extra hour worked.

  • Your Gross Income minus your Costs of Work (employees, supplies, transportation, parking, insurance) equals Net Work Income. Add in the value of benefits if you get them.
  • Divide this by the number hours worked to get your Hourly Work Income.
  • Now you need to factor in income taxes. When you take on a job around the house, it is in addition to your regular paying job. This is important, because the first money you make in a year is tax-free from your personal exemption and the more you work, the less you make per hour as you move into higher marginal tax rates. So, you should figure out the value of your time for jobs around the house at your top marginal tax rate. Subtract income at your highest marginal tax rate from your hourly work income to get your after-tax hourly work income.

I have done this. My after-tax hourly work income as a specialist physician is ~$100/h.

Step 2: Figure out what the job is worth.

This is a combination of the time, skill, and tools required.

Cost for paying someone to change my snow tires:

  • My Time: I don’t routinely drive by any service stations. For me to go to the nearest service station would be an appointment and take about 20 minutes round trip and about 30 minutes to deal with the garage and wait around while they do the job. That is 50 minutes of my time. Value: $83.
  • Cost to pay the garage to do it: $40 after tax.
  • My Time again: After driving 50-100km, you are supposed to get the lug nuts re-torqued. That would be another 20 minutes of drive time and another 10 minutes at the garage. Value: $50.
  • Total Cost/Value of Someone Changing My Snow Tires: $173

 Cost for me changing my own snow tires:

Equipment Costs

I already own a car jack, tire iron, portable tire inflator, and torque wrench. They weren’t free. Their total cost was about $200. That was about 10 years ago, but the cost is actually similar still. Further, I don’t just use these tools for changing my car tires. They are also on my various other vehicles.

When figuring the cost of equipment, you need to amortize that over how long it will be useful and accounting for how much you will use it. In this case, the equipment has cost me about $2.50 per season for the purposes of tire changing on my car. The long-term cost would be even less because they will last for years more and I use them frequently.

A caution: Don’t buy tools that you won’t make good use of. Rent.

A shear attachment for my power driver. Yeah, I would totally use that all the time!

Taking on DIY jobs is also a really great way to talk yourself into buying all sorts of tools. When considering buying tools for a job, be honest with yourself. If not, you can end up with an expensive tool that you don’t use much. Or, as commonly happens in my case, my wife and I find more projects for me to do (you know – to make sure that I get my money’s worth out of the tool)….

When faced with an expensive tool that you will only use once, consider renting it. Even better, consider borrowing it. You are really doing the lender a favour – they can now feel good that the tool they never use is being used by someone 😉 

My time cost.

I am not going to be recruited for any pit crew. It took me just under 45 minutes to change the four tires, check their pressure and re-inflate them as needed.

If a task requires special training, you need to factor that time in also. The first time I changed my tires, it took me about an hour between You Tube and my muddling around. I could probably do it in 20 minutes now if I really tried, but I was thinking up this post at the same time. I also leave the torque wrench in the trunk to re-torque the lug nuts after ~50km (or sooner – I have this phobia thing about one of my wheels falling off). That takes 5 minutes.

Total cost in my time: $83

How much do I save by changing my own tires?

Total Cost In Time and Money to outsource: $173

Total Cost In Time and Money of Changing My Own Snow Tires: $85

Total savings: ~$90/season. That is almost an extra hour of working as a specialist physician.

So, for me, it clearly is worth it to change my own tires.

From a time perspective, it takes me under an hour to change the tires and make the money needed for the required equipment. It takes me a similar amount of time to go to a garage plus another 25min of working at my job for the money to pay the bill on top of that. When I get the wheels re-torqued at the garage, I spend another half hour of my time for what takes me under 5min on my own.

If I had a garage on the way of my normal driving route, it would not be more efficient to outsource, but still favours DIY. If I removed all driving time from the equation, it is still 40min of time at the garage plus 25min of work time to pay someone to do it and 50min of my time do it on my own.

What if I made more money at my job and the garage was on my normal driving route?

I would have to make $240/h after tax take home pay (that is ~$500/h gross). Wow!

What if I made a more average wage?

Let’s say I make $30/h after tax take home pay, and the garage is on my normal driving route. It would be 2h of garage/earning time compared to 50 minutes of doing it myself.

But it is not all about the time/money!

You must also consider other factors when weighing whether to do a job yourself or to outsource it.

  • The difficulty of the skill required, your desire to learn that skill, and the consequences of messing up.
  • The “detestation factor”. My wife and I came up with this one early in our marriage when we deliberately divided chores. This is a multiplier that you apply to the value of having someone else to do a job. For example, cleaning up the aftermath of a dog-poop-nado discovered in the basement would be a factor of 10 whilst taking out the garbage might be a 1.
  • The “bragging rights factor”. This is the inverse of the detestation factor. Some things are just fun or very satisfying to do.

How do those modifiers apply to me changing my own snow tires?

In this case, the skill required is relatively low. You can You Tube it, if you really need to. I did the first couple times. The consequences of a “fail” would be epicly bad, but incredibly unlikely given the simplicity of the task.  In my case, I don’t mind the job, although I will say that getting some kneepads has made a big difference in comfort as I have aged. The bragging rights factor of this one is excellent in general. It is very satisfying to blow up stereotypes about doctors lacking manual-labour-life-skills.

Saving money via DIY allows you more to spend elsewhere.

You have more money to spend to buy you time for the things you value more. That could be outsourcing a more distasteful task. My wife would vote for hiring a chef in our case.  Physician on FIRE puts it nicely his post about Money Used to Buy Me Stuff. Now It Buys Time.

Still, I do like some stuff. I am still looking for a way to justify putting a set of these bad-boys on my car.

I hope that I have given you a few things to think about and take action on:

  1. The only thing worth spending money on for a car are safety features. Engineering does not change the laws of physics. Winter tires are a good example of this .
  2. Your safety is priceless, but snow tires can also be viable from a financial perspective.
  3. When faced with whether to do a job yourself or outsource it: know what your time is worth and critically think about what to do.

Should you get snow tires? Should you change them yourself each season? Whatever the case, drive safe.

2 comments

  1. I just use “All Weather” tires by Nokian. I have a mid-size pickup truck that is rocking Rotiiva AT2’s. These tires are “almost as good” as “real” winter tires in the snow and ice, and “almost as good” as all seasons in the warmer months.

    The only downside is that they tend to wear out a bit faster. Considering that the “new” tires that you buy have sometimes been sitting on a shelf for a couple of years, and that the rubber breaks down in like 5-8 years anyway … I’d just as soon get new All Weathers every 2 or 3 years.

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