Having a Little Fun (snow tires in Colorado)

In a Dec. 4 “Consumer News” column on ConsumerReports.org, Eric Evarts urges drivers not to delay in getting winter tires installed on their vehicles. In his article, “Having winter tires installed just got more complicated,” Evarts relates how “an obscure government ruling” held up the installation of his own winter tires this year.

After he tried for a day and a half and failed to remove the lug bolts in order to remove the regular tires to make way for his snow tires, Evarts took his Volkswagen Eos to a tire shop. The shop told him his car needed new lug bolts. But the shop refused to mount his winter tires because his winter wheels did not have the tire pressure monitoring system that the government requires.

Evarts writes:

When I protested, they presented a press release from the Tire Industry Association stating that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had issued a ruling in 2011 clarifying that tire stores can be held liable and fined for ‘knowingly [making] the TPMS system inoperative’ — for example by installing winter tires that their own records show don’t have TPMS sensors.

The shop told Evarts he had three options. He could buy new lug bolts and mount the tires himself at home; he could pay the store to mount the snow tires on his summer wheels, which had the required sensors (and pay the shop to do the reverse in the spring); or he could buy new sensors for the winter wheels. He preferred the third choice, but the shop didn’t have the type of sensors that would work on his car. Evarts writes that, feeling frustrated, he went with the first option.

He offers the following advice:

If your car has a TPMS system (mandatory in all cars manufactured on or after September 1, 2007 with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 lbs. and under ), winter tire switchovers just got more expensive. If you plan to buy a second set of wheels to make changeovers easy, you’ll have to buy a second set of TPMS sensors. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay somebody to pull the tires off the wheels and install winter tires on your car’s everyday wheels, and vice versa, twice a year.

The Colorado State Patrol lists winter tread requirements for noncommercial vehicles. They write that the Colorado chain law is “somewhat misleading” because chains are not always required. There are two levels of that law. On one level, chains or adequate snow tires are required, and on the other level, the use of only conventional steel-link chains is required, although four-wheel-drive vehicles are permitted to operate without tire chains.

The state’s chain law applies to every state and federal highway and every interstate in Colorado. When the law is in effect, roadway signs will indicate which vehicles need to chain up. Metal chains need to have two circular metal loops, one on each side of the tires, connected by at least nine evenly-spaced chains across the tread.

Colorado allows studded tires to be used all year long. The state requires snow tires in the following conditions:

  • Conventional mud and snow tread with (M/S) with or without studs and a minimum tread depth of 1/8″.
  • Tires of the all weather type bearing the mark M/S with a minimum tread depth of 1/8″.
  • Four-wheel drive vehicles (all four wheels engaged) with adequate tires. Adequate tires for four-wheel drive vehicles include those with conventional tread with a minimum tread depth of 1/8″ and those listed in 1) or 2) above.
  • Wavy snow-treads with steel wire protruding.
  • Any conventional tire with a minimum tread depth of 2/32″ when used in conjunction with chains as mentioned in “Chain Only” section.

In an article on Huff Post Tech’s The Blog, Kate Kelly writes that although great strides have been made in vehicle safety features in recent years, as recently as the late 1950s and early ’60s, car makers “were comfortable with their impression that consumers didn’t care about safety, and the government was reluctant to step in to regulate the industry.”

Image by Beertographer (Sean Buchan).