Swapping over your all-season tires for a set of winter tires is a regular part of life in Canada. Once that first snow is forecasted, it is a good idea to be prepared. And when there are huge snow storms, what more fun can you have than ripping through the snow on quality snow tires?
Snow tires are an important part of winter life that can accumulate into unnecessary service bills. This is certainly the case if you are like most people who rely on shops to swap your tires every year. For those of us who have some muscle and mechanical skills, there is no reason why we should ever rely on a shop to do our work for us.
Why You Should Purchase Steel Wheels for Winter Tires
Most people who run snow tires have them fixed on a dedicated set of steel wheels. Steelies are the choice because they add a higher level of unsprung-weight to the vehicle. Unsprung weight is the weight of the vehicle below the shock absorbers, springs, and suspension. This is the steady weight that helps you obtain traction off-road and in inclement weather. Steel wheels are also inexpensive and more durable than most alloys.
You will face manifold dangers if you swap the tires out every season and retain the same alloy wheels year-round. The primary problem is that the tires have to be stretched over the new wheels. The lip of the wheels and the bead of the tires can be damaged during this process. The tires may also suffer if they are improperly mounted, improperly balanced, store incorrectly, etc. You may also need a front-end alignment to ensure that the vehicle is tracking straight with the new tires.
It makes much more sense to have each set of seasonal tires mounted on independent wheels. Alloys have some performance features that make them perfect for the warmer weather. They break easier, rotate easier, and provide more nimble handling because they are lighter. They can suffer curb rash and external damage, however, if they are run through hard ice and snowpack mingled with rocks.
Steelies have the indestructible shells and unsprung-weight you need for the harsh winters. Although they are not always stylish, it is not difficult to find quality aftermarket steelies with ornamental hub caps that can add the bling if you want it. If you have dedicated wheels for each tire set, then it is easy to swap them over yourself.
Related article: How Long Winter Tires Last?
How to Swap Over Your Winter Tires at Home
The first step in the process is to prepare by purchasing the materials you will need. The small investment will go a long way and save you even more money if you use the tools for other repairs such as oil changes, brake jobs, etc.
• 3 or 4-ton automotive floor jack
• 3 or 4-ton jack stands
• wheel chocks
• 1/2-inch breaker bar
• Penetrating fluid (PB Blaster)
• Torque Wrench (up to 120 ft.-lbs.)
• 1/2-inch socket set (17-27mm)
• Mechanic’s creeper or padded carpet
• Flat screwdriver or interior panel pry tool
• A dry shop towel or rag
Steps to follow:
Step 1: Find a level and hard concrete or asphalt surface to work on your vehicle. A parking lot, driveway, garage, or even the street will do the trick.
Step 2: Park your vehicle and set the parking brake.
Step 3: Use wheel chocks to secure the rear wheels opposite the end that you are working on. For example, if you are working on the front wheels, chock the rear wheels as an added safety measure to ensure the vehicle does not roll out from under you.
Step 4: Lay down the padded carpet or lie down on the mechanic’s creeper to get a good look at the base of the vehicle.
Step 5: Look for the small triangles that are stamped into the metal of the chassis just below the doors. These triangles indicate where the lift-points are situated. They will always be near the wheel on the inside of the chassis frame below the doors. You may have to consult your owners manual to locate them on some large trucks and SUV’s.
Step 6: Once you find the triangles, you can use your hand to locate the hard protrusions of metal that jut out from the uniframe. These areas will always look like they are slightly reinforced. If you use the jack anywhere else to lift the vehicle, you risk deforming the lower chassis panels, rusting, and possibly tearing through the sheet metal.
Step 7: Situate your floor jack below the lift-point of the first wheel that you want to swap over. You may want to use some pieces of rubber from an old timing belt or something of that nature to further protect the contact point of the jack and the lift-point. This is a good method of rust prevention that protects the paint seal from damage.
Step 8: Carefully ease the jack up until it is just touching the lift-point. Having the jack already aligned and ready to go after you loosen the lug nuts makes the job flow much smoother.
Step 9: Remove the wheel covers and get any special wheel lock keys out of the trunk. Most wheel covers can be carefully pried off at the metal rim with a flat screwdriver or other interior panel pry tool. The caps usually have a metal retaining rim that holds the cap in place.
Step 10: Spay the exposed wheel lug nuts with a penetrating fluid like PB Blaster. This will breakdown any oxidation and rust lock that seizes fittings into place. You may have to let the compound sit for 10 or 20-minutes if it is really rusty looking. Be careful not spray the fluid onto the rotors through recesses in your alloy wheels or spokes. Wipe off any excess with the dry shop towel or rag.
Step 11: Find the appropriately sized socket to remove the lug nuts. Do this by placing the socket on the wheel lug nut and turning it by hand to see if there is any play. Once you find a perfect fit, usually in the 19 to 24mm range, you will be able to break the lug nuts loose.
Step 12: With the vehicle still stationary on the ground, use the breaker bar to snap the fittings lose and to rotate them until they are off. You can straighten the breaker bar out at the pivot point to rotate them faster and use your fingers once they are ready to come off. Retain the lug nuts in your pocket or a magnetic dish so that you never lose them. Never use a socket wrench to break fittings loose. The teeth in the ratchet drive can be damaged in a subtle manner that makes it less functional over time.
Step 13: Raise the corner of the vehicle off the ground using the jack.
Step 14: Place a jack stand under the axle or subframe of the vehicle, near the jack, as an additional safety feature.
Step 15: Swap the wheels out and hand-tighten the lug nuts into place. Always tighten the lug nut at the top first to ensure that the wheel is seated properly.
Step 16: Lower the vehicle and finish tightening the bolts until they feel snug.
Step 17: Go around the lug nuts with a torque wrench, tightening them to factory specifications. Use a torque pattern to ensure that the wheel is mounted properly. A torque pattern requires you to make a criss-cross pattern by tightening the lug nut that is relatively opposite the one you previously tightened. Repeat this process until all lug nuts check out at the correct torque when you try to tighten.
Step 18: Repeat the process for each wheel.
Having a few tools and an hour to swap out your regular tires for winter tires is all it takes to make your vehicle road-ready. When you torque the lug nuts to factory specifications yourself, you can save yourself from the warped rotors that occur when a shop uses an impact gun to overtighten lug nuts.