Winter Tire Procurement Shouldn’t Be So Hard

Not all OEMs make it easy to source the right rubber for the snow

I love winter tires. I’m constantly preaching their proven brilliance and, as such, people regularly turn to me for advice regarding the traction-enhancing rubber. For most cars, it’s as simple as talking to your local dealer or tire shop, or turning to Tire Rack’s detailed website. But it’s not always that easy. Whether it’s the fault of the tire manufacturers or, more likely, the car companies themselves, there are times when it’s not smooth sailing in the preparation for the cold, snow and ice that comes along with old-man winter.

A close friend of mine ordered a new 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S last year. After some delays, the car finally landed at his dealer in the middle of October. I had already begun assisting him in the winter wheel and tire hunt. Well, pulling my hair out is more accurate. Tire Rack had zero info and Mercedes wasn’t supplying their dealers with one bit a data. The local Mercedes dealer called their approved factory tire supplier—Dealer Tire of Cleveland, Ohio—but they too had nothing.

I was forced to turn to Mercedes’ UK consumer website, which has a handy wheel and tire fitment page. But to use the system you must search by UK registration number (license plate number). Luckily, Google Images supplied me with that info via photos from a UK road test. As such, I obtained the part number for the factory 19-inch winter wheel and tire package. Unfortunately, that number didn’t jive with the Mercedes-Benz USA parts system.

 

After some further research, I figured out the part numbers for the a la carte 19-inch wheels and TPMS sensors (and center caps). But when I tried to order the ‘MO’ (Mercedes original) Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 winter tires that Mercedes UK recommends, I learned that the specific tire isn’t offered in the USA. In the end, I sourced a set of Continental ContiWinter Contact TS830 P ‘N0’ (Porsche spec) winter tires from a local tire shop, the 19-inch wheels/TPMS sensors/center caps from the Mercedes dealer and then arranged for all to be mounted and balanced. It shouldn’t be that hard.

Don’t think Mercedes is the only guilty party in the winter tire juggle. Take the new 2018 Ford Expedition. If you’re looking for tire size information—stock tire sizes—don’t expect to find the data on the media/press website, the consumer website or the official Ford dealer order guide. Tire Rack doesn’t have any info on the tire size for the 20-inch wheel that comes standard on the Limited model.

To sort winter tires for the Expedition, the sales manager at the local Ford dealership had to call a contact at Ford. Crazy. This isn’t the only Ford to frustrate. I clearly remember the headaches surrounding the hunt for heavy-duty winter tires for the 2015 full-size Ford Transit when it first launched. You’d think Ford would have had this all figured out given the rear-wheel drive Transit started arriving at dealers in the fall of 2014. Sadly, no.

Even a brand like Jeep that likes to focus on capability doesn’t always have things in order. A friend bought a second-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 when it first launched in the summer of 2011. Come fall, he wanted a set of winter tires. There was only one winter tire available to fit the vehicle. Unfortunately, only a limited number were produced and all were reserved by Chrysler Corporate. The Jeep dealer was no help. I ended up helping my friend source a set of four winter tires in Canada and shipped them into the States. It wasn’t cheap but it got him on the road in the slippery stuff.

Again, it shouldn’t be this hard.

It would be great if, during the vehicle development process, manufacturers worked with tire manufactures to come up with a winter tire plan and then supplied clear and detailed wheel, tire, and TPMS sensor information to both their dealers and tire stores well ahead of launch. If your E63 or Ford Transit arrives from the factory in the middle of winter, you want a winter wheel and tire package (or just winter tires) sitting at the dealer or at your local tire shop ready to install. Plus, winter tires tend to sell out quickly so it’s a smart idea to always plan ahead.

I know America’s winter tire culture isn’t nearly as strong as you find in Europe. There are many reasons for the differences but the headaches that I’ve experienced trying to outfit certain cars with winter-friendly rubber tells me that the distribution network is a big part of the problem. That needs to stop.