Is it better to have separate rims for winter tires?
We know that winter tires improve traction in winter season, but should you use your existing rims or get separate rims for winter tires? What are the pros and cons of either option?
Pros and cons of using your existing rims
: If you like the look of your rims, you can still use them with your winter tires. Buying tires only will save you from $320 to $640 on the cost of the set.
Winter tire installed on the original alloy rim
If your car has tire pressure sensors, they don't need to be replaced if you changing tires only. The tire pressure sensors will work with winter tires. Handling and storing tires without rims is easier.
What are the downsides?
One issue is that it takes more labor to switch tires only. Mechanics use tire changers (tire mounting machines) to mount and dismount tires. When switching tires only, each wheel must also be re-balanced. This makes each seasonal tire swap longer and more expensive: $120-$160 per 4 off-rim tires changeover versus $30-$60 to swap 4 tires on rims. While it's fairly easy to mount and dismount regular tires, certain types of tires such as low-profile or run-flat tires take quite a bit of stretching to remove or install on the rim. This can lead to damage or wear of the tire beads over time. See the photo of damaged tire bead
. Tire pressure sensors also need special care when mounting and dismounting tires and in some cases can be damaged. In addition, you cannot mount and dismount tires in your driveway.
Sliding into a curb is a much more common occurrence in the winter.
Original alloy rim damaged after sliding into a curb.
Rims can get scuffed or even bent if this happens, see the photo. Original alloy rims that many modern cars have are much more expensive to replace than universal steel rims. An OEM alloy rim can cost from $360 to $850 for one unit and it may take some time to get it. A basic steel rim will cost $75-$120 for one rim (part only). Of course, there always an option to buy a matching used alloy rim from a scrap yard. Your shop's parts department can do the shopping for you.
Pros and Cons of using separate rims for winter tires
: it's a lot cheaper and takes less time to do a seasonal tire swap. Many people swap their tires on their driveway.
Set of winter tires on steel rims.
A steel rim is less expensive to replace if it gets damaged. In some cases, minor bends in the steel rims can even be fixed with a hammer. The set of steel rims with winter tires can easily be sold if you no longer have the car. That brings us to another benefit: you also have the option of purchasing a cheaper set of used tires on rims, although it's important to verify that it will fit your car.
The downside of using separate rims is that it's expensive up-front. A set of winter tires and steel rims with tire pressure sensors will cost from $780 to $1400 depending on the size and brand. Steel rims tend to rust over time. Black steel rims don't have that special look of your fancy alloys. Handling, loading and unloading the set of winter tires on rims is more cumbersome.
Can you put winter tires on separate alloy wheels?
Yes, there are plenty of aftermarket alloy rims available in all kinds of shapes and colors and many of them are not too expensive. The only downside is that the aftermarket alloys are more prone to corrosion and are easier to bend or damage than the original alloys.