When I bought a new SUV last December, the dealer sold me winter tires and identical alloy rims. They gave me all-season tires, which looked brand new and weren't in bags, and I stored them at home. The car sat in the garage from January to April while I was in Mexico. The dealership put the all-seasons back on (they said) when I returned in the spring. But when I took the SUV in last week to get the winter tires put on, I was told that the winter tires were already on it. That means I drove 15,000 kilometres this summer on winter tires. The manager says I should have heard and felt the difference (this is the first time I've ever had winter tires). He offered me a $150 credit for future service and has since raised it to $250. He won't replace the winter tires because he says they're only at 90 per cent wear. I'm not sure what I should do. – R., Edmonton
Winter tires wear out faster on summer roads, but one expert says you should take the deal and not worry about new wheels.
"The dealer's offer of compensation seems fair, as I doubt a season of low-stress running would damage the tires unduly," said George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association, a subscription-based watchdog. "The practice of leaving winter tires on a vehicle year-round has become fairly commonplace in Quebec because the law makes winter tires mandatory in winter, but does not require removing them at the end of winter."
Unlike all-season tires that get harder, like a hockey puck, when it drops below 7C, the rubber in winter tires is designed to stay supple to -40C.
That's why they stick better on frozen roads. But, that softness also means they wear out faster.
"The tire makers told the APA that winter tires are speed-rated to operate at sustained speeds higher than the limit in Canada and that they are designed to remain safe in summer use – no blowouts due to running at higher temperatures," Iny said. "However, testing of new winter tires in warm weather reveals that handling will be less precise and braking distances will be longer."
But, still, could driving with winter tires be less safe on summer roads?
"Winter tires generally don't stop well on either dry or wet surfaces, often needing several more car lengths more than all-season tires," Consumer Reports said. "Most all-season and performance all-season tires have good hydroplaning resistance, but winter tires can be great or miserable."
Winter tires with a tight tread pattern with "lots of siping (slits) to bite into snow and squeegee on ice" are more likely to start hydroplaning, the magazine said.
But one safety expert said he sticks to winter tires on warm roads.
"I drove many times to Florida from Ottawa with my winter tires – I leave here in the winter and I use the winter tires while in Florida," said Raynald Marchand, general manager of programs with the Canada Safety Council, in an e-mail.
Whether you're driving on winter tires or all-seasons, make sure they're at the right tire pressure for your vehicle – the numbers on the sticker inside the door. Tire pressure drops with the temperature, so, in the winter, check pressure at least once a month.
Deal or no deal?
Mistakes happen. But if you can't get the dealer or mechanic to own up to it, what's the recourse?
You can complain to the provincial regulator – in this case, the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC).
"In some cases, a consumer services officer may attempt to seek alternate dispute resolution on behalf of the consumer – this gives the business an opportunity to work with its customer in resolving the concern," said Lynette MacLeod, AMVIC spokeswoman, in an e-mail. "The process is voluntary and AMVIC does not have the authority to force a business to reimburse a consumer."
If the shop, or dealership, is found to be breaking consumer protection laws, AMVIC's investigations department will do a "further review," MacLeod said.
AMVIC wouldn't say how laws might apply in this case.
Iny said he's heard of shops that have lost tires that consumers stored with them for the summer.
In those cases, "the solution is for the shop to offer a credit toward the purchase of replacement tires or four new or used tires," Iny said.
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