by Richard Lee
The colourful leaves of
fall have fallen to the ground. That first frost has coated your
windshield. Temperatures fluctuate near the freezing mark. Winter is
One of the most common things Focus owners look at for preparing
for winter is getting winter tires. Our cars are fairly light. Owners have
stated numerous times that the Goodyear Affinity and Eagle RS-A,
Firestone Firehawk GTA-02, and Pirelli P6 tires that came with our
cars don't handle as well in the snow as they hoped. SVT owners with
Continental ContiSport Contacts end up sliding all over the place
putting themselves at risk. Seeing
how your tires are the only thing keeping you on the road, having a
decent set of winter tires will help to ensure you aren't in a ditch.
The best analogy comes to mind is footwear. Would you walk down a
snowy, icy nature path with your running shoes, snowshoes, or dress
shoes? Of course, you want to wear whatever doesn't cause you to
fall and slip. Same with your Focus. You want its footwear (i.e.
tires) to not cause you to slide out of control.
So where do you start?
The Need For Winter Tires
One of the common questions Focus
owners ask is if there is a "need" for snow tires. It
really depends on your driving conditions. If you encounter constant
and/or unexpected snow falls, cold snaps, freezing rain, etc.,
you're best to invest in some snow tires. If you're going to be
driving on well-ploughed, salted streets with little snow fall, an
aggressive all-season thread may be adequate. However,
that one sudden snow and ice storm will change your
mind about getting a set of winter tires.
SVT Focus owners take note: You
NEED winter tires for your vehicles! The Continental ContiSport
Contacts are a pure performance tire designed for non-snow
Debunk the Myths
The Tire Rack has a great FAQ
on Winter Tires. It generally addresses all the major myths out
there regarding why you think you don't need winter tires. Since
it's coming from a tire retailer, you can see why they are pushing
snow tires. Transport Canada also offers a brief but informative
write-up on the situation.
Active safety features on our cars
like ABS, traction control and Advance-Trac will be greatly improved
because of the added traction. More than likely, ABS and traction
control will kick in earlier if you're not running winter tires.
Look for the Snowflake
|So what is good enough? You want to have the "Severe
Service" emblem, as endorsed by Transport Canada and the Rubber
Association of Canada. Tires marked with the pictograph of a peaked
mountain with a snowflake meet specific snow traction performance
requirements, and have been designed specifically for use in severe
The "Severe Service"
On some all-season tires, you will see "M+S" on the
sidewall. M+S represents "Mud and Snow". Transport Canada
explains M+S as a marking a tire to "provide safe all-weather
performance, but may not always be suitable for severe snow
conditions." The M+S marking
doesn't represent real snow conditions, and you run the risk of some
manufacturers slapping on the designation on any old tire.
When purchasing tires, go for packages that include tires mounted
and balanced on separate rims. It may be a bit of money up-front.
However, you'll be saving time and costs in
taking off the tires and having them mounted and balanced for the
start and end of the seasons. Constant dismounting and
remounting of tires will affect the seal between the rim and tire
causing air leaks and unsafe driving conditions. You will also be
saving expensive factory rims from the salty roads, as well as an
expensive replacement if you decide to hop a curb. The added bonus
is you will be spreading your wear out on your non-winter tires,
thus eventually evening out the investment in winter tires. Most
reputable tire retailers like Steelcase Tires 'N' Mags
offer such packages to customers just in time for the winter season.
All Foci use the same 4x108 bolt
pattern. The problem comes in getting the proper size for winter
tires. Below is a tire reference guide for our vehicles, provided
you haven't modified your vehicle significantly.
First Generation Focus Models (2000 to 2004 model years)
||Original Equipment Tire Size
||Preferred Winter Tire Sizing Options
|LX, SE Sedan and Wagon
|SE (with 15" wheel option) and SE Sport, ZX3, and
|ZTS (2001&up), ZX3 (with 16" wheel option), ZX5, ZTW
Second Generation Focus Models (2005 and up model years)
The addition of bigger brakes on the redesigned Focus required the need to go with a 15-inch rim. As a result, the base size was increased to P195/60R15.
Equipment Tire Size
Winter Tire Sizing Options
|S and SE
The tire sizes listed won't change
the circumference of the wheel significantly. This means your
speedometer won't change. The common thinking for winter tires is:
"Thinner is better." Ideally, you can run the smallest
tire that is offered on your vehicle.
For non-SVT Focus owners, you can get
steel rims in 14 and 15-inch sizes in the required sizes. You can also try getting rims
from older Saabs since they used to use the same bolt pattern. If
you're going to be using your stock rims, then you're set.
For SVT Focus owners, you're in a
different boat. The brakes used on the SVT are larger and wheels
smaller than 16-inches will not fit. As a result, you can only go
down to P205/50R16. To this date, there are no steel rims being made
in either 16 or 17-inch application. Your alternatives for rims are
aftermarket, or buying a set of new/used 16-inch rims from a ZTS,
ZTW or ZX3/5. Otherwise, you'll have to use your stock rims.
What OFOC Members Run
It's all about preference. Those that
are running snow tires are using the major winter tire brands.
Brands chosen vary due to past experience, recommendations, or
pricing. In general, everyone is happy with their decision on
running winter tires. For some, it has made a difference in making
it home in one piece versus making a home in a snow bank.
Now that you know you're looking for the Severe Service emblem,
you want to find the tires that are labelled. Lucky for us, Transport
Canada has already compiled a list. You're then ready to go
online for a bit of research and/or call a local retailer like Steelcase Tires 'N' Mags
to get further information and pricing. You may want to check out
some Focus bulletin boards for user reviews and opinions.
Hope this gives you an insight of
what you need to consider before buying winter tires. Just remember
to always maintain your tires such as keeping proper air pressure
and routine rotation. Routine tire care doesn't fly south for the
winter like snowbirds and birds.