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Ontario Focus Owners Club (OFOC)

Winter Tire Basics
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 coming...ACK!

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 application.

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 snow conditions.
The "Severe Service" Emblem

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.

Wheel Packages

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)

Model Original Equipment Tire Size Preferred Winter Tire Sizing Options
P185/65R14 P195/60R15 P205/50R16 P215/45R17
LX, SE Sedan and Wagon P185/65R14 x - - -
SE (with 15" wheel option) and SE Sport, ZX3, and ZTS (2000) P195/60R15 x x - -
ZTS (2001&up), ZX3 (with 16" wheel option), ZX5, ZTW P205/50R16 x x x -
SVT P215/45R17 N/A N/A x x

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.

Model Original Equipment Tire Size Preferred Winter Tire Sizing Options
P195/60R15 P205/50R16
S and SE P195/60R15 x -
SES P205/50R16 x x

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.

Shopping List

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.

Happy motoring!