Ask Jack: There's No Business Like Snow Business

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

I have a profound allergy to corporate-speak, which is one of the reasons I’ll always be poor. With that said, there is one thing I’ve heard out of various room-temperature-IQ managers that seems both reasonable and useful: Some things are important, some things are urgent, some are both, and some are neither. Many of the mistakes we make in both business and personal matters occur because we fail to appreciate the distinction.

Here’s an unpleasant and unfortunate example. Between 2008 and 2013, I had all of my tire mounting done by a friend of the family. In October of 2013 he told me that one of the snow tires for my Town Car shouldn’t be used another year and that he would order a replacement for me. On December 11, 2013, I got tired of not getting replies to my texts, so I texted his wife instead. She told me that he had been injured at work and that he would return in a few weeks. She also informed me that if I went in and asked to have my snow tires mounted by someone else, it would cause him some problems with the shop’s owner (as he’d made some sort of mistake while ordering the replacement tire). He would need a day or two back in the office to fix that mistake so he wouldn’t lose his job. I told her that I understood and that I’d wait until he returned to get my snow tires mounted.

Well, I was still waiting, and he was still sitting at home milking his workers’ comp, while I had my very favorite spleen removed on January 5, 2014, after an icy-road crash.

At the time, I judged that the importance of supporting my friend outweighed the urgency of getting my snow tires fitted. That was a mistake, to put it mildly, one that wandered into the realm of mild irony/tragedy when he ended up quitting the tire business, abandoning his wife, and departing for parts unknown just about eight months after the incident in question.

Needless to say, ever since then I’ve been a bit of an evangelist when it comes to having snow tires fitted. I think it is both important and urgent to get your tires put on before the first big storm of each winter. Except, of course, when it isn’t— which brings me to today’s “Ask Jack.”

Brian writes,

In May, my parents bought a 2017 Volkswagen Golf Wolfsburg edition five-speed manual. The purpose of this car is for me to drive through high school and college. My father is prepping for a winter of mild discontent, one in which I will begin driving. I have heard from you and many others in the automotive space that snow tires are imperative if you live in a place that snows (I live in West Virginia, on a steep hill). My father disputes this, saying that the all seasons are fine for winter. Despite this, his biggest priority with me is safety. So my question for you is this: Is it necessary to get snow tires for a new driver? If so, why? And what ones should I get?

Let me start by saying I’m not a big believer in the adequacy of all-season tires, even on a relatively benign platform like a low-power VW Golf. I think of them as “no-season” tires, because they’re a disappointment in the summer and they’re miserable in the winter. This is particularly true in West Virginia, where many towns see twenty days’ worth of snow every winter and there’s no such thing as a road with no elevation changes. I once knew a young lady who lived in Fairmont, WV and who drove a Chrysler Crossfire on wide summer tires. Around November 1 of each year, she put the Crossfire in the back of her garage and started driving her Jeep. She understood that there was no sense in running an unnecessary risk.

In Brian’s case, however, I think that his age (under 18) and likely vehicle use (back and forth to school) should be taken into account. As good as snow tires are, there is an ever safer option: just staying home. If you’re a teenager in West Virginia and you’re looking at weather conditions that require snow tires, you’re better off just not making the trip. That’s not just true for new drivers. The trip that put me and my girlfriend in the hospital nearly five years ago was entirely optional. It was unnecessary. There was no reason for me to be driving fifty miles of farm roads on a day where temperatures were well below freezing and road surfaces were changing from minute to minute. We’d have been fine staying home.

That’s the real lesson about importance and urgency to be derived here. It’s always good to have the right tire for the job. It’s ever better to avoid unnecessary risk. When in doubt, consider staying home. Nobody ever crashed their car on a trip they didn’t take — and if that doesn’t sound like something you’d see on a corporate motivational poster, maybe the problem is with the poster makers and not the message.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Vtnoah Vtnoah on Nov 08, 2017

    Gotta love the Eisenhower decision matrix. As a manager, I use it a bunch. Glad to hear I've got at least a room temp IQ. Living in VT my whole life I've driven everything from the aforementioned Saab 900 with shitty all seasons to various Subaru's with Blizzaks. After making the switch to winter tires, I'm not going back. Especially now that I've got two kids to look after. Not only do winter tires help you get going, they more importantly help you stop in a more reasonable distance. The best daily driver for VT's shitty roads is in fact a Subaru or a CUV. You get a little extra ground clearance to deal with insane potholes, frost heaves, and mud holes plus the AWD to help you get out if you do get stuck. The added benefit is you get better mileage vs. a traditional body on frame SUV.

  • Shifterbrains Shifterbrains on Nov 08, 2017

    Let's go back for a moment to Brian's original question. Is it necessary for a new driver to get snow tires? Apparently, his safety is Dad's priority. Snow Tires are made for snow. If you have snow, makes sense to use them. What about dollars and cents? Consider that if he's going to school for the next 4 years, assuming he does decent amount of driving, he will go through 2 sets of tires anyway maybe even be on his third by the time he's done. Rather than starting with new 'all seasons' in first winter, having well worn tires by second winter and then repeating the process, why not start with the winters and switch to the AS's for summer. This way, you'll get better margin of safety on proper winter tires during winter, and your original tires last you 3 if not 4 summers. In the end, you're not paying much more and getting the benefit of proper tires for proper conditions. Having said that, I agree with Jack that many OE Tires are no-season tires where they do a mediocre job at best in most conditions and excel at none. Do your homework on the selection of the replacements and you'll appreciate the improved ride and handling. Also, spend a few hundred bucks on taking a winter driver training course. Staying home during a blizzard is one thing, but in areas where snow fall is a regular occurrence during the winter, unless you hibernate, you'd better be prepared to drive in snow conditions.

  • Geozinger Put in the veggie garden (Western Michigan, we still can get frost this late in the year) finished the remainder of the landscaping updates and hand washed both my beater Pontiac and the Town and Country! Going to the beach today...
  • Rochester I wouldn't obsess over the rate of change, it's happening whether we want it or not.
  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.