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I just had new winter tires put on my 2003 Honda Civic 4-door LX. The steering has been affected.

The steering now feels "weak" or "light" or "loose". Meaning I now have to turn the wheel further to make my car turn than I did before changing the tires.

For example. Before changing my tires, I would generally turn the steering wheel about three inches to comfortably change lanes. Now I have to turn the wheel about a full quarter turn to have the same affect, so maybe about double the distance.

And to be clear the steering is fine otherwise: doesn't pull, doesn't shake.

I did contact the garage about it and they think it is just the power assist struggling with the bigger tires and bigger tread which are gripping the road more. They also said that it is ok and might improve over time as the new tires "soften".

Does the garage sound correct, and either way, do you have any ideas on how to make the steering the way it was before changing the tires?

UPDATE:

After driving for a couple weeks, it does seem more responsive. Plus I think I have gotten used to the now only slightly higher turn requirement. And the grip is great, thanks for the answers.

UPDATE 2:

1 year later put on the tires again but with a different garage (Midas). The steering wheel this time feels like I need to turn it exactly the same as with regular tires, but this time feels harder to turn. This seems more reasonable to me and makes sense... I think the guy I went to before didn't know what he was doing.

  • What are the sizes of the two sets of tires, winter vs summer? – Bob Cross Oct 23 '15 at 16:46
  • well the winter ones are slightly bigger visually, but with much bigger treads. The all season tires were pretty much balding. – Andrew Oct 23 '15 at 16:54
  • On a dry road, I would expect the worn tires to grip more than the new tires. – HandyHowie Oct 23 '15 at 17:47
  • All of this sounds very opinion based on not much fact to back claims such as tire size having an effect on steering rate as well as worn tires gripping a dry road more than new tires. As well, diameter of a tire should not effect steering rate. The garage stating the tires will soften is possible but does not explain having to turn the wheel more to make the same maneuver as before. It sounds like the garage is almost saying, "the bald tires were sliding (pushing) more than the new tires do now" Nonsensical, if there were sliding it would be over steer, the wheel would turn more then. – DucatiKiller Oct 23 '15 at 19:15
  • Yes and to be clear the people at the garage had never seen this before apparently and were basically guessing. They suggested i put back on the old tires to see if the steering goes back to normal, for troubleshooting purposes. – Andrew Oct 23 '15 at 19:28
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tl;dr: Winter tires are different and you are sensitive enough to tell.

It doesn't sound like you have a problem. It seems that you are detecting exactly what I detect when I put my winter tires on after the summer. Quoting from the Tire Rack article:

New winter tires begin with deeper tread depths and more open tread designs than the tires used during the rest of the year. While the extra tread depth allows new winter tires to provide more traction in deep snow, it also contributes to more tread squirm and drivers may notice a reduction in handling responsiveness.

The problem with a casual read of the above is that the words "squirm" and "responsiveness" aren't terribly quantitative. However, your remarks about having to turn the wheel further could come under the heading of responsiveness. I know that I detect "squirm" on my winter tires when going around a steady state corner where I need to make small adjustments (e.g., some junk sitting on the road). My winter tires feel more like they're surfing on a dry road than the summer tires do.

The basic reason for this isn't complicated. Winter tires tend to have relatively tall tread blocks with larger gaps between them. Their mission is to reach down through the snow in order to grip the road, of course. Those taller blocks, however, are still made of rubber and, as such, will tend to flex under stress. This effect will be magnified by those gaps: more air == less rubber to grab the road so each block has to work that much harder.

All that changes when the snow falls. At that point, the traction on a summer tire can drop to effectively zero along every vector. In contrast, the winter tire suddenly feels like you're riding on rails. Until, of course, you intentionally start doing donuts in an empty parking lot....

  • Sounds like I shoulda waited for it to get colder out :D – Andrew Oct 24 '15 at 14:27
  • @Andrew, it depends - we had some nights that were below freezing in the last few days. Of course, the next couple of days were super warm. But, did I spin out on cold roads while driving home from class? No and nor did I worry about it. – Bob Cross Oct 24 '15 at 18:32
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The phrase "where the rubber meets the road" sums everything up. Tires affect how the car feels and handles. If you don't like how your car feels and handles then get a different set of tires. There is no way to fix the problem (assuming nothing is wrong with the car).

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Most tires feel a bit "greasy" for the first 25 or so miles as the mold release lube wears off. In my experience, winter tires seem to suffer even more so from this. TireRack.com verifies this:

Before tires are cured, a release lubricant is often applied to prevent the tires from sticking in the mold. Unfortunately, some of the lubricant stays on the surface of the tires, and traction is reduced until it is worn away.

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In my 29 years of driving I'd say tires are third in determining how a car handles.

No. 2. is alignment. A sporty setup - lots of Caster, etc, will feel tighter/heavier than a family car setup.

No. 1. is level of power steering boost, and if it is constant or varies with speed(less assist progressively, at 15, 30mph, etc.) Modern EPS(electric power steering) motors generally provide more assist per pound of equipment than conventional(hydraulic) does, and most manufacturing engineers OVER-DESIGN - build in too much boost - than is really necessary. This has led to the complaints of 'numb' 'vague' steering you read about in car magazine reviews, and twitchy, constant corrections.

The car's alignment parameters simply cannot overcome the system's readiness to turn the wheels, and requires, at least, a constant subconscious, and lest I say exhausting effort by the driver to keep the car straight. The YF-class(2011-14) Hyundai Sonata is a blatant example of these issues.

In the 40 years power steering ceased to be an option and became standard on mainstream cars, I can think of no other factor that has more removed the connection between a driver's hands on the wheel and the road surface. Above 20mph, there is generally no need for power steering assist (conventional or electric). The first line of safety is to know what your vehicle is doing - how much you are turning the wheels, and in what direction. Power steering has dangerously reduced a lot of that, for me at least.

I've had cheap tires, expensive tires, skinny high-profiles, and fat 55-series low-profiles. And to me alignment and power steering assist level are most critical to both straight-line stability and manoeuvrability, and the first step to preventing lane incursions, over-corrections, and unnecessary, tragic car crashes.

A well designed power steering system would work. One with no boost over 30mph. Power assist is needed only in a parking lot and for tight manoeuvres - like parallel parking.

At higher speeds, the vehicle's self-straightening forces (Caster, SAI) must be allowed to work, and give drivers feedback of what they and their vehicles are doing. Type of tire is secondary to these geometric forces, although it should be understood that wider, low profile tires respond quicker to steering inputs, and conversely are less stable in a straight line at speed. Therefore, either less power steering assist or more aggressive alignment angles are required for what I feel are "looks" tires.

  • Sources for any of these claims would be great. By saying "power steering assist level are most critical to both straight-line stability and maneuverability", would you say winter tires could beat racing slicks around a autocross course, so long as you're controlling it with a well designed power steering system? – MooseLucifer Sep 2 '16 at 16:04

protected by Community Mar 28 '17 at 22:32

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