I bought a lightly used VW GTI last year, and it has alloy rimsenter image description here

I have been in SoCal, so the weather is pretty fine, but we're moving to the midwest :(.

Should I plan on buying steel crappy-ugly-only-for-winter wheels and tires? I know many people in snowy/salty climates swap out wheels in spring and fall, but is it necessary? Will it drastically (adversely) change the handling of the car?

  • Basically the opposite of this question: mechanics.stackexchange.com/questions/12585/…
    – nexus_2006
    Apr 18, 2016 at 23:50
  • I would like to note that if your GTI currently has summer tires on it, you will definitely want to change that before winter hits. Summer tires have an ideal temperature range somewhere above 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you run them at freezing temps, the rubber will also freeze and you'll essentially be driving on rocks with slightly more traction.
    – Ellesedil
    Apr 19, 2016 at 2:55

2 Answers 2


The pros and cons of running dedicated summer and winter sets of wheels/tires will depend on individual situations. For what it's worth, I advocate having dedicated summer and winter tires available if the different seasons of your area makes sense to do so. The alternative would be to run all-season tires year round, which I don't recommend, but opinions on that differ from person to person (a rally school I took a winter driving class at continually referred to them as no-season tires since there are no seasons where they are optimal in traction). My experience with running separate winter and summer sets is from the perspective of a (former) New England resident.

Benefits of a dual set-up:

  • Having dedicated summer and winter tires means you maximize your traction during the different seasons. No need to compromise on traction and conditions with all-season tires. This is easily the most important factor.
  • Allows you to use the wheels you favor during the summer where the conditions are less harsh.
  • Wheel and tire fitments that better target winter conditions. Typically, narrowing your winter tires will improve traction. Going with a smaller diameter wheel and increasing the sidewall of your tire will also improve ride quality as your tire is now a larger cushion from pothole-filled roads and the extra sidewall height provides more protection to the rim from pothole strikes that you may inadvertently hit. Most who go with a smaller/narrower wheel usually just step down 1 inch in diameter and 10mm in width. Just make sure that going with smaller diameter wheels will still clear your brakes!
  • Both sets of tires will last longer since tread wear is split across both sets.
  • Winter traction on the winter tires will last for more miles than all-season tires, which must compromise on winter traction to also allow for decent wet/dry traction.

Drawbacks of a dual set-up:

  • Up-front price.* You need to buy a second set of rims and a second set of tires for the conditions you are targeting (presumably, that would be winter tires). You'll also need a jack** to lift the car so you can swap the wheels, or pay someone to do it for you. This tends to be the primary reason people often stick with running just all-season tires year round.
  • Storage. You need to store the wheel set you aren't currently using.
  • Indecision on matching the tires and conditions. Summer and winter tires have recommended operating ranges for temperatures and conditions. Particular seasonal conditions can put you in a tough spot on which set you should use. What do you do if it's been 50 degrees and sunny and then the forecast calls for 3 days of low 30's and a little snow? At what point in the year do you decide to make the change?
  • Traveling from a location with ideal conditions to another location with potentially inclement weather. For example, if you live in an area that generally sees nice weather and you wish to travel into some mountains where snow is likely, which set do you utilize?

Now, it should be noted some of the cons can be mitigated simply through experience, so the impact of some of them can range from fairly minor to non-existent. Again, that depends on your situation and your location/climate.

*It is up-front because once you've purchased the wheels, they should last until you decide you don't need them anymore. Purchasing the winter tires will, eventually, even out long-term since you are now splitting tire wear across two different sets of tires over the course of a year.

**I do not recommend using the emergency jack. It is not intended to be used regularly. Getting a proper floor jack with a lift capacity that comfortably covers your needs is highly recommended. For example, I tend to lift the entire front or entire rear of my Subaru Legacy at one time, so my jack's capacity covers more than 50% of my car's total weight.

  • Wow, great answer, there's a lot I haven't considered. Do you know if snow/salt will damage the finish on the alloys also? I mean, can I just buy winter tires and have a shop remount them each season, or should I change rims also?
    – nexus_2006
    Apr 19, 2016 at 12:36
  • 1
    @nexus_2006 The operation of taking a tire off a rim and adding another one will add up in cost over time, and you may find that it's actually cheaper to have a separate set of rims for winter. Do the math based on what prices you have in your region and decide for yourself. Also there are arguments that steel rims are better in winter due to their higher weight.
    – Alin P.
    Apr 19, 2016 at 13:04
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    Did you mention "tire-rot"? This can set in on one or both sets of tires before you achieve the full mileage of your tires and will have to replace them prematurely. Even if the shop does give you credit for unused tread, you still have to pay for the labor.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Apr 19, 2016 at 20:22
  • @nexus_2006 if you try to save labor cost with low-priced tire change, they will most likely damage your nice rims, especially at large chains. It's just much better to have dedicated rims for your tires.
    – Nelson
    Apr 20, 2016 at 14:54

I like the answer of Ellesedil. I just want to add some information.

Another thing you want to look at is the legal requirement in your country. I am from germany. We have the 'optional rule': "O bis O" which means "Oktober bis Ostern" (October till Easter) for the "winter wheels". By 'optional' i mean that there is no one who will enforce the use of the specific wheels for the season. So you can use the "summer wheels" the whole year. The downside is if you use "summer wheels" in winter and you get in an accident you can additionally get in trouble with your insurance which can get pretty expensive (yes more expensive than an extra set of wheels).

In my environment it is common practice to use the expensive good-looking alloy rims in summer and in winter, most people have cheap and ugly steel rims.

Another pro is that you can differ in size of the wheels. I learned from my father, my driving school and my personal experience that thinner wheels work better in winter. So you can use beautiful broad wheels in summer (205-255) which will fit the GTI well and on the other side you can use thinner wheels in winter for a better handling.

Edit: Answer to the questions from @nexus_2006 in the comments.

The snow and salt should not be too big of a problem if you clean the rims regularly and correct.

Remounting the tires for each season is not a good idea. The increasing cost and the risk of damaging the rims is not worth the price for cheap steel rims. If the cost for the extra set of rims is a real problem you can still use second-hand rims as long as they are not damaged.

For the ultimate question of cost it is even possible to buy second-hand wheels/tires. But i strictly do not recommend this for safety reasons. Buying new tires is cheaper then losing your health/life because of broken tires.

  • I completely agree about second hand tires. They're really not a good idea. But, cheap second hand steel rims are fine as long as they are in good condition.
    – cdunn
    Apr 19, 2016 at 15:11
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    I myself would never use second hand tires and i don't like people doing this. The breaks and the tires are two of the things where i don't think about the money but about the safety. But as a really last choice it can be tried if one really really needs tires and there is no other way. I know a few people who do this.
    – Requion
    Apr 19, 2016 at 15:42
  • Great point about going with a thinner tire width. Another thing you can do with the winter set is get a smaller diameter rim and a larger tire sidewall. This will help with the ride comfort when the roads begin to develop potholes and the extra sidewall will also help protect the rim from damage if you are to strike a particularly severe one. In fact, that's worth adding to an answer as a benefit.
    – Ellesedil
    Apr 19, 2016 at 17:36

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