Winter tires and wheels?

Ok, I am not a snob, but I bought a '99 BMW 528i. I am new to all the performance stuff so I need help. This car has “performance tires” on it. They have directional labels on them they are a continental “extreme contact” P225/15 R16 24V… the person I bought it from (a friend) told me that I would need winter tires… I went to the dealer and they said that it would cost about $1000 for new tires and new (steel) wheels. Now a few questions:

Will winter tires really be better for winter driving? (we live in NE PA and it does snow and there are icy roads) I have not ridden the car in the winter, but I want to get ready early (my friend moved to Asia, so I can not ask him easily)

The next thing is; should I get tires or tires and wheels… The dealer said that getting the tires and wheels would save money in the long run, since it was easier/cheaper to install the always-balanced wheel/tire combination rather then just installing new tires on the same wheels… He was saying that the steel wheels (he stressed that these were steel and cheep looking), so I may be not getting these at the dealer for $1000, but is it worth it to get the wheels at all? Will there be any extra wear or problem with the tires if I change the tires for summer/winter over the next 5 years?

Thanks in Advance

We’ve had two BMW 5-series and driven in conditions similar to yours. I’d strongly recommend winter tires, preferably in a narrower width if your car allows it. I’d also recommend at least 100 pounds of sand in the trunk over the axle, partly for the extra weight and partly for emergency traction if needed.

Tire Rack is a popular place to get tire and wheel packages, so make sure you price them. If you get a tire and wheel package, keep in mind that allows you to put on the winter tires yourself in a hurry if an early snowstorm comes.

Your current tires continental “extreme contact” are winter biased high performance all-seasons. They may well get you around in the winter.

That being said winter tires are absolutely superior in stopping, turning over ANY all-season tire on ice/snow/slush (winter conditions) by a substantial margin.

I personally would try your current tires out and see how it goes for a storm or so CAREFULLY. Your main problem is getting going although I think you have traction control which helps a lot.

If you decide to bite on winter tires/rims look at and for pricing. Its not bad by mail as they are shipped mounted/balanced at discount prices.

And as for putting them on rims, I’ve found in my area changing over the tires costs usually about 40-50 bucks if they’re not mounted and the cost of a tire rotation if they’re on rims. The place I bought my summer tires from does it for free because their tires come with free rotations.

So figure if the wheels are 500 bucks, they’ll pay for themselves in 5 years.

I would also very strongly recommend winter tires and wheels. The RWD 528i is automatically at a bit of a disadvantage in snow/ice. I switched out mounted snows and summer tires for 12 years in Anchorage, and it was very much worth the trouble (I bought them from Tire Rack). What was your previous car?

Thanks for the advice… My previous car was an '99 Accord. FWD, no worries in the snow. I’ll check out Tirerack… but the point about the RWD is one I did not think about… thanks.

I have found you can get prices better than at your local “independent” tire dealer (not your chain store). Visit for information about tires to help you decide which ones to buy, but then shop locally.

And I strongly support all the other replies advocating the need for dedicated winter tires and rims.

What do you mean “narrower width”… how can I find out if my car will allow it?

I’m very familiar with BMW’s and can say that it is possible to get through winter without snow tires, but they make life much easier. I live in New England so I’ve dealt with a storm or two over the years. The Continentals on your car now aren’t bad for all season tires to be honest, and they get the job done in light snow and slush. However, I recommend that you look into a nice set of wheels with snow tires though since it will relax you behind the wheel. Not only that, you’ll be able to take on steep snowy hills that would otherwise be out of bounds with standard tires. In general you’ll stick to the road where you might otherwise go into a slide.

Narrow with tall sidewalls is best for winter, making things quite affordable if you keep things simple. Take 30 minutes every December 1st to toss them on and pull them off on April 1st. The Tire Rack is a good source to look through or contact for advice. Spend an hour or two exploring your options. When you see other cars stuck on the side of a road in a snow storm and glide by in your BMW you’ll be a happy soul.

I appreciate the help; however I need a basic question answered… how do I get a narrower taller tire? tire rack seems to think i have two options for tire sizes: R225/60 - 15 or R225/ 55 - 16

Which number is hight and which is width?

Are these two my only choices?

Our summer tires are 225/55-16s. Our winter tires are 215/60-16s. If you change the width, you should pick whatever aspect ratio keeps you the closest to the original diameter (or circumference).

Narrower tires do support less weight, so you want to make sure the load rating is still appropriate for your car.

Give the Tire Rack people a call. They can help you sort through both issues.

To echo what the others have already said, yes, you should get winter tires. I think that most people are safer in the winter with these tires, but with a RWD car, they should be considered essential. Traction control is very good, but having to rely exclusively on it will wear out the rear brake pads prematurely.

And, perhaps the most important advantage of winter tires is the ability to brake in a significantly shorter distance, as compared to driving in snow without winter tires. Most people think only in terms of starting traction, but winter tires give an incredible safety advantage for both braking and for cornering.

And, as was also said, it is a good idea to get winter tires in a size slightly narrower than the original side. The size should not be a mystery, because if BMW has provided a well-written, comprehensive Owner’s Manual, the manual will list the appropriate alternate size. (I know that my manual speaks to this issue, so hopefully BMW has taken the time to do this.)

And, you should definitely have the tires mounted on their own dedicated steel wheels. They extra cost of the wheels will pay for themselves in terms of the convenience of being able to mount the tires yourself in a hurry if needed.

Any real difference in the steel wheels vs the Alloy wheels… for the winter work?
is Steel wheels + hub caps = alloy wheels?


“is Steel wheels + hub caps = alloy wheels?”

They can be equal in appearance if you get good-quality wheel covers/hub caps. Truthfully, steel wheels are frequently stronger than alloy wheels, and in some cases, they are actually lighter. And, they cost a fraction of what alloy wheels would cost.

Truthfully, I just drive in the winter with the black steel wheels showing, rather than bothering with wheel covers. But, if the “bare” look bothers you, Tire Rack also sells wheel covers, in addition to the tire and wheel package.

Incidentally, I strongly recommend Michelin X-Ice winter tires. In addition to superb traction, they have MUCH longer tread wear than virtually every other winter tire, thus making them more economical in the long run.

The two options have the same width (“225” is the width in mm), but i’d go with the 225/60-15, it’s a ‘taller’ tire (60% vs 55%), and should be slightly cheaper, with slightly cheaper rims (15" vs 16"). I also second the Michelin recommendation.

Another advantage to having a separate set of steel rims for the snow tires is avoiding the potential damage to the expensive alloy rims every time you have to remount the tires.

To me, all wheels look alike after they get a few minutes of salty slush deposited on them.

Incidentally, I strongly recommend Michelin X-Ice winter tires. In addition to superb traction, they have MUCH longer tread wear than virtually every other winter tire,

The Blizzak WS-60 beats the X-Ice in almost every rated category on tire rack except treadwear where the difference is a 7.8 vs a 7.9 rating.