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Some say they must have snow tires, but others say no

New Hampshire Sunday News

February 23. 2013 10:10PM

People scrimping on family budgets often are stretching the miles on their vehicles' tires.

"They're waiting until they're actually bald," said Shawn McKenzie, director of business development for American Tire Distributors in Londonderry. "There's a lot of pent-up demand."

The company opened a new warehouse in Londonderry on Feb. 11, the Monday after a blizzard hit parts of New Hampshire. This weekend's predicted storm is the third to hit New Hampshire in as many weekends, but snow alone won't push people to get snow tires.

"It's a big purchase," he said. "They put it off as long as possible."

At Town Fair Tire in Nashua, store manager Eion Deabreu is seeing the same thing.

"They're stretching out whatever they can," he said, noting up to 80 percent of his snow tire sales occur before New Year's.

"It's almost like gas, everyone not filling up their tank," Deabreu said. "Mentally, you wait until the end."

Deabreu said he is seeing "a lot of people are coming in with bald tires that didn't do well in the last storm."

Deabreau said he has sold nearly 1,300 snow tires this winter, 300 to 400 more than he sold last year.

"They're trying to do one of the least expensive tires to get them moving," Deabreau said. "If it was a mild year, they probably wouldn't buy the tires."

McKenzie isn't expecting a boom in business.

"Christmas comes and the bills come due," he said. "Even though February is historically the snowiest month, if they haven't bought them prior, they're not going to, even with the snow we're getting."

Early-season storms drive business. After the 2011 Halloween storm, "winter tire sales ballooned," McKenzie said.

Nick Wallner, New Hampshire spokesman for AAA Northern New England, said motorists should weigh what kind of conditions they drive in before buying tires.

"While all-season tires seem to fit the bill for most, there are occasions where perhaps tires with greater snow performance are more important, and for those folks, I'd recommend snow tires," Wallner said.

"The snow tire would have a greater advantage with a less frequently plowed road.

Brian Boucher believes in lagging indicators. The co-owner of Granite State Tire & Battery in Manchester said snow tire sales are based on the previous winter's severity.

"Believe it or not, if the preceding winter was bad, usually more people buy them the following year," Boucher said. "It wasn't as many this year (after a mild winter last year). I'm guaranteeing next year there will be more people interested in them."

He said automakers are offering more vehicles with high-performance tires that "are not designed for snow traction. That doesn't mean people don't go through the winter with them."

Snow tires can cost $100 to $300 each, close to regular tires, Boucher said.

His business also offers to store non-snow tires for the winter for $25 for the four tires and has about 50 sets in storage, Boucher said.

Snow tires will last "two to three seasons with normal driving," Boucher said.

McKenzie said the popularity of snow tires has risen and fallen over the decades.

"Back in the '70s, almost everyone got winter tires," he said. "Then all-seasons came on very strong."

Winter tires began a resurgence about a decade ago, but sales dipped after the economic recession hit.

"I've definitely seen a drop in winter tire sales since that period; (drivers think) it's something you can live without and roll the dice," McKenzie said.

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