This week’s Ask MotoringFile question comes from Jim:

I’ve got the standard 17″ sport package wheel/ performance tire combo on my Cooper S and live in an area that sees snow on and off all winter. I know I’ll need to buy an extra set of tires (and maybe a cheap set of S-lites off eBay) but I’m not sure what to buy. Any advice?

Great question Jim. In part I think the answer depends on how much snow you get every year. If you live in a place like Chicago (depressingly devoid of meaningful snow recently) I’d say that a moderate snow tire or even a good all-season would suffice. However if you live where 3″-5″ of snow a week is common in the winter months, you may want to check out a very good dedicated snow tire.

At this point there are only two tires specifically made in the Cooper S 17″ size (205/45/17). They are the Bridgestone Blizzak LM-25 RFT and the Pirelli Winter 240 SnowSport RFT. Typically Blizzaks are excellent in the snow while sacrificing dry weather grip and overall longevity. On the other hand the Pirelli snows generally go the other route, decent in the snow but still good dry weather tires.

If you want to venture out of the runflat world (recommended if you don’t mind the risk) your options open up quite a bit. And don’t forget that narrower tires tend to give much better results in the snow. I’d recommend checking out the Tirerack for more details on potential non-runflat snow tires.

Personally I use Dunlop Winter Sport M3 on the other car in my garage and for the MINI, the all-season runflats and S-lites that have been sitting in my garage since the day I brought the car home from the dealer.

I’d also recommend another set of wheels if you can swing it. Having to mount and unmount tires on the same set of wheels can potentially damage the tires over time. And being able to swap tires yourself would save you about $200 a year. Like you suggested, S-lites are plentiful and relatively inexpensive on eBay and forums. Sometimes the heaviest, most tank like wheel aren’t necessarily a bad thing when you’re going into the war zone that are winter roads. Another potential choice would be a set of R90 Italian made knock-offs that are selling for just over $500 right now on eBay. If you don’t mind having a non-OEM look and/or smaller wheels the possibilities are endless.

If you’re looking at potentially buying snow tires from the Tire Rack (or any tires for that matter) start by clicking the ad below. It takes you straight to the site and supports MotoringFile if you end up purchasing something from their online store.

Traction is Key. And it Starts With Your Tires.

Update Road & Track and a pretty good (and recent) article on runflat snow tires and general snow tire technology that might be helpful:

[ Run-Flats for All Seasons ] Road & Track (thanks Ted)