More than one reader took issue with my stand against lug-centric steel rims for winter tires in a recent column. As we are pretty much smack dab in the middle of winter-tire season, and more people seem to be opting for a dedicated set of winter rims to go with their snow tires, it’s a good time to clarify the issue.
As a reminder, aftermarket wheel rims can be divided into two categories: hub-centric, meaning the large hole in the middle of the rim is the exact fit for the hub on the vehicle, and lug-centric, which means the centre hole is oversized to fit a variety of vehicles. This type relies on the wheel studs, or lugs, to properly centre itself on the vehicle’s hubs. Lug-centric rims can be cheaper to buy than hub-centric units, thus their consumer appeal.
All original equipment manufacturer (OEM) rims are hub-centric, and it’s this point (between the hub and the center hole of the rim) that carries the weight of the vehicle. The wheel studs or lugs are designed to resist lateral forces that are experienced when the vehicle is cornering. They are not designed to carry the weight of the vehicle.
The first problem with lug-centric wheels is getting them installed correctly. They require an expert touch to ensure that every wheel nut is properly centred in the rim hole and has the correct torque applied. During the hectic times of winter tire season, this isn’t always done correctly and excessive vibrations can result. This can damage wheel-bearing components and may lead to the loss of wheel nut torque and/or loose wheels. The second main concern is that in the event of an impact to the wheel from a pothole or curb-strike, the wheel studs can become bent, leading to the need for their replacement. Sometimes lug-centric wheels require spacer plates to be installed between the rim and the hub to provide the correct offset (the distance the centre line of the tire tread-face sits either to the inside or outside of the centre line of the wheel’s hub). These plates can become corroded or damaged after only a year or two in service, and are easily misplaced during seasonal tire change-overs.
So, for these reasons, hub-centric rims are better.
There are a number of good-quality Canadian rim manufacturers and distributors today, and hub-centric rims are available for pretty much anything on the road today. The cost differential between hub-centric and lug-centric rims is minimal, and any savings to be had are quickly eclipsed by the additional risk lug-centric rims bring to your drive. For example, a new 15-inch steel hub-centric rim for a 2003 Toyota Camry retails for about $60 each. I also received inquiries on whether All-Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicles required any special consideration when selecting winter tires.
An all-wheel- or four-wheel-drive vehicle doesn’t require any special consideration for winter tires except that they need them just as much as any other vehicle, and you should stick with the size as specified by the automaker (as indicated on the driver’s door edge or frame or in the owner’s manual). For those who think four-wheel- or all-wheel-drive vehicles don’t need winter tires, think again. The only advantage an AWD or 4X4 has in snow, slush or ice is acceleration traction; they steer and brake just like a 2WD vehicle, which means poorly in winter when equipped with summer tires. Just remember the old adage: Four-wheel drive will get you into trouble twice as fast and far as two-wheel drive.
Beware of some fresheners
I saw a tech bulletin from an automaker recently that provided a great tip for just about every vehicle owner. It seems the automaker in question was being faced with warranty claims to replace certain dash and interior panels for finish degradation and staining. The surface of these panels developed small wrinkles and in some cases, the top layer was peeling. An analysis of the damage revealed it was caused by with oil, specifically the type found in in-car air fresheners. The bulletin advised that care should be taken to ensure that these odour-fighters don’t come into direct with any interior plastics or fabrics. This includes the familiar hanging units made of porous paper (think evergreen tree shape). Many of the dash vent clip-on types have liquid reservoirs of aromatic oil; make sure they aren’t positioned to allow the oil to leak out.