For someone who hasn't sold one tire in his whole life, John Werner has a lot of people asking for his snow tire recommendations.
A software engineer by trade and a self-proclaimed tire expert by hobby, Mr. Werner, 36, this year is conducting his third series of independent, real-world snow tire tests. Back in 1997 he assembled a Web page of frequently asked questions (or FAQs) from a series of articles about tires he wrote for an automotive e-mail list in the early '90s.
He dubbed his Web page ``The Snow Tire FAQ.'' By 2000, e-mails from people looking to buy winter tires started pouring in, asking for Mr. Werner's non-commercial recommendations for tires. In the winter, the site gets an average of 100 visitors a day.
``I started seeing a lot of people who would buy these brand new all-wheel drive sports cars'' and think they'd never need another snow tire, he told Tire Business. ``Then they would discover, usually the hard way, that all-wheel drive doesn't mean you get out of anything. It means you get in a lot deeper before you know you're in trouble.''
In 2001, he devised a testing series that would help him recommend tires. He continued the test in 2002, skipped 2003 when he bought a house and this year began again. As he works on the tests, he's also looking for ways to spread his message about the importance of snow tires, though the limitations of being independent make the task a difficult one.
For his tests, he receives free tires from participating tire makers and outfits them on similar vehicles. In 2001 he started with the Nokian Hakkapeliitta NRW, the Vredestein SnowTrac and Dunlop Graspic DS-1. This year, he's testing the Bridgestone Blizzak WS-50, Green Diamond Inari, Kumho KW11, Nokian Hakkapeliitta 2, Nokian WR and Toyo Observe.
With the test tires, Mr. Werner and other drivers with ``aggressive'' styles head out to all kinds of roadways in upstate New York-city streets, back roads and expressways. The drivers take notes on their impressions of the tires in what Mr. Werner said is a subjective test.
``It really gives us a feeling for how does this tire work in the real world. Very rarely have I seen hockey-rink ice out there,'' he said, referring to scientific testing done by professionals. ``It's usually rough.''
Mr. Werner also said he runs the tires in subsequent years to see how they hold up over time. Just this year he retired two of the original sets of tires.
``A real person's not going to buy a set of snow tires every year,'' he said. ``They want something that's going to last several years.''
Though he's a stickler for remaining independent-he has resisted urges to become a tire dealer himself and does not accept advertising from tire manufacturers on his Web site-he acknowledges his test has one caveat.
``If a company doesn't have a tire they think isn't at least decent, I probably won't get them,'' he said. Mr. Werner added he has yet to trash a tire in a review. The only somewhat negative review he gave was for the Dunlop tire the first year, which he felt had cornering problems. But he added that the average driver probably wouldn't make the tires perform at a level to notice the problem.
Mr. Werner said his experience with tires comes from his time spent in various rallies, when it was critical to have the best tires for each competition.
``I would spend whatever it took to have the best tires for a competition,'' he said, adding he's less involved with the sport since his children were born, but he still maintains contact with the rally crowd.
Funding for the Web site primarily comes from Mr. Werner himself. He has some banner ads and links to some tire retailers for which he could see a small commission if his site's visitors buy from them. ``I've yet to see a check from anybody,'' he said. ``It's not a money-making venture.''
Another limit on his plans for the Web site is simply time. So far his test results are published on his Web site and in a column he writes for Rolling, the Volvo Club of America magazine. But he's been batting around plans to publish two brochures about the value of snow tires and dispelling common myths about the tires. He envisions tire retailers distributing the brochures, but he has yet to publish any.
``Some of these projects will just get laid down when life intervenes,'' he said.
Still, in this project and his tests in general, Mr. Werner is apprehensive about seeking partnerships with tire dealers since it may seem like he's no longer impartial.
``I'm very cautious about that,'' he said. ``Would I mind them linking to my site? No, but I don't want to seem like I'm going to (play) favorites because of financial-real or perceived-gains.''
The Snow Tire FAQ