FALMOUTH — For drivers who need snow tires, reality is settling in like a cold, Canadian air mass.
Thanks in part to a new law requiring all drivers in Quebec province to have snow tires on their vehicles from Dec. 15 through March 15, manufacturers and suppliers have sent more than a million tires to Canada, depleting the U.S. supply and leaving winter tires in short supply in the Northeast U.S.
Sullivan Tire, with stores throughout New England, is nearly out of stock.
“The law in Canada has directly affected our ability to get snow tires,” said Zack Kampi of Sullivan’s Falmouth store.
He said every one of Sullivan’s 70 stores has experienced a shortage of winter tires this year.
“We’ve never had a problem like this,” Kampi said. “Some of the warehouses in Maine and Massachusetts are down to zero tires.”
Bill Lefebvre, service manager at Performance Motors on Route 1 in Falmouth, said snow tire manufacturers only make so many tires each year and hope to run out of stock by the middle of winter. But this year, after early season storms produced unusually high December sales of snow tires, warehouses already do not have enough tires to meet the demand.
“The Northeast has the highest demand for snow tires,” he said. “Warehouses everywhere are scrambling.”
Lefebvre said there is availability in off-brand tires in uncommon sizes, but the well-known brands are already difficult to find.
“I’d be surprised if even Internet sales are not taking a hit,” he said. “It’s everywhere.”
Customer service representatives at Tire Rack, an Internet site
specializing in tire and wheel sales, said more customers have been interested in snow tires this year and the volume of calls about snow
tires has increased. Representatives said winter is a normally busy
season, but this year has been busier than most.
Lefebvre said Performance’s warehouse in Massachusetts has been able to offer limited sizes for particular makes of vehicles. Locally, there were only four snow tires left for a 1999 Subaru Outback.
He said if snow tires become unavailable, customers can use an all-season tire, especially on an all-wheel drive car.
“With four to five inches of snow, all-seasons will work no problem,” Lefebvre said. “Anything more than that needs a snow tire.” He said the supply of all-season tires is more plentiful, too.
Jaimie Wallace, manager of Skip Cahill Tire on State Road in Bath, said he has adapted to the tire shortage by finding alternatives for customers.
“Tires for sporty cars like BMWs and high-end Volvos are more difficult to find,” he said. “Some cars can go with alternative tire sizes, which gives us options for most customers.”
Like Lefebvre, he said most suppliers are wiped out, although some have a few tires in the less popular sizes.
One exception to the winter tire shortage, at least for now, may be Century Tire on Kennebec Street in Portland.
“We haven’t noticed a decline in the supply,” company President Richard Aronson said. “But we are down to our last 2,000 snow tires.”
He said while no one can stock all sizes of tires, Century still has access to a lot of tires within a few days.
“The past 13 weeks have been busy, but that is the snow season,” Aronson said.
Jim Galvan, the store’s manager, said the Canadian law has not affected the business because Century Tire takes an aggressive approach to stocking snow tires and keeping tires available for the winter months.
“We don’t sell alternatives, either,” he said. “We aggressively market and recommend winter tires because they are different from any other tire.”
He said another reason why Century may not be hit by the shortage of snow tires is because it is an independent business and doesn’t purchase all its tires from one manufacturer.
“Our eggs are not all in one basket,” he said. “We have multiple tire lines.”
He said Michelin sent all of its tires to Canada this year, so Century is making use of other brands.
“There is nothing I can’t find for a customer,” Galvan said. “We order bi-weekly and can have product (here) from within one hour to two days.”
Zack Kampi of Sullivan Tire in Falmouth mounts a snow tire on a Subaru Forester last Saturday. Bad early winter weather and Quebec’s new mandatory winter snow tire law are making winter tires nearly impossible to find.