Jetta GLI Snow Tires

If you own a 2004 1/2 VW Jetta GLI with the stock 18″ BBS wheels and you have to drive in the snow you’ll want to read this post to learn what steel wheels will fit on your car for snow tires. Everyone else can read along to learn about how complex products requiring complex services can lead to disastrous customer experiences.
In April I bought the half-year upgrade of the Jetta GLI. It’s basically a Jetta with nice-looking wheels, better brakes, stiffer suspension, and a six-speed transmission. Nothing too fancy, it’s just a Jetta after all. But I live in northern New England and normally put 16″ steel wheels and aggressive snow tires on for five or six months of the year. Don’t give me that business about “all-season radials” — I live on a dirt road up a hill and it snows like the north pole some years. Santa recommends Nokian Hakkapeliitta 2 snow tyres on all four reindeer hooves.
Normally I have my snows on by now — it might snow any day — but I’m running late this year. The 225/40R18Y high-performance tires that are stock on this car would literally be a death trap in even 1/4″ of snow. You might as well have Teflon tires in the snow. I have to go to Boston Monday, when the first storm might hit, and I was getting antsy. Last week I had stopped in to see my buddies at Interstate Tire where my family has been going for 30 years, and they checked it out and said they’d order wheels. We go through this every time I buy a different car, so I didn’t give it much thought.
Hadn’t heard back, but they’re busy this time of year, so I stopped in yesterday. Turns out they hadn’t yet found a wheel to fit. The normal 16″ wheel for the standard Jetta won’t clear the larger brake calipers on my car. Ruh roh. There’s a guy that works across the street with the same car and he called Tire Rack, who generally know what they’re doing, and had them ship the “right” set of wheels, which turned out didn’t fit either. So Interstate tried a “multi-fit” wheel, with 10 mounting holes instead of five, and that also didn’t fit. They were running out of ideas. Hadn’t ever seen anything like it. Told me I should probably check with the dealer to see if there’s a VW part.
At this point I could insert a long story about how difficult it is to deal with Miller Auto, but let’s not bother. When Glenn said that about going to the dealer I groaned, and he apologized. I sighed. Everyone knew what this meant.
So I immediately dropped everything and drove over there, because I was really edgy about it. None of this sounded too good. When I got there, the VW service desk sent me to the parts department — immediately the worst-case scenario.
The parts person was friendly, but didn’t know much. Took the information and went to the back, where she and the service manager multi-tasked me with floor orders and tried to figure out what wheels to order. Here’s the summary outline of the customer experience:
1. “No problem, here’s the wheel to get. 3-4 days.” I said, “Don’t be so cocky, no one in town can figure out what fits this car, Tire Rack isn’t sure, and the last time I ordered a wheel from you guys it took four weeks instead of four days and cost me a lot of money for a rental car.” It would be a special order, and if they didn’t fit it was credit only. Two questions: What happens if it doesn’t fit; and where is it located and how fast really will it arrive? She goes away to look into it.
2. “They’re in NJ and can be here Monday. If it doesn’t fit we’ll keep trying until we get it right.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Except that I have just one shot to get this right before the snow, and they still can’t be sure it’s the right part. My pitch: Order them without a deposit, and if they fit, I’ll buy them. I’ve been getting cars serviced here since 1988, you won’t have any trouble with me.” She goes away to look into it.
3. “If you’re willing to pay our technician rates, we’ll pull wheels off the lot until we find the right one, and then order those parts for you.” Hmmmmm. So you want me to pay you to figure out what wheels fit on the car? How about instead if you get VW to pay you to figure it out, since they are designing, manufacturing, and selling the car? I explained that it really wasn’t in my interest to be the first guy to pay to figure this out, since everyone else will get the information for free. It’s in THEIR interest to figure it out, so they can sell us all the right wheels. So, I’m willing to give up my car for a day, a hassle for me, so you can figure it out, but I’m not going to pay you to do that. She goes away to look into it.
4. “Sorry, can’t do it.” Okay then, give me a call if you happen to figure it out.
I spend the rest of yesterday afternoon surfing for new cars, figuring that I might actually have to trade in the car if I can’t get winter wheels for it. If I wanted a car to park in the garage all winter I would have bought a BMW. The Jetta IS the winter car! Then I realized that the car was only worth $18,000 to $20,000 used (10,000 miles) and I paid $24,000. That’s a serious cash hit if I sell it this quickly. (And, by the way, the next time I think about buying a new car remind me about the depreciation.) So I decided to be depressed and angry about it for a while.
Today I drove around from place to place, looking for the car hot rodders in my area who could give me a clue. The motocross racing place didn’t have any ideas, but while buying the new U2 CD I asked the owner and he pointed me to the car electronics place. They don’t sell wheels, but they did explain how I need a “negative offset” wheel to clear the brake caliper. They said to try the tire place in Enfield. I drove over there, listening to the new CD, and they didn’t have any wheels, and didn’t plan to get any more this year. “Can I order any?” “No.” “Can you help me figure out the spec for the negative offset so I can find one to order somewhere?” “No. The only thing I can tell you is to try R.H. Something-or-other in White River Junction.” He said the name, but I don’t remember it right now. I got directions and drove over there.
Prospect Street; industrial neighborhood. Place next door repairs 18-wheel tractor-trailers. Went inside and there’s a guy with a german shepard working in a concrete floor office, with a big bay next door full of wheels. All they sell are steel wheels. He’s juggling phone calls, Thanksgiving plans, keeping the dog down, etc. Highly caffeinated and on the edge of gruff. Nice guy but just really busy. Tell him my story, he looks it up, specs a part number, shrugs. Has a few out back, more coming in tomorrow. Took another phone call while I looked over the catalog. Told him I was skeptical, hard to get, blah blah blah. We went out back and he picked one up to show me the width. “The book says it will fit. It will fit.”
I drove over to Interstate tire. They were skeptical too, but if I had time, go back and get one, put it on their account, and let’s try it on. Went over an picked one up. As I was leaving I said, “So, if this wheel doesn’t fit I’m screwed, huh?” And he said, “Yeah, I deal with the two largest wheel manufacturers in the US. If that wheel doesn’t fit, you’re getting on a plan to Germany to find yourself a wheel.”
Brought the wheel back to Interstate Tire. The guy from next door already had his car on the lift, same exact car, so they popped the wheel on, tightened it up, and it fit! Cleared the calipers! No one could believe it. I was a wheel hero (Elmer Fudd pun intended). So I reserved the first four, and made an appointment for Wednesday to put them on.
The winter steel wheel you want for your 2004 1/2 Jetta GLI is a **Macpek X41657**. (Quote from Glenn at Interstate: “An **X41**?? I’ve never heard of such a thing!”)
Brief de-construction: VW sells a car in a cold climate that would be unsafe in the winter. VW has not informed their dealers of an appropriate winter wheel that will fit. The local VW dealer wanted me to pay them to figure it out. The typically excellent mail-order parts companies haven’t figured it out yet because this is the first winter anyone is driving this new model. The local tire place is blown away that VW built a car that doesn’t take a standard wheel. The industrial parts jobber, with zero marketing, zero atmosphere, and zero customer service training, had extensive product knowledge, supreme product confidence, and immediate inventory. No friggin’ guesswork — take one and try it. In science they call it an existence proof. In car parts it’s a rare occurrence.