The Truth About Cars » Tires The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:14:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Tires Piston Slap: Affalterbach’s A-faltering Headlight! (Part II) Fri, 25 Oct 2013 12:00:44 +0000

Martin writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I just wanted to follow up the post with the resolution.  I’m not sure if this is important to you all, but I see that it’s an issue with Bimmers sometimes as well.  I switched the bulbs from right to left.  My passenger side light had been flickering off.  When I switched the bulbs, the issue went to the driver’s side, which seemed to narrow down the issue to a bulb problem.  

Both lights would sometimes flicker as a pre courser to the bulb shutting down.  I replaced the Xenon bulbs with new ones, and so far, the problem is gone. I’m not sure why both bulbs flickered simultaneously as a pre courser to the bulb going out, but it did.  This issue is also gone. I hope it helps someone because initially when I took the problem to mechanics I received estimates including the replacement of the entire light, which is around 1200-1300 bucks, or replacing the ballast which is a 400-600 dollar part, and one indy mechanic even told me they had to drop the bumper cover JUST to get to the light, which is really untrue.

Instead the resolution cost me 150 bucks.


Sajeev answers:

Good to hear Martin, sometimes the easiest answer is the right one! And sadly, if one lacks the time and knowledge to seek that easy automotive solution, they’re gonna get hosed.  Hosed for a normal wear item?  How sad.  So let’s consider more wear items that people tend to neglect:

  1. Fuses: they go bad over time, even when they look good at a casual glance.  Even when tested with a voltmeter/continuity tester! Here’s one from my (LH high beam circuit) Sierra that looked okay at first…but when I shined light behind it…a new fuse and freshly cleaned ground wiring fixed a multitude of problems.
  2. Headlights: they are wear items.  They can flicker (as you know well!) and dim over time. The dimming is so gradual that you’d never know, until you replace them.  I’ve seen 2 year old vehicles need new headlights!
  3. Vacuum lines in particular, rubber parts in general:  Anything that uses engine vacuum (less of a concern today) relies on tubing that gets cracked, brittle, gooey, leaky…so replace it.  Lines connected to PCV systems can get gooey/leaky in just a few years…not decades.
  4. Tires: if they are dry rotted, their performance (especially in the wet) is kinda horrible.  Depending on where you live/park, your tires could be history after 5 years, even with fantastic tread depth.
  5. Brake lines: after a decade, especially if you live in the rust belt, look at your brake lines to ensure they won’t go explodey from rusting.
  6. Wiring: lines get brittle-cracked-shorted, connectors get broken/loose and “Ghosts in the Machine” that are seemingly impossible to trace have a very simple solution: replacement.
  7. Weatherstripping (again rubber): however your car’s doors seal to the body, that stuff will shrink, split, etc. no longer making an air (or water!) tight seal.  And don’t forget leaky sunroofs/moonroofs!
  8. Hinges and Latches:  bushings (often brass?) inside door hinges can wear to the point that doors sag, especially on convertibles.  Similarly, door latches wear, become misaligned, and make horrible squeaking sounds sometimes.
  9. Springs and Shocks: sounds logical, but how many people pony up the cash for these new parts after years of metal fatigue on coils and leaky/coagulated cartridges? Not nearly enough.
  10. Copper connections: similar to #6, if there’s an exposed connection on a printed circuit (probably less of a concern today) that can become oxidized…well, it will. I’ve repaired many a flaky module with a pink eraser (not white, they lack the “tooth” to make a clean cut) from the top of a pencil.  It’s funny the things you learn from people on the Internet.
  11. Batteries, Alternators, Terminals+Cables : as cars get more complex, their thirst for fresh batteries shortens the lifespan of these wear items.  Alternators age, even more so when trying to support a weak battery.  And everything can go bad because your battery’s termainals+cables are crusty and corroded.  The moment you hear your car “chugs” and labors at start up compared to a car with a new battery OR the moment the dashboard electrics goes bonkers for no apparent reason…well, that’s the moment you are officially warned of a simple but important charging problem.

Best and Brightest: fill in the gaps I left.  And have a great weekend.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Weakened By Obama’s Union Coddling, Cooper Tires Is Sold To The Indians Wed, 12 Jun 2013 14:34:10 +0000 Cooper Girls - Picture courtesy

Cooper tires is becoming another victim of President Obama’s much too cozy relationship with the union machine. Cooper Tires was bought by an Indian company.

After President Obama sent a thank you to the Steelworkers Union and slapped an absolutely brain-dead punitive tariff of tires coming from China, a few things happened:

  • Imports of low-cost tires did not stop. They came from other countries, at tariffs even lower than the old ones on Chinese tires.
  • Not a single new job was created in America, but more than a few jobs at tire importers were destroyed.
  • Americans paid more for tires.
  • A trade war erupted. Retaliatory tariffs did hurt exports of big displacement cars made by Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.
  • American companies that had tire production in China were hurt, most of all Cooper tires.

Today, “Indian tire manufacturer Apollo Tyres Ltd said it would buy Cooper Tire & Rubber Co for about $2.5 billion,” Reuters writes.

Currently, Apollo does not operate in the United States. “The acquisition of Cooper, the world’s 11th biggest tire company by sales, will give Apollo access to the U.S. market for replacement tires for cars and light and medium trucks,” Reuters writes.

Cheap Chinese tires are being replaced by cheap Indian tires. And another American company is being outsourced.

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Piston Slap: Better Steering without the Better Car? Wed, 05 Jun 2013 11:20:21 +0000

Oliver writes:


In December of 2011, through an unfortunate chain of events, I became the not-so-proud owner of a 2007 Malibu. True to its origin as an ex-fleet car, it is saddled with the miserly 4-banger engine rather than the still-slow-but-adequate V6. The only positive attributes of this car are its cheap cost to own and excellent fuel economy for its size. It presently has about 80,000 miles on it – I expect to get another 40K out of it before the transmission implodes (domestic automatic – you get what you pay for).

Currently, my wife is driving it (poor woman deserves a medal) – despite the obvious untenability of this situation; her only complaint is that the steering feels “loose.” We recently took a trip on a highway and I verified that the steering wheel feels like a cheap arcade wheel from the ‘90’s, to the point where it almost seems to turn itself (much like the platter on an Ouija board).

Our mechanic took a look at the steering system and found nothing amiss. Since I don’t believe a car this boring could possibly be home to a poltergeist, and since the system is “functioning as designed” (that’s corporate-speak for “stinks like crap because it IS crap”), I am at a loss for what to do.

I don’t want to invest a lot in this car – it’s an appliance – however, we live in NJ (land of a thousand potholes) and I am worried that the loosey-goosey steering combined with the abysmal condition of the roads here represents a safety concern. My wife has to maintain an iron grip on the wheel to keep from swerving into the other lane on her back-road-heavy commute.

It is worth noting that I have replaced all four struts, brake pads (incl. grinding the rotors), and tires on the car in the time I’ve owned it, and the mechanic found nothing amiss with suspension when he was looking at the steering. The thing drives pin straight until a mosquito farts near the steering wheel.

Is there a reasonably inexpensive (say, sub-$500) way to tighten up the steering? We’re not looking for euro-spec here; just a little more feedback.

Selling the car is not an option – we are not in a position to pay the transaction cost (and there’s ALWAYS a transaction cost to buying a new car), and it fits our needs nicely except for this one issue.

Sajeev answers:

Awesome letter: very TTAC-snarky, to the point that Farago would be proud. Now is tighter steering possible to an extent that people–those who can’t measure mosquito farts–would actually notice?

Subjective matters are just that, but KUDOS to you for already replacing the shocks: an often ignored element in old car ownership. Yet there are a handful of steering parameters you can check/adjust to improve steering response on any vehicle, especially used ones.  In no particular order, and for ANY vehicle:

1. Replace used steering box/rack and pinion assembly.  Why? Because these are wear items, even if they don’t show an external leak or excessive play measured by your trusty mechanic.  And they wear out so slowly that you will never know until its reached this point. We are literally splitting hairs when we discuss tighter steering, so 80,000 miles of wear easily fits into that gray area you must consider.

2. Do a performance wheel alignment, tweaking the factory specs. Read this and discuss with an alignment tech that tunes race cars. If needed and if available, get a set of aftermarket caster-camber plates.

3. Get higher quality tires, use summer tires when possible and play with tire pressures in +1 PSI intervals, front to back.  (Don’t go crazy here, more than 5-10PSI increases probably isn’t a bright idea.) You already have new tires, but remember, you sometimes get what you pay for.

4. For older vehicles with conventional power steering pumps attached to the front of the motor, check out that pulley at the end of the pump.  Underdrive dat pump!  With a fair bit of analysis of other GM products, I suspect you can find a “better” power steering pulley to firm up the steering a bit FOR CHEAP…but perhaps a slower spinning pump won’t change your particular problem. I’d bet on this being the best bang for the buck, however.

5. Get wider wheels/tires!  Not cheap, but these can be sold separately from the car when the time is right.  And if you can find a wider OEM wheel that interchanges, that just makes the conversion cheaper and a touch more stealthy.

Good luck, whatever you may do.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Building An Icon Thu, 18 Apr 2013 14:40:09 +0000

The Nike Swoosh. The McDonalds Golden Arches. The Chevy Bowtie.

When you see them, you know them. Decades and billions of dollars are dedicated to make a ride on the freeway or, a walk in a park, a frequent subliminal reminder of how worthy a given brand is of your time.

Firestone is just beginning to invest in the icon you see here. What do you think?

The idea behind it is…

“You’re not driving a car, you’re driving a Firestone.”

The slogan has been enunciated, imprinted, and emblazoned on tens of thousands of advertisements over the past year. Print. Online. TV. Cable. Radio. The owners of Firestone are trying to make your used car, a Firestone car.

This is obviously a tall leap when it comes to brand identification; which is why Firestone has such a painfully challenging road for their new ‘F’ icon. For over 100 years cars have been identified by their marque. Mercedes-Benz. Cadillac. Honda. These brands not only exude a high level of awareness in the new car market, but an equally unique and compelling level of prestige in popular culture.

Mercedes symbolizes wealth. Even those who are financially struggling like to pretend they’re rich by owning one. From country clubs to rap videos. Everyone knows a Mercedes.

Cadillac is the king of American luxury. From the 1930’s when a ‘Cadillac’ referred to a gram of cocaine. To the 1960’s where a Cadillac ranch would undoubtedly have a matching Cadillac in the garage.  To even the mansions of today where a lot of folks are still willing to pay for the Cadillac of SUV’s.

Honda symbolizes Japanese engineering and enduring quality. The Honda of minivans in today’s advertising world is a mere continuation of the quality people you met 50 years ago on a Honda Scooter. Honda is quality incarnate thanks to a continuous advertising campaign that has always hammered away at that virtue.

Firestone has been popularized for their tires and their auto repair centers. Billions of tires sold. 10,000+ auto repair centers. A long winning history with NASCAR and a common sight on most rolling commercial roadfronts of the modern day, Firestone is an instantly recognizable name.

However that seems to be part of the problem. For nearly a century you needed to see the whole name to see the Firestone logo.

The full name of yesterday is now given an automotive emblem for today — along with a shift in identification from products and services for a used car, to the car itself.

Can a car wear two badges? Three? Four? If so, how can you put value into products and services that are usually catered to the non-enthusiast?

Is Firestone seeking to gradually usurp the brand identities of used cars? Or are they trying to compliment the brand identity that is already there?

I have no clear understanding of where this road leads to. At the same time, this is likely not the fault of the company or the advertising agency. It takes years of a compelling vision, endless instillations of nuance, and a change in popular culture to make a brand truly iconic.

Can Firestone ever become an iconic brand?   Or were they already there?



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Piston Slap: Limited Use but Unlimited Potential? Tue, 09 Apr 2013 11:00:10 +0000 TTAC commentator jdmcomp writes:

I own a Jaguar (Ford Era) that gets driven only about once a week, with jaunts of a few miles to several hundred. I keep syn oil in the engine. I have owned this car for several years and the only problem to date is the flat spotting of the tires. What should I do to keep this vehicle in good running condition? Is weekly driving enough?

Sajeev answers:

As someone with more cars than sense I could use, let me tell you: weekly driving is the best place to start.  Driving prevents leaks from dried out gaskets, keeps fuel (especially E10 blends) fresh by never letting it go bad, recharges the battery, keeps tires round, prevents fluids from separating into its base ingredients (coolant turning into jelly or crystals),  brakes (caliper pistons) free of rust and ensures your HVAC system doesn’t get sticky mechanisms/stale smelling.

This driving regiment will highlight “old car” problems: some major enough for immediate attention, others not important enough to ever address for the life of the vehicle. It’s all part of the process, and it’s a fun process.  Why?

Because NOT driving a car is a death sentence. Drive the Jag sometimes and drive it hard.  You already trust it for long journeys, this is a no brainer. The Jag will like it, and you will love it.**

  • Bad day at work? Take the Jag to the corporate car park tomorrow.  Shock/impress/intimidate your co-workers.  They need it, too.
  • Want to make a statement at a party?  Motor in the Jag and come correct, like a Boss.
  • Nervous about a first date? Not in a Shaguar you ain’t!  Yeeeah baby, yeah!

**Weather pending. I’m looking at you, Rust Belt.


Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

In the above, replace Jaguar with Cougar and you have my basic story. My story is the truth, especially once the cat was old enough for classic car insurance. I know my story applies to anyone with a vehicular “toy” in the garage for occasional use.  Man or woman. Rich or Poor.  Black or White.  Bus pass or mundane daily driver. Jaguar or Cougar. 

Please believe: You gotta Do It, To It.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: A Power Ram Split Decision? Mon, 04 Mar 2013 12:19:27 +0000 Douglas writes:


Here’s some fodder for Piston Slap. Situation: I have a 1993 Dodge Power Ram 250, 103k miles, base model, so about the only thing it has in the way of amenities is AC.

It’s got a 5.2l Magnum (318), mated to a NV4500 with a NP241 transfer case. It came from Arizona where it saw light duty on a ranch of some sort. Overall, it is a excellent shape. All mechanicals work, body is in great shape, no rust, a small ding or two on the tailgate and by the bumper. I’ve replaced the shocks, new radiator, new AC condenser, installed new AC compressor, converted to R134, new tie rod ends in one year ownership. Still need to tear out the old headliner backing, and fix the 4WD light (bad switch on the transfer case top). Maybe a coat of paint, too.

It took me a long time to find this truck – manual, stripper, 4×4 in great shape. I use to make dump runs, tinker around, and help out friends.

Here’s the dilemma. It will need new tires soon, and since I want to replace the spare, I’m looking at around $700 for new tires. At some point, I’ll need new brakes, and I’ve been thinking about getting a donor engine to rebuild and replace the one I’ve got in there now. (Small rear main seal leak, plus twenty years of use on the existing motor.) I like to tinker and wrench, and this truck provides me that opportunity. But I wonder if I’m a fool for thinking about new rubber and a rebuilt engine in a twenty year old truck. On the other hand, I think I’m a fool for wanting to move onto to something newer when I’ve got such a great setup in my driveway now.


From a Fellow Texan,

Sajeev answers:

Now you could be considered foolish on either side of the split decision presented here. But combine the relevant and necessary parts you’ve already replaced (nice job on the shocks, that gets neglected far too often) with the need for new rubber on any vehicle, and keeping the truck is far from foolish.  It’s the right move.

Do you need a spare motor to rebuild? Probably not.  But that shouldn’t stop you from tinkering and having fun in your spare time, while preparing for a future mechanical failure.  If you want to rebuild a spare motor in your “spare” time (sorry), go right ahead and do it.

Old trucks never die, they just get better. Even Dodge trucks, which are rarely loved like their GM and Ford counterparts. Keep it and get new tires, for sure.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.


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Mazda CX-5 Impacted By Tire Shortage Tue, 21 Aug 2012 07:47:50 +0000

Mazda’s new CX-5 SUV is enjoying brisk sales in Japan, and Mazda can’t keep up with the demand. Waiting times of five months or longer were common, says The Nikkei [sub], especially for the top trim lines with fuel-saving diesel engines and leather seats. Mazda would love to deliver them a little faster – but it does not have enough tires.

Waiting times have been trimmed to three months, says the Tokyo wire, but Mazda is battling with problems procuring enough 19 inch tires. Mazda pretty much gave up on the idea and plans to offer the CX-5 with 17 inch rubber.

“New, 17-inch versions are expected to reach customers at least one month sooner,” the Nikkei says.

With 3,835 units sold In July, Mazda’s CX-5 ranked 29th on Japan’s best seller list, ten places ahead of Toyota’s hotly debated hachi-roku.

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New Or Used?: Living In A Cheapskate Paradise Wed, 25 Jul 2012 22:13:29 +0000

I currently drive a 2005 MINI Cooper S convertible. I’ve been swapping winter/summer tires for the past few years but I was thinking that this year I might get a beater car for the harsher weather months. The combination of FWD and wear and tear on the fabric roof are my main reasons for these considerations.

I live in NJ, so most of my driving is on the highway but as part of my job as a systems admin in a datacenter, I’m occasionally called into work at times when even the highways haven’t been plowed.

Do you think it’s possible to find a cheap (around $1000), preferably AWD car that would work well for winters in the northeast? Craigslist searches so far have turned up a handful of Subarus, Volvos, and Audis Quattro.


A Former Resident Of The Garden State Says…


Yes! You can buy an AWD car in New Jersey for $1000!

Of course the car would have to be stolen or misappropriated from a government agency. Maybe both.

Then there is always the slim chance to do one of those low down payment deals and ‘negotiate’ your way through the winter months.

Something tells me that neither one of these possibilities will come true for you. Then again, I have no idea who you work for so feel free to ponder them if you like.

My real advice is two-fold…

1) Buy some top of the line protectant. TTAC isn’t in the official endorsement business. But start with this.

2) Most anything you buy these days for $1000 will require a lot of immediate maintenance… and may very well be at death’s door.

If you want to lose your savings, keep being stingy.

If you want to keep your car for the long haul, invest in it. Snow tires, protectant, and a couple of good cleanings throughout the year will  yield far greater dividends than a broken down jalopy that spews oil and sucks your savings.

You can also rent if you like. Enterprise and a few other rental car companies will pick you up. Make sure you have plenty of coupons and a friendly relationship with the counter person. Good luck!

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Piston Slap: An “Occasional Jaunt” on…Winter Tires? Mon, 19 Mar 2012 11:23:47 +0000


Anonymous writes:


Recently I picked up a set of Bridgestone Blizzak WS60 winter tires for my 2006 Mitsubishi Evolution IX GSR (lightly modded at approximately 350 whp/320 wtq) and unfortunately I was unable to get a “V” speed rating in winter tires as they only came in “H”.

How dead-set are those tire ratings?  I wonder because there was an “incident” involving myself, another Evo and a BMW 135i which included speeds in excess of the 130mph speed rating (surface conditions were dry, closed road, no spectators).  Would an occasional jaunt above the speed rating of the tire cause long-term damage to the tire, or would it take a constant load to delaminate from the rim?

Thank you in advance for your time.

Sajeev answers:

Being an H-town boy who only enjoys visiting cold climates for business or vacation gives me pause on my answer.  And while there’s street racing aplenty over here, we don’t try to find ourselves in jail on the wings of flying winter tires.  So with that in mind…

Your question has too many conditionals and vague language (for good reason, I assume) to give a solid answer.  As such, here’s a crappy answer: a tire’s performance deteriorates over time, as rubber naturally hardens, stress cracks, etc.  A 1-2 year old tire might be fine running up to its speed rating, in theory. Temperature also comes into play: if you live in 100+ degree weather and want to drive triple digits for sustained periods, your tires will go much sooner than someone doing the same at 60 degrees.

Duration is a big concern, as you mentioned.  There’s a good chance you can run Blizzaks at or above their speed rating for less than a minute with no problem. If you ran it for 10 minutes or longer?  That “good chance” turns into a “not bloody likely” in my opinion. This notion is described in far better detail on the forum.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but this behavior is pretty stupid.  And since many of us are guilty of this automotive sin, we shouldn’t be proud of doing it…even if damn near everyone with a lead foot and a 250+ hp vehicle has tried it at some point in their lives.  I’m not here to judge, just to speak my mind. Best of luck.

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Piston Slap: Financial Traction, AWD Distraction? Mon, 13 Feb 2012 13:39:41 +0000


John writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Since you requested goofy questions for Piston Slap, I’ve got one:

A friend of mine told me that her dad had a Subaru (I don’t know what particular model). He had one of the tires blow out, and even though he knew he should either replace all four tires, or have the new one shaved down to match the other three, he decided to risk it and just use the one new tire as is. Consequently, the all wheel drive system got messed up due to the ever so slight mismatch in tire diameters. Is this for real? I’ve never heard anything like that before.

Sajeev answers:

I didn’t request “goofy” questions, per se…but let’s not split hairs. And this is far from a goofy question.

Because this problem is for real, a good explanation is here. And it’s not an “ever so slight” mismatch with the tires, if the ¼” circumference discussed on is valid. I regularly dissuade people from buying AWD cars, unless they live in colder climates where municipalities simply can’t regularly plow all their streets.  Which is a lot of the country, but not a lot of the population.

AWD systems are heavier, thirstier and cost more to buy. For the long term owner, they cost more to keep functional. And for anyone who loses one tire from a quartet that had a lot of life beforehand, things get real ugly. This is almost as silly as fretting over horsepower figures when wide-open throttle is rarely applied.

I will try to remember this letter the next time someone asks my opinion on an AWD vehicle, when I know that someone doesn’t need it.  And that’s not a slam on Subaru or Audi, at least not intentionally. The concept of shaving down a perfectly good tire will certainly get some “financial traction” in people’s minds!

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Are You Ready For: The Self-Inflating Tire? Fri, 12 Aug 2011 15:48:07 +0000

You know those things that you never thought you needed, but once you had them you realized you never wanted to live without them again? According to Jean-Claude Kihn, Goodyear’s senior vice president and chief technical officer, it’s time to get ready for another such technology:

“A tire that can maintain its own inflation is something drivers have wanted for many years. Goodyear has taken on this challenge and the progress we have made is very encouraging. This will become the kind of technological breakthrough that people will wonder how they ever lived without.”

Goodyear doesn’t know when its “Air Maintenance Technology” will make it to the streets, but thanks to funding from the US and Luxembourg governments, they’re making progress.

And when it hits, the AMT technology

will enable tires to remain inflated at the optimum pressure without the need for any external pumps or electronics. All components of the AMT system, including the miniaturized pump, will be fully contained within the tire.

Goodyear figures that underinflated tires can cost 2.5-3.3% of efficiency, translating to about 12 cents per gallon at the pump. And with self-inflating technology, you’ll be able to realize those savings without having to regularly break out the pressure gauge and air pump. No word on costs yet, but if the price is right this could just become extremely popular. After all, who really stays on top of their tire pressure as well as they could?

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Piston Slap: A Cautionary Tread Wear Tale Mon, 11 Apr 2011 15:07:12 +0000

John writes:

Just a few days ago one of four nearly new tires developed a bubble on the sidewall. Thankfully, I purchased the roadside-whatever-the-heck when I bought them and got the replacement for the cost of shipping and had it mounted with decent haste – potential NJ turnpike crisis averted.

Now, I figure the other tires are at around 85-90% when this episode started. Is there a way to get the new tire to catch up with the others in terms of wear? Or should I leave well enough alone?

Sajeev answers:

The short answer is to leave well enough alone, it’ll be fine.  Well, that depends on if your vehicle has permanent, full time AWD?

John answers:

Nope. FWD.

Sajeev concludes:

Well then!  It’s not a problem, mount the new tire on the front axle and let it wear to match.  At your tread depth, that tire could be mounted at any location, even on a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The folks at Tire Rack go into further detail than I’d prefer to in this column, including shaving a street (not race) tire to keep someone from replacing all four tires when only one is truly bad. So all roads point to you being fine.

Which begs a few questions: how many people rotate tires as per owner’s manual requirements? As AWD becomes more prevalent in affordable CUVs and sedans, are we gonna see more problems with mismatched tires? If so, what mechanical failures should we be on the lookout for?

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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New or Used: Who Is The RWD Coupe Market’s Top Gun? Thu, 31 Mar 2011 17:08:44 +0000

TTAC Commentator Topgun writes:

I’ve been a long time reader of TTAC and am a big fan of the New or Used and Piston Slap columns. I am in the market for a new or lightly used (CPO) car and have a preference for rear wheel drive. I have a budget in the 20-25k range for this purpose. This car will be my only car; hence it should be able to handle daily driver duties (25-30 mpg would do) without being a complete snooze to drive (that’s where the rear wheel drive part comes in). A 4 door isn’t strictly necessary since I am single with no kids.

The 2011 Mustang V6 and the Hyundai Genesis Coupe seem to fit the bill nicely. I’ve test driven both and found them a hoot to drive. The fuel efficiencies, ride, and interiors are also up to the mark. However, I can only get the 2.0T version of the Genesis Coupe for the same money as the V6 Mustang. So, the Mustang seems to offer more value for the money, live rear axle notwithstanding.

The real confusion starts when I think about my future location. You see, I’ll be moving to Michigan this summer to start my new position and expect to stay at said company/location for at least another 3 years. Is RWD in Michigan winters really a bad idea? If not, what sort of precautions should I take? Should I invest in a set of winter tires or would regular all-season rubbers do? In case you feel RWD (especially a live axle) in snow is a one way ticket to the nearest ditch/fender, my backup FWD and AWD choices are the 2010 GTI and 2010 Subaru Impreza respectively. I like the GTI in this match up but the Mustang still beats both of them in the bang for the buck category.

If there are other car choices for my specific situation that I may have missed, please do let me know. I did test drive the Mazda 3 and although it is a good car, I didn’t really feel any affinity to it. I feel older BMW/Audi/Merc cars are money pits. But if you think one of them is still reliable, do point it out to me. I also decidedly do not share the love of Panthers that you and many of the B&B have. No V8′s either for fuel economy reasons. I was going for new/CPO for warranty purposes since my wrench skills are average only (Oil changes, basic diagnostics and maintenance etc). Inputs from Steve Lang on easy to maintain older rear drive and fun to drive FWD cars are however welcome.

I need to make a decision soon (in a couple of week’s time), so kindly expedite the matter. Thanks in advance for any and all assistance in this regard.

Steve answers:

You seem to have your eye on two very nice models. The Ford Mustang in V6 form is an absolute blast to drive and the Hyundai Genesis Coupe is a bit more of a touring coupe. But may be the better choice if you’re considering Michigans pockmarked roads.
I won’t talk you out of either car or recommend another. They are both good fits. As a former resident in the upstate NY area, what I can recommend is that you get top quality snow tires. If you have a good set coupled with traction control, ABS, stability control, tire pressure monitor etc., either car should be perfectly fine.

Oh, one more thing. Do NOT go out when there is two to three inches of the fluffy stuff around. Wait until the area has been plowed and salted and even then, be cautious. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen FWD and AWD cars stuck in the ditch or wrecked because their drivers thought they could contradict the laws of physics. Unless your plans are to stay in the U.P. I would proceed with either one of these two vehicles and purchase those snow tires for the winter season.

Sajeev answers:

Yup, Steve nailed it.  Good snow tires are a must.  Doing it cheaply is a good idea, grabbing OEM wheels from a similar car is better looking (and cheaper?) than a wheel/tire package from a Tirerack-type of vendor. In the Mustang’s case, any V6 Mustang since 1994 sports a nice set of rims for your snow tires. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Sonata wheel bolts up to a Genesis with no problem, even if the offset might look a bit off. Also check craigslist for your platform’s usual suspects, that’s usually cheaper and easier than a U-Pull-It yard.

I’ve been trying to come up with “comps” to your choices and criteria, but I got nothing.  I haven’t driven the Mustang yet, but the V6 Performance Package has all the right upgrades missing from the base Mustang. It looks stellar on paper, even with a live axle. Push comes to shove, I would rock that car and never fear a Michigan winter.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder. In a rush?  Don’t be shy about asking to cut in line.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: A Steal Of A Deal Edition Tue, 27 Jul 2010 15:08:24 +0000

The Porsche Center of San Antonio offers its customers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fill their tires with nitrogen for only $49.95. No word on whether this is special imported German nitrogen or not, but it definitely isn’t the most expensive nitrogen scam out there… [via]

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Trade War Watch 15: Thai Tires Trump Chinese Thu, 22 Jul 2010 11:33:23 +0000

After President Obama paid his outstanding union dues and slapped a 35 percent punitive tariff on Chinese car and light truck tires exported to the USA, we predicted two outcomes:

1.)    It will start a trade war, and China will drag the U.S.A. in front of the WTO. Sure did. The WTO accepted China’s complaint, and the trade war turned into a major conflagration.
2.)    We said that not a single new job will be created in the U.S.A., and “what the boneheaded decision does is simply shift tire production from China to other low cost producing countries.” Sure does.

The Nikkei [sub] reports that Thailand is becoming the country of choice for low cost tire production. Not a single job moved back to the U.S.A. Jobs simply move from China south to the Land of Smiles.

According to the Nikkei, Bridgestone, Sumitomo and Yokohama Rubber “are rapidly expanding their Thai factories for passenger car tires, defining the Southeast Asian nation as their key export base.” All three are ratcheting up their Thai production as if there’s no tomorrow.

Bridgestone’s Thai facility will become the group’s second-largest passenger car tire factory in the world. In the job department, Bridgestone has shut down plants in Australia and New Zealand. Sumitomo Rubber is expanding their plant in Thailand’s Rayong Province, with the aim of making the Thai factory one of the largest in the world. Yokohama Rubber plans to raise its annual production capacity in Thailand by 50 percent.  Goodyear, Michelin and other have tire plants in Thailand. Others will follow.

The financial crisis had caused global tire demand to plunge. Now, driven by red hot car sales in China and Southeast Asia, companies can’t make tires fast enough. As far as WTO rules go, there is no special safeguard clause between the U.S.A. and Thailand.

Actually, tires imported from Thailand to the U.S.A. used to be duty free. The U.S. government said “ooops” and dropped the duty free status on July 1. (While they were at it, the duty free status of wood flooring from Brazil, and gold rope necklaces from India was also eliminated, what’s fair is fair.)  The new Thai tire tariff? The 4 percent harmonized tariff allowed by the WTO. The same tariff the U.S.A. had charged on Chinese tires before the additional 35 percent were slapped on.

So where did this get us? Instead of cheap tires from China, we now get cheap tires from that epitome of political and financial stability, called Thailand.

If you associate Thailand with other uses of rubbers, it’s time to rearrange your associations. Not what you think, silly.  Burning tires is a Thai tradition when battling the police – we recycle!

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Trade War Watch 10: WTO Accepts Chinese Tire Complaint, Trade War Escalates Wed, 20 Jan 2010 13:35:23 +0000 And it burns, burns, burns. Picture courtesy

In September 2009, incoming President Barak Obama slapped a 35 percent punitive tariff on Chinese car and light truck tires exported to the USA. That, in addition to an existing 4 percent duty. No American tire manufacturer had requested the boneheaded move. It was a thank-you to the steelworkers union. Cooper tires openly opposed the action. Ironically, US tire companies were hardest hit by the measure, because they had moved most if not all of their budget segment tire production to low labor cost overseas sites. No job was created in the US. Many were lost. Low cost tire manufacturing simply moved to other overseas countries, which were the only beneficiaries of the useless war.

TTAC warned of a trade war, predicted that China will drag the USA in front of the WTO, and that China would take tit-for-tat measures. All of it became true.

In the trade war dept., China slapped import tariffs or restrictions on imports of U.S. nylon, industrial acid, chicken and other products. It also has initiated an investigation into whether U.S. automakers are selling below cost, or “dumping”, cars in China. The U.S.  retaliated, looking into allegations of dumping in other products, amongst those arcane items such as carbon magnesia brick. Last month, the U.S. slapped punitive tariffs on imports of Chinese steel pipes, a $2.8-billion market. Google is making on-again, off-again threats of leaving China. The trade war is escalating.

As predicted, China dragged the USA in front of the WTO. As reported by Reuters, the WTO accepted China’s complaint and agreed to convene a panel. WTO will formalize the panel at a meeting on Jan. 19. The three-judge body will look into whether the U.S. violated WTO rules. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the panel will publish a decision after nine months of investigation. If it finds that the U.S. unfairly imposed the tariffs, it could authorize China to put tariffs on key U.S. imports, up to the amount lost by Chinese exporters because of the duties. The U.S. can appeal, meaning the case could last several years.”

Says Reuters: “The time it will take to fight the case, and then revoke the tariff if Washington loses, means the tire tariffs will have been in place for most of their original three-year duration.”

The WTO complaint is widely seen as a blocking action by the Chinese to discourage the U.S. from further invoking the special safeguard clause that was rammed down the Chinese’s throats when they joined the WTO in 2001. Other safeguard complaints are piling up, and the Obama administration appears trigger-happy. A moronic trade war with Japan over nearly non-existent U.S. car exports to Japan was avoided by Japan giving in to nonsensical demands of Detroit’s automakers, which hat already mobilized Hillary Clinton and Betty Sutton.

The discriminatory safeguard clause against Chinese imports will expire in 2013, probably before the current tire complaint will have run its course. A lot of damage can be done in these three years. Trade wars exert a big price, paid by the consumer at the check-out counter. Prices of tires are already going up, and higher rubber prices will exacerbate the matter.

Students of history may note that trade wars during recession times can lead to full blown depression.

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Piston Slap: Design Weak: Big Ass Wheels Mon, 09 Nov 2009 22:26:45 +0000 "13's are OK if you are going for stock or restored look but as you say 13" tires are getting harder to find and in my opinion just look too small. There are 14" wheels out there with 4 lug patterns that look good on a II but even 14" tires are getting limited in size. I now think 15's are the way to go and with the aluminum adapters converting 4 to 5 lug, just about any wheel can be made to fit the II. Tire choices in 15's are unlimited so the correct look can be had by doing your homework on backspacing and wheel width. A nice set of Cragar 5 spoke 15's would look awsome on the II or you could stager and put 14's on front and 15's on rear." (courtesy

Mike writes:

Sajeev, what ever happened to 14-inch wheels?  I mean, seriously, does the Caliber really need to be shod with 17-inchers? Why does my dad’s new half-ton pickup have 17-inch wheels? His old one had what used to be the industry standard 235-75R15. He about had a coronary when he found out new tires would be over $100 each. Perhaps if I put on my tinfoil hat, I’d say the tire companies are behind this. So really, does the average family sedan or minivan really need anything bigger that a 15-inch wheel/tire?

Sajeev replies:

Of course the Caliber doesn’t need 17-inch wheels: they can’t possibly fix Chrysler’s rolling abomination.  But let’s think about why every modern car has big wheels.

Speaking from an Engineering Standpoint: wheels over 15-inches provide space for bigger brake rotors (and calipers) and a shorter profile tire in the same tire diameter.  The benefits are better braking in extreme conditions, like mountain roads or any form of towing. Shorter profile tires provide more road feel and tread grip, completely changing a car’s “turn in” during the act of corner carving. In theory: most cars lose these benefits above 18” wheels, as more unsprung weight and rubber band tires make things worse.

Furthermore, modern cars/trucks are heavy, straddled with more gizmos, bigger (and taller) cabins and more rigid bodies. When you add more weight, you need more stopping power.

Speaking from a Design Standpoint: styling is a major factor in the mass-acceptance of larger wheels. By the 1980s, both the downsized American icons and Japanese entrants required a certain passenger volume without resorting to the bulk and shocking overhangs (front and rear) of previous decades. Which required a taller DLO (Day Light Opening) for more trunk space—among other things—and created a taller car in the process.  And, in general, taller cars naturally look better with “taller” wheels filling out their wells.

And big wheels were here to stay when Ford sold Explorer SUVs like buttered popcorn, making everyone ride tall in the saddle. Hence the need for taller profile wheels and bigger brakes merging with America’s insatiable need for sleek sheetmetal since the 1950s.

Maybe 15” wheels can make a comeback, but vehicles need to ditch their platform shoes and go on a serious diet.  I’m not holding my breath.

[Send your queries to]

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Editorial: Trade War Watch 1: Yes, We Can Start a Trade War Sat, 12 Sep 2009 12:33:27 +0000

President Obama paid his outstanding union dues and slapped a 35 percent punitive tariff on Chinese car and light truck tires exported to the USA. The new duty will take effect on September 26 and comes in addition to an existing 4 percent duty, Reuters reports. Everybody, except for the United Steelworkers, agrees that this is one of the most boneheaded decisions of the new administration.]]>

President Obama paid his outstanding union dues and slapped a 35 percent punitive tariff on Chinese car and light truck tires exported to the USA. The new duty will take effect on September 26 and comes in addition to an existing 4 percent duty, Reuters reports. Everybody, except for the United Steelworkers, agrees that this is one of the most boneheaded decisions of the new administration.

No American tire manufacturer supported the case. Cooper Tire even publicly opposed it. No wonder: US tire companies are the biggest offenders (in the eyes of the United Steelworkers), having moved most if not all of their budget segment tire production to low labor cost overseas sites. Chinese tires are not in the USA because China wants to rape and pillage the market. Chinese tires are here, because US tire companies set up joint ventures in China to make what the market demands: Tires for less.

China is not the only exporter of budget tires to the USA. According to the Wall Street Journal, 43 percent of the tires sold in the USA are imported. Only 11 percent are imported from China. The far larger share is imported from low labor cost countries such as Malaysia, India, or Central Europe. What the boneheaded decision does is simply shift tire production from China to other low cost producing countries. These countries can take advantage of 11 percent of the tires effectively removed from the US market. The low cost producers can raise their prices until the market settles. The American consumer will bear the cost. Not a single new job is created in US tire companies. Jobs will be lost at tire distributors and dealers. This decision achieves nothing for America except higher prices and troubles with China.

The American Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition wrote in a letter to the US Trade Representative John Kirk: “The absence of tires from China in the market will raise costs to downstream consuming industries, including automobile manufacturers, will limit consumer choices and affect most seriously those with the fewest resources. Thus, these tariffs will be the most regressive of taxes.”

“Those with the fewest resources” (i.e., the poor) are easiest sold on buying the import-restriction Kool-Aid. They drink it in big gulps: Imports bad for jobs. When they find out that fewer low cost imports mean higher prices, that they still have no jobs, and that their welfare check buys much less, then it’s too late.

The complaint by the US Steelworkers does not allege unfair trade practices. No longer needed. In US law, there is a special anti-China provision, called section 421. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council explains the complicated law in the most succinct way: “Under Section 421, the USITC determines whether a specific product from the mainland is being imported into the U.S. in such increased quantities, or under such conditions, as to cause or threaten to cause market disruption. ‘Market disruption’ is defined as rapidly increasing imports, either absolutely or relatively, so as to cause or threaten to cause material injury to a U.S. domestic industry. If the USITC makes an affirmative determination it proposes a remedy, which the president may or may not implement.”

The USITC is the United States International Trade Commission, “an independent, quasi-judicial federal agency that provides trade policy advice to both the legislative and executive branches of government.” The USITC is often called the International Trade Commission to give it a fake supranational flair. It’s pure US government.

“Market disruption” is a vague concept. If anyone feels disrupted by Chinese imports, they can petition the USITC. If the USITC accepts it and takes it to the president, and if he signs it, no more Chinese imports. Under Bush, for all his failings, every section 421 petition that reached his desk was rejected: He had to decide on strategically important goods such as wire hangers, steel pipe, brake drums and rotors and “pedestal actuators,” a component used in scooters for the disabled. All voted down.

Obama approved the first 421 petition that was put before him. China and US companies are rightly afraid that this will trigger a flurry of section 421 cases. “Multinational companies such as Caterpillar Inc., Citigroup Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have urged Obama to refrain from curbing imports, saying it could lead to a “downward protectionist spiral,” writes Bloomberg.

The United Steelworkers based their complaint on the allegation that Chinese tires had cost a paltry 5,000 union jobs over a number of years. Which of course is bunk. The jobs were lost because US consumers increasingly refuse to buy the high priced tires, and because US tire companies have reacted to consumer demand and moved their production elsewhere. Only one fourth of the tire imports comes from China.

Understandably, the Chinese are deeply upset. China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, writes, “This ruling came at a time when the U.S. economy is at an uncertain turning point from the worst recession since World War II.” Officially, China exercises restraint. “Observers said that the president needs his people to help make domestic reform smoother,” is as low as Xinhua wants to publicly stoop.

The verbiage from China’s Ministry of Commerce is stronger: “China expressed strong dissatisfaction and is resolutely opposed to this,” said China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOC) spokesman Yao Jian. “This does not comply with WTO agreements on subsidies. The U.S. used an incorrect method to define and calculate the subsidies, which has resulted in an artificially high subsidy rate, hurting Chinese firms’ interests.”

What China is likely to do is threefold:

One, China will drag the USA in front of the WTO. China will have the tacit or open support from other low-cost countries, including the EU (many low cost countries, such as Poland or Romania are EU members.) The world will also love to slap around a country that demanded free trade as long as free trade was good for America. Note that China mentioned “subsidies.” The bail-outs will come on the table also. WTO proceedings can drag on forever.

Two, China will take some tit-for-tat measures. On the table is a hefty tariff on US auto imports to China. During the first half of the year, China imported more than $1 billion worth of automobiles from the US. China could buy fewer Boeings and more Airbusses. If things get really bad, China could put a dent in the Chinese growth of the automotive ward of the state, GM. Europe will love it all.

Three, Chinese President Hu Jintao will give Obama a tongue-lashing when they meet in Pittsburgh at the G-20 Summit September 24-25. Obama will be gently or not so gently reminded that America’s largest creditor deserves a little better treatment, or the money could be moved elsewhere. Timothy Geithner will also be reminded that his announcement in June that “Chinese assets are very safe” is bunk. The greenback is on its way down. A EURO bought $1.46 today and it’s heading toward $1.50. Come to think of it, a falling dollar is the best protection against cheap imports from all corners of the world: The lower the dollar, the more expensive the imports. A truly free market needs no section 421.

Forbes writes: “The current round of disputes will undoubtedly end up in a trade war, and China, a country extraordinarily dependent on exports, will surely be the biggest loser.”

Don’t bet on it.

America is already involved in two shooting wars which it couldn’t afford would China not buy its bonds. America cannot afford two shooting wars and a trade war with its largest creditor.

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