Piston Slap: Spare Me Your Noisy Rubber!

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap spare me your noisy rubber

TTAC Commentator gtemnykh writes:

About 5,000 miles ago, I installed new General Altimax RT43 tires on my 2012 Honda Civic LX, a well-regarded tire according to most sources. Everything was great when I first had them installed: No noticeable increase in noise and much better wet grip.

It was only several thousand miles later that I noticed tire noise. It’s loudest between 40 and 50 mph and sounds like I’m riding around on snow tires. At highway speeds, it’s less noticeable or not at all.

My question: Have you heard of tires starting out more or less quiet, only to later get louder as they approach 5,000 miles?

They seem to be wearing evenly and are properly inflated. I don’t recall hitting any potholes hard enough to knock the alignment out of whack. It’s definitely not a wheel bearing sort of sound. Spinning the wheels by hand, everything is perfectly smooth and silent, so I really doubt it’s a mechanical problem. To add to the confusion, I put the same exact RT43 tires on my girlfriend’s 2012 Toyota Camry SE (17 inch) and they have been nice and quiet.

Could it be that the Civic is just so lacking in sound insulation (especially around the wheel wells) that a fairly slight increase in road noise is amplified and extremely noticeable, while a better-insulated Camry quells the drone?

Second phase of my question: I’m debating whether I want to pony up for some high-end Michelins. Discount Tire offered me $47 trade-in per tire for these low-mileage Altimaxes. It’s be about $400 with installation to switch to Michelin Premier A/S tires. Or I can just continue what I’ve been doing and turn up the radio a tad.

All of this also comes in lock step with a promotion at work. I’ve been constantly perusing the internet for a dream commuter car, one with an emphasis on a quiet, smooth ride — and some power would be nice — but without totally ignoring fuel economy. Off the top of my head, a Cruze Eco with the six-speed manual could be a nice, cheap upgrade, but not much of a step up in power. At the high end of the scale, a lightly used 2013+ Toyota Avalon checks all of the boxes.

So, you could say noisy tires are making me want to buy a new car. But, I’m also a fairly disciplined/frugal guy, so part of me staunchly holds on to the Civic and its noisy tires.

Sajeev answers:

Noisy (BFGoodrich G-Force Sport) tires are the reason I abandoned the stock 15-inch rims on my 1988 Cougar for 17s with more choices in summer tires. Why? While they were just dandy initially, the howling tire noise drove me bonkers after 6,000 miles — or at least bonkers enough to do the upgrade and have more than one choice in sticky summer tread.

Bad tires happen and there’s little recourse. To troubleshoot, find the loudest tire currently fitted to your car (I know, kinda tough) and replace it with your spare. Inflate spare (it’s low, I promise), drive around and see if the pitch/tone of the road noise changes. If so, you need new tires. I was somewhat hesitant to spend the cash to upgrade to better (so to speak) tires, but that disappeared the moment the new rubber was dead silent on the highway.

The tire trade Discount Tire offers sounds pretty decent and is definitely a big help in terms of convenience over trying to Craigslist your old tires to recoup some of your initial investment.

[Image: Shutterstock user m.mphoto]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. 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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  • RideHeight RideHeight on Nov 28, 2015

    Are bald tires quietest of all? If so, we must have many hundreds of tire-noise cognoscenti around here, especially on and near the reservation.

  • Geozinger Geozinger on Nov 28, 2015

    I had a set of the Altimax HP (H-speed rated version) on my G6 for about 2.5 years (or ~40K miles) on recommendation from Tire Rack. The major consideration I had at the time was for wet/snow traction along with speed rating and price. They replaced a set of OEM Firestones which were OK, but seemed to wear quickly, IIRC were FR480s. I initially liked the Altimax, but found that their rim protector bead interfered with my plastic wheel covers. And, at the end of their lives, they were getting noisy and losing traction, but that has been my experience with many tires over the last 3.5 decades of my driving life. This time around, I decided to buy a set of Kumho Ecsta ASXyyy (yyy= some numbers that I can't see from here) on recommendation from Tire Rack again. This time, the major consideration was price, along with traction and speed rating, as the car is getting older and we don't drive nearly as much as we did at one time. These V-rated Kumhos have been delightfully quiet, considering that the T-rated OEM Firestones were fairly noisy, which I didn't expect. That the H-rated Generals would be noisy was my expectation, based on my experience with various manufacturer's H, V, and Z-rated tires. But I only have about >10K miles on these tires as I bought them last Christmas time and they are rated for 40K miles. Check back with me in another year or two. I like the info I get from Tire Rack, but I have three cars and get all of my tires from Discount Tire. The folks at my local store know me and I get good service from them. In addition, my daughters get their tires there and I have peace of mind knowing they can get their tires fixed anywhere in a wide geographical area from our hometown. There's a reason why I don't mind paying a little more for local service.

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