Piston Slap: Time to Retire Those Tires?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap time to em retire em those tires

TTAC commenter Felix Hoenikker writes:

Sajeev,

I am in the process of replacing at least two tires on my ’74 Mercedes 450SL. The current tires are P205/70R14 Bridgestone RE 900 performance tires. They came with the car when I bought it privately in the summer of 2001.

I’ve been slowly — and I mean slowly — restoring the SL, and have only driven it about 10,000 miles since taking ownership.

Recently, I discovered the front left tire is wearing down much faster than the other three.

The three good tires have about 75 percent of their tread left. I have since rebuilt the front suspension and replaced the subframe bushings and motor mounts per the advice of a local indie Mercedes-Benz garage. Now, it’s time to do something about the front tires.

I was hoping to buy just one identical replacement for the worn front tire but Bridgestone doesn’t make that model tire anymore nor a successor in that size. To make matters worse, it seems like none of the major tire makers sell 14-inch performance tires, and the nearest substitute I can find are all-weather “high-performance” tires. I don’t need all-weather tires as this car is a toy and never driven in the rain let alone cold weather.

Here are the options that come to mind.

  1. Buy four now all-weather tires of the same size as the OEM tires.
  2. Buy four 15-inch summer tires and new wheels.
  3. Buy two new all-weather 14-inch tires for the front and keep the current rear tires.

I’m ruling out option 2 because I like the car’s color matched, chrome OEM hub caps and steelies, and I’ve managed to keep the car OEM up to this point. That leaves me to pick from options 1 and 3.

Four new tires make the most sense from a tire purist’s (or tire store’s) viewpoint. However, I really hate waste, and throwing away two barely worn tires is the definition of waste to me.

The reason to replace the good rear tires would be age. I checked for a manufacture date but could not find any. All I know is they are at least 16 years old. Still, the tires lose very little air, only needing to be pumped up about twice a year, and have no cracking on the side walls. The SL is garaged and only exposed to the sun when I’m driving it, which isn’t all that much. For these reasons, I don’t see a pressing need to replace them due to their age. That would make option 2 the most economical as well as planet friendly fix.

What say the B&B?

Sajeev answers:

Option 1 is best since I get the feeling you’d prefer to be a purist. Option #3 is unacceptable because tires dry out and go bad with age, even if they don’t crack from sun exposure.

While the 450SL is no slouch in the corners, neither is my modded five-speed Ranger after receiving a set of General Altimax RT43 tires. That’s not a completely stupid analogy. I once parked next to a Ferrari 308 wearing the same rubber. If it’s good enough for a Ferrari, it’s totally good enough for a Ranger.

Tire technology has improved mightily (technical term) since your ride got new rubber. I betcha the aforementioned 308 puts down similar numbers with new General Altimaxs than it could back in the day on the finest Michelins.

Speaking of, there’s a good Michelin tire for your needs at a respectable price, too.

Let the Bridgestones go, and recycle them into something needed in our society.

Also, if your tires suck and you’re shopping for new tires, help support TTAC’s work by doing your research at TireReviewsandMore.com.

[Image: Shutterstock user Carsten Schlipf]

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  • Salzigtal Salzigtal on Apr 29, 2017

    If you have the space, for two of our vehicles we have sets of steelies with full snows, the good OEM rims with new weekend trip & vacation summer tires and sets of steelies with tires in the process of being ground down to the cords around town. Works for NV in the rain shadow. And a floor jack & spreader. We almost never have a tire leave us with tread on it.

  • Felix Hoenikker Felix Hoenikker on Sep 19, 2017

    Short followup. I ended up getting four Kumho Solus KR21 all season tires in the OEM size for the 450SL. I've used this brand in the past and was pleased with the performance and durability of these tires. Plus Kumho was pretty aggressive on pricing. There was one glitch. The shop were I bought the tires could not do an alignment because their hubs would not fit on the rear tires due to the clearances between the fenders and tires. I had to make a second trip to the local indie MB shop who doesn't sell tires to have the alignment done. He nailed the alignment which was pretty terrible especially after I replaced most of the wear parts on the front steering and suspension the previous summer. Between the new tires and alignment and new parts, the car tracks true and straight and feels solid and tight. Next on the agenda, resealing the leaking windshield gasket.

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