By on July 12, 2019


After our last installment, I feel nothing but regret for misrepresenting butchering TTAC Commentator Arthur Dailey’s query.  Because people do get in their car to warm it up before beginning the process of rooftop snow removal. And they’d prefer to remove roof snow, not snow that fell into power window switch pods.

So after multiple emails, a promise to try again. To which Mr. Dailey’s reply was:

“OK.  But perhaps you could expand that to explain something related to car design?  Which is why I sent the question to your attention.”

  1. Aerodynamics resulted in the sloped roofline: However my 1962 VW Beetle had a roof that was sloped more than most current vehicles. But the VW didn’t have this problem because it had a built in gutter.
  2. Styling results in the elimination of gutters: when did building autos without an integrated gutter become de rigueur? Who was the stylist/manufacturer that started this trend?
  3. Some research into whether their removal even improves aerodynamics or is it merely a design or a cost cutting feature too.
  4. We haven’t addressed the issue of what passengers are supposed to do. With gutters they could just enter the car. Now are they supposed to stand around in the cold and snow until you get the roof and side windows cleared?
  5. And maybe you can address the rain issue as well as snow?

Sajeev answers:

1. No argument here.

2. This was a slow moving trend from the 1970s-1980s: take the gutter integration from first-to-second generation Renault 5.  The more I search Car Design Archive’s Facebook Page, the more I believe this timeline. The odds of one person/automaker being responsible is unlikely, everyone was thinking the same way: it’s only a matter of who had the nerve to put it into production first. On a global scale, which is impossible to Google for you. 

Every North American Pistonhead knows the 1986 Taurus ushered an era of clean styling, complete with hidden gutters (behind wraparound door sills) and a covered gutter near the C-pillar (a la 1983 Thunderbird).  The Audi 5000, designed in the early 80s (late 70s?) was a Taurus styling influence, yet became the precursor to modern vehicles: adding two integrated gutters stamped into the roof (probably). While finished better than your average modern sedan/CUV (i.e no plastic strip, hiding unfinished body seams?) the 5000’s success might have been everyone else’s excuse to ditch ugly exposed gutters or complicated-Taurus-hidden-gutters for what we see everywhere today.

Ironically, the other Taurus influence, TTAC’s Ford Sierra has slightly-wrapped door sills with an exposed gutter.  Too bad roof rainwater enters the gutter, runs to the A-pillar and — thanks to tumblehome — pours straight into the floorboard. Snow might fare better, but exposed gutters are NOT a guaranteed design success.

3. Research, in order to be valid, needs a database far more accurate than Google. Which is impossible for mere enthusiasts to possess. All I can say is the theory: removing exposed gutters isn’t making a big impact on aero.  But, considering modern air curtains, we need every fractional improvement working together in hopes of rounding up a positive EPA rating. And if eliminating an exposed gutter gets you that fraction of a percent to move the needle, why not?

You are on to something when it comes to cost-cutting, along with the obvious aesthetic improvement.

But I suspect A-pillar wind noise reduction is a very significant benefit.

4.  Yup!  Either they stand around, or they help you. What this implies is asymmetric design ensuring passenger-side occupants are happier during foul weather: that’s the stylistic equivalent of reverse Viagra.

5. Let’s think about the cars presented in #2, above.  While both exposed/hidden designs can fare well with rain, they both can be terrible! (cough, Ford Sierra) Houstonians should have no comment, instead letting the B&B give their opinions on snow.

[Image: Shutterstock/Paul Vasarhelyi]

Send your queries to [email protected]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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16 Comments on “Piston Slap: When to Step Away from the Drawing Board? REVISITED...”

  • avatar

    Take your gloved hand and wipe the snow off around the door seam.

    It can’t seriously be this hard to think about it.

    • 0 avatar

      You know, I saw your post yesterday calling Arthur stupid for buying a Hyundai and I held my tongue. Now you’re back with the same “he must be dumb” BS today. This time I’m saying something.

      You missed the point of this thread twice now, which was *not* “how to clear a snow-covered car” (Arthur lives in Toronto – you really think he hasn’t mastered this?), but “why did manufacturers stop building cars with rain gutters?”

      Arthur’s a longtime commenter here, and he’s always a model of politeness. You could learn from the guy instead of just calling him stupid while stupidly missing the point of his question.

      • 0 avatar

        Sir, I must insist that you cease this line of commentary. You are contributing to the common good while also interfering with IBx1’s feelings of smug superiority.

        • 0 avatar

          I made some snarky remarks myself BEFORE I knew it was Arthur and BEFORE I understood what he was really asking. Arthur contributes a lot to this site and if I offended him in any way, I apologize

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Thanks @FreedMike and @Lie2me. I always thought that my musings on this site were more a compendium of BTSR and Deadweight, when they were in particularly irascible moods.

            MAYBE I should use CAPITAL letters MoRe?

  • avatar

    I don’t miss snow, salt and rusted out vehicles at all .


  • avatar

    I guess I’m fortunate to live in a part of the American West were we do get heavy snow but the worst of it tends to fall overnight with daytime accumulations generally being more minor. This means that most of the worst snow I deal with can be handled with remote start and (keeping my brush in the back seat where I am not typically carrying passengers) not too much intrusion.

  • avatar

    I think some of it too is the move away from chrome/bright trim toward the modern monochrome + black look. Most of the ’60’s & ’70’s cars & pickups we had, had chrome or aluminum rain gutters that were a separate piece above the doors; the ’80’s and ’90’s cars were mostly bereft of chrome without a gutter, and some (like my Thunderbird) followed the Taurus theme with the entire body-color class-A surface from the root of the A-pillar to the top of the B-pillar being carried on the door, with nowhere to possibly put a gutter that did any good.

  • avatar

    OK, no real research here. But I remember when the 1970 Camaros came out, they had deleted the drip rails that were on the previous (first) generation cars. I know, I bought one and had lots of rain drip onto my shoulder. As I recall, the story was that Penske asked for them to be removed for the Trans Am Camaros he was fielding. He needed the factory to delete them for homologation reasons. Just the story I remember, no documentation that I can find.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Is anyone else concerned that yesterday when framed as a simple question about brushing off snow, this article/column received mega views and comments, then when properly phrased today as a more advanced question regarding auto design, engineering, aerodynamics and metal stamping it was largely ignored?

    Fortunately besides the silly/lame responses there were a number of thoughtful ones.

    And I learned from those comments.

    Canadians refer to eavestroughs, in the USA they are gutters. I used the latter phrase. But when applied to autos, I prefer the term ‘drip rails’ that @Gigidad first used.

    Being a naval history buff, I had never thought to use the word ‘tumblehome’ in reference car design. But Sajeev brought that to our attention.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      I forgot to mention that Sajeev was a pleasure to deal with. Always polite and quick on the uptake.

    • 0 avatar

      Most of the articles received fewer comments for Friday than they did for Thursday for everyone’s defense. Probably a small portion of people that see the articles picture and assume it’s the same one from the previous day as well.

      As for the corrected article (and on the original) I would love for cars to still have gutters, but realistically they would rather spend that $3 of material to advertise mobility solutions to millennials that honestly don’t care.

      It’s an unfortunate reality we live in that substance is worth less than image.

    • 0 avatar

      I was waiting for someone to mention tumblehome (would’ve posted something earlier but I was busy bedding-in my new front brake pads and rotors on the Tail of the Dragon).

      And why do we see more extreme tumblehome on current automobiles? It’s a mystery to me, because:
      – Fact 1: Customers’ heads and shoulders are not becoming pyramid-shaped
      – Fact 2: Increased tumblehome would seem to work against side-impact protection (less time and less room for side curtain airbags to inflate safely)

      So my conclusion is, most car companies are stupid. But someone else might have a better explanation.

  • avatar

    The original 1982 Ford Sierra did have gutters, but by 1987 they created a sedan version, in the UK calles Sierra Sapphire, that did not have a gutter rail.

  • avatar

    On the other thread @cdotson had a great explanation for “gutters” being used to conceal body stamping joints. Today we have slick adhesives and fillers. Lead was the filler of choice in the 50’s and was slowly replaced in the 60’s. We’ve all heard the term “lead sled” meaning a heavily customized car. My ’68 Galaxie 500 has seams filled with lead. It would be more cost effective for a manufacturer to hide seams in a “gutter” covered in a strip of chrome than to fill them in with lead and smooth out the joint.

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