Rubber Shortages Become Latest Problem for Auto Industry

Those of you tracking the semiconductor shortage can probably take it easy for a while, as practically every industry group on the planet has tentatively agreed we’ll be seeing a chip deficit for a few years. Meanwhile, market analysts are trying to predict the next material we won’t have enough of and rubber is looking like an ideal candidate.

Rubber supplies are drying up and price increases are reportedly beginning to climb at an untenable pace. Despite several years of relatively stable availability and low prices, supply chain disruptions created by lockdowns have left latex harvesters in a bad position. Low prices encouraged many to over harvest their existing crop, rather than invest in farmland. But with shortages looking probable as countries began responding to the pandemic, China went on a buying spree to maintain a robust national stockpile in 2020. The United States was late to the party and now finds itself in a position where scarcity is driving rubber prices through the roof just when it needs to buy more.

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QOTD: Much Ado About Winter Aesthetics?

If you’re living at low altitudes in the Southeastern U.S. or a partial day’s drive from the Gulf Coast, this Question of the Day is not for you. Barring exceptionally wacko weather, denizens of these temperate climes needn’t worry about traction loss caused by the solidification of moisture below 32F. In other words, snow, slush, and ice of both the regular and insurance-hiking black variety.

For those of who who do live in regions where Mother Nature delivers an annual cold shoulder, we’re getting close to decision time. What’s your style: turn your beautiful, meticulously upkept vehicle into a cheap-looking rig for the duration of winter with a set of bare steelies and meaty donuts, or keep style and handling alive with a snazzy set of low-profile winter tires wrapped around sporty aluminum hoops?

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Piston Slap: Playing Valve Roulette in a City Golf?
Mike writes:

Hi Sajeev.

I have a 2007 Volkswagen City Golf with a 2.0-liter and a five-speed manual. It has about 60,000 kilometres (37k miles) and obviously doesn’t get driven very much. My independent mechanic suggested that the timing belt be changed because of the age of the car. He says it is an interference engine and bad things could happen if the belt breaks. I’ve read about others where this has happened, and the cost to fix it. I would like to get your opinion.

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Everyone Is Working on Non-pneumatic Rubber for Your Future Car

Airless tires are one of those things that crop up every few years, but they never seem to stick around long enough to become commonplace. Already, certain construction vehicles use flat-proof rubber, and tire manufacturers have been playing with airless systems for some time. For example, Hankook has the iFlex, its fifth attempt at non-pneumatic tires, and Goodyear has actually begun selling airless donuts on commercial lawnmowers. Michelin even has a 3D-printed round that it claims will last the lifetime of a vehicle.

Unfortunately, nobody seems able to come up with a solution that works at higher speeds. While they’re great at taking impacts, the existing designs aren’t so good at coping with high levels of heat. But it’s not for a lack of trying — there may even be a breakthrough just around the bend, especially since everyone seems so interested. Rolling resistance and weight are two of the electric car’s worst enemies. If an automaker could mitigate those issues effectively, that would be another leg up on the competition.

It’s an issue weighing heavy on the top minds at Toyota at the moment. The company’s recent concept EV, the Fine-Comfort Ride, came equipped with a set of experimental airless tires from Sumitomo Rubber Industries, boringly named the Smart Tyre Concept-A. Toyota’s theory is that non-pneumatic tires, consisting of a solid band of rubber encircling lightweight alloys, could eventually compensate for the weight of wheel-mounted electric motors.

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Piston Slap: Outdoor Convertible Storage?

Or not… (photo courtesy: http://www.rigsofrods.com/)

Ken writes:

Sajeev –
I thoroughly enjoy your column – keep up the good work! You’ve also answered several questions I’ve sent over the years, so thanks for that.

Your latest article on rear quarter panel rust on Hondas got me thinking. I have an attached 2 car garage and 3 cars. You can see the dilemma. Two cars are DDs and one is a recently purchased pleasure vehicle/ toy – in a used 2007 Saab 9-3.

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Piston Slap: High Profile Rubber, Lube With Real Silicone Spray?

Bill writes:

Hi Sajeev,

{the usual crap about long time reader, first time poster} I know you just answered a few emails about tire / tire size, but this has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while (the efficient side of me), I’m going to send it off before you answer more questions about tires..

My first question to you was ORIGINALLY about my now departed ’97 Volvo 850 a few months back when you were asking for more questions, but I answered my own question after reaching 3 pages of problems and issues. So I traded it in, more or less at scrap value, for a ’09 Lexus GS450h which came with a nice set of performance summer tires at 245/40R18. And as they say, winter is coming, and I’d be foolish to drive a RWD with summer tires north of the 49th. I’m planning to run 2 sets of rims + tire, got my eyes on some not so shinny Nokian “Hakkapelitaeraerfdaf?” R2 tires, but they are $300 a pop at that size.

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Piston Slap: Chronic Xterra Maintenance?

m koonce writes:

Sajeev – you wanted questions, I have questions! First – I love your column. Great advice, and well written. Now my question(s).

  1. I have a 2009 Nissan Xterra 4wd, X model, 52k miles, and no problems except door squeaks and rubber molding which wont stay attached but that’s trivial. My question is, when should I have a “tuneup” done – i.e., change the spark plugs. Should I wait until Nissan’s recommended mileage (105k miles I think), or do it sooner? And should I replace all the coils at the same time (I presume the truck has a coil-on-plug ignition setup)? What else should I have done at the same time?
  2. Re: same vehicle: at 36k miles (May 2013) I did a transmission fluid dump and refill at local dealership, and did the same again at 49k miles in May 2014, again at dealership. My plan is to continue this dump and refill procedure every year for as long as I own the truck. Am I on the right track here? I’ve also had all other fluids replaced, except brake fluid which will be replaced when I have a brake job done.

Thanks for your advice, and keep up the good work.

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Piston Slap: A Tribute to the Mariner's Idle Escape? (PART II)

We had two updates to a previous Piston Slap this weekend, surprisingly within two hours of each other. Let’s hear from the OP first:

TTAC Commentator sundvl76 writes:

Sajeev, reporting back:

You may be interested in this, if for no other reason than to add to your diagnostic toolbox; my experience certainly can’t be unique: Several comments below your post also suggested the motor mount(s) as the problem. I more recently discussed this with a professional wrench acquaintance, who also said that the mounts can be expected to go south after ~80K miles; he suggested using a padded floor jack to lift slightly on the engine during a time when I detected the “rough” idle (the oil pan on this vehicle, and maybe all Duratec engines, is waffled cast aluminum). Bingo! The vibration ceased when I did that.

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Piston Slap: Mounting Problems Amid Audi Uncertainty?

TTAC Commentator jrominski writes:

Nice to see you are still at it on TTAC. (Back at it?)

So my story is a 2010 Audi A4, Quattro 2.0t Premium. Red, as it should be (No, it should be brown. Duh. – SM). Just turning 60k miles. The engine is an EA888 according to Wikipedia, twin chain driven counterbalance shafts as is known to work so well on I4s. Production commenced 2008 and its in all US A4 B8s with the 2.0 gas engine. Inside oil cap the gallery is clean as can be, I keep the VW spec Mobil 1 changed with my mityvac. New plugs, NGK of correct part number, air cleaner path is fine. The rest is original unmolested.

The issue is it runs rough. Slightly, as in the car does not shake but I feel it. Worst, dead cold, running at just above idle up a slight incline. A miss. Since 25k. Goes mostly away when warm or when power is asked for. No codes. Sort of feels like a tire flat spot but it did not go away with new tires.

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Piston Slap: Affalterbach's A-faltering Headlight! (Part II)

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.

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Piston Slap: Weathering the Long Winter

Longtime TTAC commentator mikey writes:

Sajeev,

In the years since I last wrote to you my personal circumstances took a few turns. When the dust settled, I ended up with three cars. I decided to keep all three cars. The Cobalt is my daily/winter driver, and I will drive it to the ground. My wife loves the Mustang: we drop the top and take it on a cruise, she loves it, and it gets us out of the house.

About a year or so ago, I was feeling sorry for myself, traded the Impala in, and bought a new 2011 2SS Camaro with a six speed. It is a very cool car. If I’m having a bad day I pull it out of the garage, detail it and look at it. Once in a while, we may take it for a drive. Those drives are getting more and more rare. Less than 8000 kms on the clock, but I’m not planning on selling it. That may change, but not for a while…

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Piston Slap: The Corrosive Effects of Ethanol Laced Gasoline?

Misha writes:

Hi Sajeev!

I’m a long time lurker, first time asker. I was curious about the effects of E85/E90 ethanol laced gasoline. I have read a bunch about how older cars are susceptible to corrosion damage to various parts of the fuel line.

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Piston Slap: O-rings Are the Enemy Within?

TTAC Commentator NICKNICK writes:

Sajeev–

I can’t believe it’s been two years since I asked you to post a problem with my 1999 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT. It may have been fixed with just a new gas cap.

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  • Wolfwagen What I never see when they talk about electric trucks is how much do these things weigh and how much does that detract from the cargo-carrying capacity?
  • Wolfwagen I dont know how good the Triton is but if they could get it over here around the $25K - $30K They would probably sell like hotcakes. Make a stripped down version for fleet sales would also help
  • 3SpeedAutomatic You mentioned that Mitsubishi cars had lost their character. Many brands are losing that that element as well. GM is giving up on the ICE Camaro and Dodge on the ICE Challenger. There goes the Bad Boy image. Might as well get your teeth pulled and dentures put in place. Would like to see a few EVOs with cherry bomb exhaust and true 4 cylinder BIG blower turbos; 4 wheel drift capacity is mandatory!!🚗🚗🚗
  • Tassos Here in my overseas summer palace, I filled up my tank twice in May, at 68 and 52 euros (a full 90+ liter tank fillup has taken 130-135 Euros in the past, and I am 23 miles from downtown here, while only 1-2 miles in the US)Still, diesel here is MUCH cheaper than gas. Yesterday, I paid 1,488 a liter while gas was at least 1,899 (regular).Multiply by almost 4 for gallons AND by an additional 1.1 for $.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic IIRC, both China and the EU use a standardized charger connection. About time the US & Canada to follow.Would take some of the anxiety out of an EU purchase and accelerate adoption. 🚗🚗🚗