Tire Pressure Okay? Ask Your Car!

Dear Tracy,

I have heard that some new cars come equipped with an internal system that monitors tire pressure. Can you tell me if this type of system can be put in any car, and how the system works?

-Katherine R.

Dear Katherine,

Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) is an electronic system installed within a vehicle to continuously monitor the air pressure of all four tires. The TPMS alerts the driver, typically through a warning light on the dashboard, when tire pressure falls below a preset limit.

TPMS Indicator

TPMS Indicator Light, image courtesy of www.safecar.gov

There are two types of TPMS –direct and indirect. A direct TPMS is designed with a pressure sensor on each tire, usually on the valve stem or band mounted. The sensors employed by direct systems operate by separate lithium batteries, which eventually die. This means that the TPMS needs to be serviced and should be part of regularly scheduled maintenance.

Indirect TPMS technology is based on the calculation of factors, beginning with the fact that a tire’s over-all diameter is smaller when it is not properly inflated. A wheel that is smaller than the other three will have to spin faster to keep up. Wheel speed sensors applied at each wheel position identify an underinflated tire by comparing the rotational speed of each wheel with the average speed of all four wheels to determine if one is spinning significantly faster than the others. While the indirect system does not require servicing, the design does have some issues, including the snag that if all four tires are underinflated, the system may not detect a problem.

For vehicles that do not have TPMS installed, portable systems are available and can be installed by a qualified service professional. In the future, this will not be an issue because as of 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has required that all passenger cars, light trucks and vans (Gross weight less than 10,000 pounds) be equipped with a TPMS.

Tire News: Goodyear Discovers Soybean Oil Benefits for Tire Manufacturing

Dear Readers,

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company released the exciting news today! The company’s Innovation Center researchers have discovered that soybean oil may have many benefits in the manufacture of tires. This is exciting news, not just for tire enthusiasts like me, but for anyone who’s been worried about increasing tire prices or concerned about the effects of manufacturing on the environment.

According to Goodyear, testing has indicated that the use of soybean oil in tires has the potential to increase tread life by 10 percent. They also predict that the use of soybean oil may reduce the use of petroleum-based oil in their tire manufacturing by as much as seven million gallons per year. Testing has also shown that soybean oil blends well with the silica used in making tires. Goodyear says this would result in better efficiency and reduced energy consumption in the tire making process.

As it looks right now, the benefits of soybean oil in tire manufacturing are there for all sides. It is good news for vehicle owners who want to get the most value from their tire investment. For manufacturers, it is expected to increase efficiency and energy savings. And replacing petroleum with a renewable resource should be better for the environment. If the testing continues to go well, the company expects to be able to offer tires manufactured with soybean oil to consumers by 2015.

In addition to the research being done on soybean oil, Goodyear is currently engaged in other projects focusing on the use of renewable raw materials. To learn more, you can read the news release on Good Year’s corporate website.

Wishing you safe roads and happy travels,


Tire Performance Ratings

Dear Tracy,
I have heard that when shopping for tires it is important to consider the tire performance rating. Can you tell me what tire performance rating an average driver needs? I am also wondering what the rating is based upon and who does the rating?
-Anne B.

Dear Anne,
Thanks for your question! Let me begin by explaining a little bit about what tire performance ratings are, and then give you some details about what those ratings mean to you as a driver and tire buyer.

It is true that tire performance ratings are an important factor to look at when choosing the right tires for your vehicle. Tire performance ratings, also called speed ratings, indicate the maximum speed range in which a particular tire can safely and effectively perform. The U.S. Department of Transportation has designated a rating system which includes a letter rating with a corresponding test speed, to assure a reliable standard for all tires. Tire manufacturers do their own laboratory testing to determine which rating their individual models should receive. The most commonly encountered speed ratings include:

• M — Up to 81 mph
• N — Up to 87 mph
• P — Up to 93 mph
• Q — Up to 99 mph
• R — Up to 106 mph
• S — Up to 112 mph
• T — Up to 118 mph
• H — Up to 130 mph
• V — Up to 149 mph
• W — Up to 168 mph
• Y — Up to 186 mph

Obviously most of these are test speeds, not speeds that the average driver traveling on U.S. roadways will be reaching. In order to determine what tire performance/speed rating is best for your vehicle’s handling, you should go with the recommendation of your vehicle manufacturer. While it is okay to choose a higher than recommended performance rating, you should definitely not make a selection that is lower. It is also best to be sure that all four of your tires carry the same speed rating. If you are unsure about what tire performance rating you need, your qualified tire dealer can help.

It’s All in the Details

Dear Tracy,
I would like to enhance the look of my car with wheel and tire detailing, but I just can’t afford to have it done by a professional. Is it possible to do it yourself and have it look as good as when professionals do the job? Do I need a special kind of cleaning product or will any good cleanser do the trick?
-Spencer T.

Dear Spencer,
You are right, shiny wheels and clean tires really do enhance the look of any vehicle. Cleaning your tires and wheels is also important for good vehicle maintenance. Brake dust – comprised of metal, adhesive, and carbon residue from your brake pads and rotor – accumulates on your wheels and tires. Under intense heat and friction, this dust is highly corrosive. Regular wheel cleaning is an important step in preserving service life. If you have the time and a place to do it, there is no reason why you can’t do your own wheel and tire detailing. With some patience and a little elbow grease you can have your wheels and tires looking showroom new.

There’s a wide range of cleaning products available, but not all may be safe for cleaning wheels and tires, so don’t just grab a cleanser from under your kitchen sink. Non-petroleum based products are best to clean tires, and for wheels, a cleaner that does not contain abrasive detergents or harsh acids is the safest option. Your best bet is to choose products that are specifically designed for tires and wheels. There are many good ones on the market, and many that are environmentally friendly.

When you are washing your car, start with the wheels and tires. Clean with a sturdy, soft-bristle brush to prevent scratching. Clean and rinse each tire before moving on to the next to avoid the cleaning product drying on the surface. When you are finished washing the entire car, towel dry each wheel. It is a good idea to designate a separate towel just for wheels and tires in case any cleaning product residue is left on the towel. As a final step you can apply a wheel wax and tire dressing. Check with your tire dealer or mechanic to find the best product for your particular tires.

The Michelin Man Makes HISTORY

Dear Readers,
The Fourth of July holiday has made for a slow week, with a lot of folks out on the road enjoying vacations and celebrations of our nation’s birth. I’ve been using the extra free time to pursue one of my favorite hobbies – collecting tire memorabilia and advertising. While I do occasionally find treasures at local garage sales, I find a lot of collectibles on eBay, a great resource for “specialty” collectors.
This week I was super excited to see something extra special among the usual early-era advertisements, promotional trinkets, and signage I typically see. Up for bid was a circa 1925 Antique Michelin Man Air Pump Compressor. This is an amazing piece of Michelin memorabilia, which I thought about bidding on for about two seconds until I saw that the 10th and current bid was up to $910. Whoa!

I had seen one of these guys just twice before. The first time was when I was a kid. A neighbor of my grandfather had one in his garage. Of course, I was completely enamored with it. The second time was this past April, when my husband encouraged me to watch one of his favorite HISTORY Channel shows – American Restoration. The episode (I looked up and discovered was called “Hot & Salty”) featured, among other things, the restoration of one of those very compressors! The before and after results were extremely impressive!

So you can imagine my excitement when I saw that Michelin Man compressor on eBay. That was, as I mentioned, until I saw the price. With the auction not ending until July 4th, the price could even surpass $1,000. I thought perhaps the recent appearance on a popular cable show might have driven up the value on this item, until I saw that in a September 2011 auction, long before the airing of the show, my compressor friend fetched quite a bit more. I think maybe this cool Michelin Man collectible would be more my speed, which is apparently 33 1/3rd.

I wish everyone a Happy 4th of July and safe travels!