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Click and Clack Talk Cars

Tom & Ray Magliozzi
Saturday January 19, 2002

Cruise control doesn’t control everything 







Dear Tom and Ray: 


My father-in-law owns a 2001 Ford Taurus SE. He has owned several Tauruses and Sables in the past 10 years, and he insists that the cruise control will hold his speed down when descending a hill. I own a 2000 Taurus and told him that he is full of it. Even after at least one speeding ticket, he still insists that I don't know what I'm talking about and that "at least it USED to hold the speed down." Who's right? – Dave 


TOM: Dave, it's not good for family relations to humiliate your father-in-law. So we'll trust that you'll apply the answer we're about to give you with all due sensitivity, tact and kindness, OK? 

RAY: The old goat is nuts, Dave. The cruise-control system operates the throttle only.  

TOM: Now, having said that, I can tell you why he thinks it's braking for him. Let's say you're driving down a long grade, on a highway, for instance. Normally, if you start to go too fast, you back off the gas pedal. But you rarely back all the way off, because that would be jarring. Instead, you back off a little bit and “accelerate less.” 

RAY: But the cruise control can back all the way off the gas pedal if you exceed the set speed by more than a few miles per hour. And when you let off the gas pedal entirely, you do experience the natural braking action of the engine, which results from the friction of the moving parts and the pistons having to compress air in the cylinders. And that's probably what he’s feeling. 

TOM: So if you have a kind bone in your body, Dave, explain to the old man that what he's feeling is the natural braking action of the engine when it's not accelerating. Tell him it makes perfect sense that he would experience this as braking, and that heright, he can feel a “braking action” of sorts associated with the cruise control. 

RAY: And try not to end the explanation by jumping up and down on his sofa and yelling “naah nah nah naaah nah!” 





Saving the earth with trees 





Dear Tom and Ray: 


In spite of all the advice I’ve heard from you concerning diesels, I bought a 2001 VW Jetta TDI. It's a wonderful car, and it's much easier to drive than my girlfriend's gas-powered Passat. Because I'm a "get us off this imported oil" nut and an air-pollution wacko, I am experimenting with running my car on biodiesel as well. So far, so good – 40 to 50 miles per gallon, and plenty of power. However, I have a question about tires. The car was delivered with what most people consider desirable wheels and tires: big, wide R205/55R16s. I want to improve the mileage even further. Can I use tires that will get me better mileage? – Tom 


P.S. You are free to slander me, I’m used to it. 


RAY: Well, before we slander you, we want to clear up our position on diesels. For the record, we don't hate diesels. We just think they're stinkier, pokier and noisier than gasoline-powered cars. Plus, not every gas station offers diesel fuel, which can be a bummer when the tank's running low. 

TOM: However, by all reports we've read (we haven't driven one), the Jetta TDI is quieter and quicker than most diesels of the past. Although it still burns that primordial ooze with sulfur and dirt chunks in it that we call diesel fuel. 

RAY: As for the tires, the answer is yes, you can get tires that will help you get better mileage. But I wouldn't throw away the tires you've got. Since you're an admitted eco-freak, throwing away your current tires will waste the energy and natural resources it took to make those tires. Plus, you'll be adding to the used-tire-disposal problem. 

TOM: Not to mention the money you'll be wasting, which could be used on “Save the Free-Range Granola” bumper stickers.  

RAY: So keep those tires for now, and study up on the topic of “rolling resistance.” Rolling resistance is drag caused by the friction of the tires on the road when the car is moving.  

TOM: The best way to minimize the rolling resistance of your current tires is simply to keep them properly inflated. If your recommended tire pressure is, say, 35 psi, and you let them go down to 28 psi, you increase your rolling resistance by about 12 percent. That would have a -1 percent to -2 percent effect on your mileage. 

RAY: Eventually, when these tires do wear out, you can shop for some low-rolling-resistance replacement tires. By altering the rubber compounds and using certain tread patterns, tire makers have been able to reduce rolling resistance quite a bit. That might increase your mileage by another few percent – about the same as hitting a few green lights on the way home instead of red ones. 

TOM: And with all the money you save on fuel, perhaps you'll be able to replace all of those gaskets and seals that your biodiesel fuel is eating in your engine. 

RAY: Seriously, Tom, ask your dealer if it's OK to use biodiesel (basically used cooking oil) in this car. I commend you for wanting to reduce air pollution, but that Burger King runoff might be doing a number on your engine.  



Tire pressure; truck pulls to the right 



Dear Tom and Ray: 


Recently, I was told by my mechanic that one should keep one's tire pressure within 15 percent of the maximum stated on the tire. What is your take on this? – Hank 


TOM: My take is that I would take my questions to another mechanic, Hank. 

RAY: The proper tire pressure is listed on the glove-box door or on the driver's door pillar. That's the pressure that represents the best combination of attributes such as handling, braking, comfort and mileage. 

TOM: When you change your tire pressure, you alter that matrix. For instance, if you add more pressure, you might get better mileage, but less comfort and poorer braking. If you put in less than the recommended pressure, you might get a softer ride, but poorer mileage and handling. 

RAY: So unless you have a specific reason to alter the pressure (like you're carrying two mothers-in-law), use the recommended pressure as your guide. 

TOM: The “maximum” pressure listed on the tire is just what it says, a maximum. That's the greatest amount you can safely put in your tire without damaging it. And your mechanic's advice to stay “within” 15 percent of that number suggests that you could be 15 percent ABOVE it as well as below it. And that's absolutely wrong, Hank.  


Dear Tom and Ray: 


I have a 1994 Chevy Silverado truck. It has 80,000 miles on it. I noticed that when I applied the brakes, the truck pulled to the right. It felt like it was the right front wheel, so I had new front pads installed. But I can still feel it pull a little bit. It is a light pull and does not happen every time. I can live with it, but I would like to fix it. Any ideas? – Edgar 


TOM: I'd watch your back, Edgar – the back of the vehicle, that is. 

RAY: You say it felt like the right front wheel, but it could just as easily be the right rear wheel that's causing the pulling. 

TOM: This truck has drum brakes in the rear. And if you have a sticky parking brake, weak brake springs or a lining that's coming apart, any of these things could cause that wheel to lock up early and make the truck pull to the right. 

RAY: Don't feel bad about replacing your pads, Edgar. Chances are, you needed to replace them anyway. And if not, I'm sure your mechanic needed to sell them. But look in back for the problem. Tom and Ray share secrets mechanics don't want you to know in their pamphlet "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!" Send $3 (check or money order) and a stamped (57 cents), self-addressed, No. 10 envelope to Ruin, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. 



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