Who would’ve thunk?

The last time I got my tires changed was back in, umm, well, I can't remember. I remember going to a store (WalMart), and telling the guy I needed new tires, and about an hour and 45 minutes later, bang, I had new tires. I didn't know how big they were, what their speed rating was, what the tread life was going to be, or whether I needed the extra road-warranty inusrance thingie, or whether or not I wanted to dispose of my old tires myself or wanted them to be disposed at an extra $6.50 per tire, or what the installation fee per tire was going to be, or if I had to gently pat my tire-mechanic's head as he'd be doing the job... I had a 1990 Accord LX back in school, and I wanted things cheap.

About 6 months ago, a friend of mine noticed that my car’s tires were going bald. I said, “huh, thats interesting”and kept driving. For 6 months. Yesterday, I woke up and was getting ready to go to the post office when I noticed there was something odd about my front tires. I took a closer look :

So, I decided I needed to get some new tires. Granted, I had in fact learned a thing or two about tires in chatting with my psychotic friends who race and stuff. The prudent thing to do, before heading off to a tire store, would be to research tires online first, right? I’m not kidding when I tell you I got a serious headache in trying to decide which tires to go with. I have an all-wheel drive car, and the reason I got one was because I liked going snowboarding up to the mountains*. So, performance summer tires weren’t going to cut it, because they wouldn’t make it in the snow. How about those ultra high-performance all-season tires which automatically inflate themselves if they go flat, and also shoot rubber bullets when you’re surrounded by Elektra King’s men? Reviews on tirerack.com say, nope, “I’ve found that with these tires my car hydroplanes”. About 2 hours later, I said, “screw this, I’m going to the post office”. The post office is about 6 minutes away. And I’ve never been more scared of something happening to my car in those 12 minutes. “What if my tires burst right now?” “What if my tires burst right now?” “How about now?” “And what if they bursttttttttttttttttt, now?”

After that petrifying drive, it hit me – the answer was not to get new tires. It was to get a new car… That’s right. A new car…

Its interesting how the human mind works – ok fine, its interesting how my mind works.


PS: Yes, I got new tires yesterday. I got the Dunlop SP Sport FM901s. And, PLEASE, don’t tell me what you think of them, because I want to ignorantly live my life in bliss not knowing how these tires are going to perform, or howmuch more road noise I’m going to hear, or how it handles when you make that 90 degree turn off your on-ramp.
PPS: I came very close to selling my car yesterday.

* – FYI : since I’ve bought my car, I haven’t been snowboarding once. I live in the North-West parts of California (San Francisco) and it snows here once every 74637 years. It rains here plenty, but its no Seattle. So did I ever need an AWD? I dunno…

Comments (18)
  1. shaunbed says:

    I am not a car person either but I think this story is useful..

    Exchange car with computer and you are in the average user’s shoes. Ignorance truly is bliss and that is what a lot of them want. When something goes wrong, they don’t really want to have to worry about the details and if they do, they probably would prefer to just buy a new computer. They probably do know more than the average tech geek about tires though..

    We need to build software with this in mind. For us software is the world but for others it is just like AI’s car. They don’t want to think about.

    On the flip side, people tend to value things more when they are made to think about them. A car that goes place to place with no problems easily becomes background noise. Of course, having a computer crash is not exactly good noise.

    How do we make people think about computers? First, people have to want to think about computers. Dealing with the industry needs to have a human rather than a mechanical feel. It needs to be about work and play. It needs to be about how we use the computer socially. It needs to be about the experiences we have when we have a problem. We need to put a human face on the computer and make it exciting not technical.

    People need to feel like they are part of the tech community. If they need help, they should be able to talk to someone who sounds like them. If they have a problem with software, they should hear what people are doing to improve it and make their lives better. Let’s make noise, good noise and lets learn to speak user.

    Shaun Bedingfield



    The Art of Software Development Made Flesh

  2. Todd Ostermeier says:

    That you need AWD for snow driving is a huge fallacy perpetuated by car manufacturers who make a bigger margin on their AWD vehicles. In reality, AWD gives you exactly one advantage — it helps you get going a little bit faster as all four wheels participate in acceleration. If that was all there was to driving, then every car should be AWD. Unfortunately for AWD buyers, that’s not the case. The most important part of driving in snow is being able to brake, and a 2wd card brakes just as well as a 4wd car because your drivetrain has no part in braking (ignoring engine braking of course, but that’s negligible and a bad idea considering that brake parts are considerably cheaper than drivetrain parts).

    The other important component is steering, and once again AWD plays no part here. In fact, it can be an encumbrance, depending on the front/rear ratio the AWD system uses. For example, a 911 turbo with a 5/95 front/rear ratio is essentially a RWD car. An Audi with a 75/25 front/rear ratio is essentially a FWD car. In a FWD car, your drive wheels are also your turning wheels, which means that they’re working extra hard (and is also why FWD cars tend to understeer — the tires are just overloaded for what they’re being asked to do, and they break traction).

    Now FWD are typically considered a better bet in snow than RWD cars, but that’s for exactly one reason — a FWD car "pulls" itself, while RWD "pushes". Go get yourself a toy wagon, and alternate between pushing it up a hill and pulling it up a hill. Pulling is much more stable, which is why FWD cars are good in the snow.

    Ultimately, snow driving comes down to three factors: Proper tires, proper technique, and weight balance of your car.

    1. Proper tires means that you’re using the correct rubber for the temperature. A summer tire will be hard and non-pliable in temperatures below freezing (and slightly above freezing), due to the formulation of the rubber. All-season tires don’t suffer that problem, but then they’re also a jack of all trades — decent at everything, good to excellent at nothing. Winter tires (preferably snowflake rated) are formulated such that the rubber stays grippy in cold weather, but you really don’t want to drive on them in anything over 40-50F. Studded tires are special-use only, and are prohibited in many states (and the states that do allow them only do so for certain months out of the year). I’ve not once found a need for studded tires, but maybe you have. All-seasons are decent enough for an average car that sees average weather and usage (no major snow storms, no really spirited or track driving). In my case, I keep a set of summer tires for March-December, and a set of winter tires for December-March. One of these days I’ll even buy a second set of wheels so it’s an easy swap, but for now I just go to my local Discount Tire twice a year and have them swapped out.

    2. Proper technique means that you know how to drive in bad weather. Proper training is a good start, but you can’t really get bad weather training in a place where the weather is always good. This has to be learned through experience, and if you haven’t learned it your best bet is to be extremely cautious and drive much slower than you think is necessary. Most importantly, leave lots of room between you and anybody else on the road, even if it means you have to slow down to do so.

    3. Finally, weight balance on the car is important because it determines how your car will behave. A car with a big engine up front is going to be very unwilling to turn, and will just slide off of the road. A car with a rearward bias (which you’ll only find on 911s these days) will be more likely to flip around on you, and slide off the road backwards. What you really want is a light car with as close to a 50/50 balance as possible (something like a Miata with a 50/50 balance, or a Boxster with a 48/52 balance). The car will be extremely stable, and the lack of weight means less momentum to deal with (faster stops, shorter slides). Ground clearance is another issue, but it’s not so important in most civilized areas. So long as the snow has been plowed, or the buildup isn’t too deep or too packed, you’ll be fine. Don’t expect to drive yourself out of a ditch in an AWD sedan with a 6 inch ground clearance. You need a truck for that, so my advice is to not get into a ditch in the first place.

    I’ll end with an anecdote. I live in the Seattle area, and we had a big snow storm about two years ago (winter 2003/2004). I own a Boxster and a 2WD Ford F250, and my driveway has a slight incline to it (maybe 1-2%). During the worst of the storms, I couldn’t even get my F250 out of my driveway, while my Boxster shod with proper snow tires (Michelin Pilot Alpins in my case) zipped right up the driveway and had no problems making it the 15 miles to work, passing many Subarus, SUVs, and Audis sitting in ditches. So much for AWD being the ultimate in bad weather driving safety. By being prepared (snow tires, proper bad weather driving experience gathered while growing up in the Midwest, and a light car with a good weight balance), I was able to safely outdrive all of the people that bought into the AWD myth.

  3. Adam says:

    hmmm, cant elaborate more at the moment, but id have to disagree with todd. AWD is 100% better.. just because there are bad drivers out there with awd cars, that cant control them, doesnt mean awd is not better.. i will be back with a longer post later.. ive got a lotta junk to do.. =) who needs work? ahh!

  4. Todd Ostermeier says:

    Can you quantify? 100% better in what respect? I’ll agree that AWD helps you get moving better, and gives you four wheels to deal with slippage rather than two. However, as I’ve already mentioned, that’s only a real help if you’re trying to get moving in the first place. Once you’re moving, AWD gives very little benefit because you’re constrained by the physics of steering and braking (in general, AWD cars steer worse than RWD because the front wheels are doing double-duty as in a FWD car).

    Now, I won’t say AWD/4WD has no uses. If you’re off-roading you really do want a 4×4. Of course, you’ll also want road clearance, which means a Subaru or Audi isn’t going to cut it. For inclement weather, AWD is not enough of a benefit to warrant the extra premium you’ll pay, and I still stick to my assertion that in most cases it will do more harm than good due to its psychological impact (the salesman convinced you that you can drive like a bat out of hell in snow with your new AWD car, and so you do. When you end up in a ditch, or hitting my car, you have no one to blame but yourself).

    If you want to buy AWD for that feeling of security, I can’t stop you. Just be aware that it’s all psychological and has no effect on the laws of physics at all.

  5. ADAM says:

    Its not soo much the AWD ‘Security’ issue.. If I wanted security I would buy a volvo. 😉 But, you mentioned steering… Yes the front wheels are doing double the work, but the rear wheels are working as well.. Steering an AWD vehicle is a lot stiffer than any other. Tell me this.. lets say ur driving and u lose control… do you think it would be easier to recover from a FWD vehicle, RWD Vehicle or AWD? With AWD all tires are putting power to the ground.. the chances of you fish tailing… hmm very low.. If ur car starts skidding sideways, ALL tires having traction will greatly reduce the chance of you losing it or the rear sliding out from under you.. I wonder why Rally cars use AWD vehicles rather than RWD or FWD…. =) I have an audi and am a WRX and EVO fan. =)

    Once again, at work and forgot to elaborate last time.. ill be back to discuss. =)

  6. Todd Ostermeier says:

    Interesting point on buying a Volvo. Most of their "safety" perception is marketing, just like AWD 🙂 (that, and the whole "better to drive a tank …" mentality that sells so many SUVs. Interesting article comparing a "tank" of a Chevy Blazer against a Porsche Boxster in terms of safety, with the net result that "active" safety in the form of superior handling and braking is better than passive safety in the form of a big lumbering hulk of a vehicle — http://www.gladwell.com/2004/2004_01_12_a_suv.html).

    Next point: If you’re driving and you lose control, you did something wrong. AWD may make it slightly easier to recover (assuming you didn’t do something like hit a patch of ice, where no wheels will have traction). You certainly can recover in a FWD or RWD car. However, the best way to recover from losing control is to not lose control in the first place. How? By taking the extra $3000 premium you’re going to pay for your AWD car and investing it in some professional driving courses instead, learning how to handle the two-ton bullet you just bought. If you do find yourself in a four-wheel drift during daily driving, you’re doing something wrong (or, if you can handle it, you’re doing something extremely right :). Besides, if your car is skidding sideways, NO tires have traction, and no amount of AWD will change that (if your tires had traction, you wouldn’t be skidding — definition of a skid). The only way to regain traction is to lessen your inputs — let up on the gas, stop turning so much, and go easier on the brakes if you don’t have ABS. Remember, "When in doubt, both feet out. When in a spin, both feet in," with "both feet" referring to "clutch and brakes", not "throttle and brakes", and "in doubt" meaning "in a sliding situation that hasn’t devolved into a spin yet". Of course, "Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down," is a good axiom to keep in mind as well. 🙂

    In day to day, normal driving situations, including inclement weather, the benefits of an AWD system will simply never come into play. I’ve already agreed that there are uses for AWD (off-roading, or the AWD application in a 911 Turbo, wherein power is not even shifted to the front wheels until you’re well over the legal limit and then it’s still a 5/95 split front/rear). I just don’t believe they apply to normal driving tasks.

    Final point: Not all rally cars are AWD. The ones you see in FIA’s WRC are, but that’s because that’s the class that you see running on TV. There are FWD classes and RWD classes as well (maybe not in FIA, but certainly in SCCA and other race sanctioning bodies). The Paris-Dakar rally even has classes for motorcycles! So, ignoring the fact that racing in a competitive rally is not daily driving, I’d contend that there’s nothing inherent about WRC-type rallies that require an AWD car (especially on their many tarmac stages). If you were to pit a professional competitive rally racer in a production RWD car against your average driver (me, you, Anand) in a fully-built AWD WRC car and had them both race normal WRC-style rally stages, I’d bet on the professional driver every time and I’d make better than even money. This goes back to my education argument — the training and experience required to compete in a WRC-style rally will outmatch the technology of the cars. Rather than buying an AWD car because it’s "safer" in bad weather, you’re better off learning how to drive in bad weather in any car. What are you going to do when you have to take that AWD car in for service and you’re stuck in a FWD or RWD loaner car for a few days? (I’m referring to the collective "you", and not necessarily you in particular when I write "you").

    (Sorry for writing so much. I have a tendency to ramble on and on.)

  7. ADAM says:

    HAHA.. i guess i DO see your point. I was just focused on my point. I am a really aggressive driver at times (most of the time) and the AWD cars I have driven felt sooo much better than any FWD or RWD.. I’ve done Naturally Aspirated, Supercharged, Turbocharged, Motor Swapped, fully built vehicles, street bikes… and I’ve often worried about the aspect of power vs traction. In the AWD vehicles traction has NEVER been the issue.. you can put ALL the power to the ground rather than waste it with wheel spin, etc. I’ve also felt that no matter how hard i take a turn in AWD cars its gonna grab (and it will grab better no matter how great or sucky a driver you are). I know that skidding is having no traction whatsoever, but trust you WILL catch traction a lot faster in the AWD vehicle.

  8. Sany,

    > Your site is realy very interesting.

    Thanks… I don’t know about you guys but I kinda zoned out in this whole ‘conversation’. I mean, I looked at the comments and stuff, but it kinda sailed over my head a tad. I was trying to figure out who ‘won’ this conversation so I could give them something, but have decided to just buy myself a new pair of T-Macs with the money instead. Not to forget, I’m still trying to pay for my new tires.

    I’ve realized I like shiny cars which go fast. I’d really like one that would parallel park itself for me. Oh, and also one that does not depreciate in value over time. And it’d be really awesome if it didn’t consume any gas and just ran on human touch.

    Thinking wishfully,


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