CLICK & CLACK : Two-Wheel Monte?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

The other day, I went to purchase two tires for my Dodge Intrepid. I wanted to replace the front pair and move my old front tires to the back. The local tire store told me that due to insurance regulations, when a customer buys just one pair of tires, they MUST go on the rear. They say the tire manufacturers advise the same thing. I argued back at him, and said that because my car is front-wheel drive, I need good tread on the front tires more than on the rear. "Well," he replied, "then you'll have to buy four new tires." Is this true?

-- Chester

TOM: Technically, he's correct.

RAY: Tire manufacturers and safety people now recommend that your "better" set of tires go on the back, even if you have a front-wheel-drive car.

TOM: It does sound crazy at first. It also sounds suspicious, because it provides a highly convenient argument for selling two extra tires.

RAY: But the logic is actually sound. Putting tires with brand-new tread on the front certainly would help you get started in the snow. But having worn-out tires on the rear could cause the rear end to slide out when you try to turn or stop.

TOM: And since you can steer the front wheels, you have a better chance of maintaining control of the car if the front wheels slide than if the rear wheels slide.

RAY: Of course, having four good tires is best. But my guess is that this policy came from the tire companies' legal departments, not their sales departments -- although I'm sure the policy has been warmly embraced by the sales staff, too.

Dear Tom and Ray:

My problem began when I was driving down the road in our 2005 Dodge Caravan, packed full of our own kids and kids from the neighborhood. My elderly mother was asleep in the front seat when one of the neighborhood kids excreted certain organic gases, which announced themselves with a remarkably acute "crrrrraaaack." My mother startled awake in her seat and said, "What?" This resulted in a tidal wave of elementary- and middle-school-aged hilarity. Mom refuses to get back into the vehicle, claiming, "That awful thing is still loose in there." What I need is an authoritative statement on whether it's possible that the "awful thing is still loose" in the vehicle. Exactly how long is it justified for people to avoid a vehicle interior after such an incident?

-- Distraught Daughter

RAY: Gee, Distraught Daughter -- we'll call you D.D. -- I think this is largely psychological on Mom's part.

TOM: I agree. Cars have ventilation systems to bring fresh air into the passenger compartment. So, air is always circulating. So it's nearly impossible for that particular collection of nitrogen, hydrogen, methane and hydrogen sulfide to still be inside your vehicle. It's also possible that Mom is smelling something else. You could have mold spores in your air-conditioning ducts, or one of those little brats could have spilled some milk and not told you about it. So you might want to ask an impartial nasal observer (call the Nasal Observatory) to take a ride with you and offer an honest opinion.

RAY: But even if you get a clean bill of smell, for the sake of family unity, I'd have the car detailed, D.D. That'll cost you about $100, but it includes a very thorough cleaning of the inside of the car. Got a question about cars? Write to Click & Clack in care of The Post, or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at

Copyright 2007 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman

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