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Home About RSR Taste of the Past Rendez-vous August 2001 - You want to buy an SUV?

Rendez-vous August 2001 - You want to buy an SUV?

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RSR Rendez-vous August 2001


Is it my imagination or is there a lot more traffic this year than usual. I can’t get anywhere without experiencing “congestion”.  Even though most cars on the road are air-conditioned, hot weather seems to raise aggression levels which makes the traffic worse.

I’ve read that in a few States, special patrols have been formed to watch for and ticket drivers who are overly aggressive.  I think this is a helluva good idea.  Instead of handing out tickets for going a little over an artificially low speed limit, these guys have a charter to make roads safer and driving more enjoyable. According to an interview I caught on TV, they’ll be watching for things like tailgating, abrupt lane changes and barging.

Barging, as in “barging into a lane” gets my blood boiling.  Here I am thoughtfully pulling into the right lane so as to make the exit. Natch, this lane is very slow. Why is it that some people consider their time so much more valuable that they pass the queued vehicles in the middle lane and then barge in to the exit lane at the last second.  I guess these guys have some special privileges provided at birth.  When they meet a stubborn driver who takes the stance “the line starts at the back a$$hole” they indignantly honk their horns and stop in the middle lane trying to intimidate someone so they can get to the exit.

It’s funny, I bet that none of these dorks would try to jump the line at a theatre but insulated in their car, no act is too brazen.  SUV drivers must have a sign on their dashboards (it can’t be in the instruction manual, nobody reads them) that says something like “Yield signs do not apply to this vehicle”. 

Speaking of SUV’s, The Firestone – Ford squabble is getting “Ferrrry interestink.” (For correct pronunciation, refer to any episode of Laugh-In).   For a while, Firestone was keeping quiet and taking the heat. Ford is their largest corporate client after all.  Things got ugly when Jack Nasser (CEO of Ford) blamed fatal roll-overs on Firestone tires.

There’s little doubt that Firestone built a run of defective tires. They admitted to a production problem in one of their US plants.  On the other hand why is it that a blown tire causes a vehicle to roll over?  Were all of the tires defective? This is where things get murky. The same tire was fitted to a lot of other vehicles, why is it we hear only about the Explorer?

I guess that Firestone got tired (oooh that’s a bad pun) of taking the rap for what is very possibly Ford’s problem.  This led to a breakdown in the relationship between the two.  While Jack Nasser gets a lot of press, Firestone is quietly building its case. For example, Firestone built the tire that Ford requested. Apparently the auto manufacturer writes the spec for OEM tires. The tire guys build what they’re asked for.

Ford wanted a tire with rugged off-road looks to compliment the image of the Explorer At the same time, they wanted a tire that was light for better fuel consumption. That’s a tough recipe.

Now I get speculative.   A few years ago, Consumer Reports  tested a couple of SUV’s and discovered that they could roll over during an emergency lane change. The  Isuzu Trooper and the Suzuki Samurai were rated “unacceptable”. More recently the new Mitsubishi Montero did the same thing. .

Three years ago, Mercedes was embarrassed when their “A” Class city-car flipped while being tested by the Finns.  Over there, they call it a “moose test” i.e., a sudden swerve to avoid hitting an imaginary moose. Anyway, the Mercedes did a headstand resulting in a recall to fit a revised suspension and wider wheels and tires.

So what have we proved? Nothing more than tall skinny vehicles with a high center of gravity are more likely to tip over than normal cars.  Does an Explorer meet those criteria?

Over and beyond the shape of the vehicle, the roll center of the suspension has a lot to do with how easy it is to tip over. A high roll center allows the vehicle to lean over a lot when subjected to any force. Combine that with a lot of suspension travel and you can imagine how an SUV could lean waay over when it gets a flat tire.

Firestone has hired a bunch of very qualified engineers who have released a report which states that the design of the Explorer makes it much more likely to roll than the Chevy Blazer or Jeep Grand Cherokee. They also observed that the Blazer uses the same tires as the Explorer. Moreover, GM has come out in full support for Firestone, although I’m not sure that their motives are completely pure.

Tire pressure is a factor too.  Most people rarely pay any attention to tire pressure.  Other than the trackies, who checks air pressure weekly or even daily like the owner’ manual says? Heck, who reads the owners manual anyway.

SUV’s and such can carry a fair amount of stuff inside. A tire with more air inside can handle more weight than one with less.  Check the max inflation pressure on the sidewall of your tire, it is probably a lot higher than you thought.  Trouble is, more pressure means a harder ride. This is a big problem for SUV makers.  On the one hand it has to be off-road capable. On the other hand everyone knows that they don’t go off-road and that soccer mom’s want a car-like ride.  In the quest for a cushy ride, is it possible that the tire pressure tends to be on the low side?

Lastly, traction is a very important factor.  A tippy vehicle with very sticky tires is more likely to topple over than one with less grip.  The latter would tend to skid instead of lifting wheels.

At a recent tire test session, Michel Galarneau and I watched as a Ford Explorer fitted with superior tires ran through a slalom. The truck got two wheels off the ground. The driver very competently unwound his steering wheel to prevent a roll-over.  Of course he was on a skid pad and had plenty of room to correct. Had there been oncoming traffic, he might not have been able to pull it off.  The point is that with a set of sticky tires it is very possible to get two wheels of the ground. 

Ok, “where is he going with this” you ask?  Let’s put it all together.  We have a relatively narrow vehicle with a high center of gravity and a high roll center. That’s bad.  Now, let’s not inflate the tires too much. We want a cushy ride after all. Trouble is, lower inflation pressure means more traction and a greater tendency to roll instead of skid.   Is this what’s been happening on the roads?

It will be interesting to watch this play out. Firestone is playing hard-ball. They’ve   turned over their findings to the Feds along with the suggestion that Ford be forced to recall every single Explorer made up until the new 2001 model.  I don’t know this ugly battle will turn out, but speaking for myself, I’d have no concerns about using Firestone tires.  On the other hand I would not buy an SUV under any circumstances.

Tremblant!

I’m sure someone else is covering this in detail so all I’ll say is that Rennsport broke in the new track this weekend. It is everything we hoped for and more. If you haven’t signed up for the August DE by the time you read this, you’re probably out of luck.   The track is a long way from finished mind you. On Friday, it was a construction site.  I think it is appropriate that Porsches made the first tire tracks on the new surface.  Check out my new ride! It’s kinda slow down the straight but what traction in corner one! 

Powerful Braking – No Squeal!

I needed new pads for my Boxster S.  Rob Martin suggested I try the new Pagid Blue medium pads.  I’m happy to report that they work really well.  They have a higher friction coefficient than the OEM (Brembo) pads,  produce less dust and no squeal (on my car) even after a three day track event.  I’m fussy about brakes, some high friction pads I’ve tried deliver big stopping power but, a non linear response. In other words a constant pressure results in more braking force as the pads heat up.  The worst ones tend to stick and screw up the release.  The Pagid Blue’s have no unpleasant side effects and my rotors look just fine after a lot of abuse. The only downside is that they are expensive,  around 500 bucks for all four corners.

RSR Rendez-vous August 2001

Is it my imagination or is there a lot more traffic this year than usual. I can’t get anywhere without experiencing “congestion”.  Even though most cars on the road are air-conditioned, hot weather seems to raise aggression levels which makes the traffic worse.

I’ve read that in a few States, special patrols have been formed to watch for and ticket drivers who are overly aggressive.  I think this is a helluva good idea.  Instead of handing out tickets for going a little over an artificially low speed limit, these guys have a charter to make roads safer and driving more enjoyable. According to an interview I caught on TV, they’ll be watching for things like tailgating, abrupt lane changes and barging.

Barging, as in “barging into a lane” gets my blood boiling.  Here I am thoughtfully pulling into the right lane so as to make the exit. Natch, this lane is very slow. Why is it that some people consider their time so much more valuable that they pass the queued vehicles in the middle lane and then barge in to the exit lane at the last second.  I guess these guys have some special privileges provided at birth.  When they meet a stubborn driver who takes the stance “the line starts at the back a$$hole” they indignantly honk their horns and stop in the middle lane trying to intimidate someone so they can get to the exit.

It’s funny, I bet that none of these dorks would try to jump the line at a theatre but insulated in their car, no act is too brazen.  SUV drivers must have a sign on their dashboards (it can’t be in the instruction manual, nobody reads them) that says something like “Yield signs do not apply to this vehicle”. 

Speaking of SUV’s, The Firestone – Ford squabble is getting “Ferrrry interestink.” (For correct pronunciation, refer to any episode of Laugh-In).   For a while, Firestone was keeping quiet and taking the heat. Ford is their largest corporate client after all.  Things got ugly when Jack Nasser (CEO of Ford) blamed fatal roll-overs on Firestone tires.

There’s little doubt that Firestone built a run of defective tires. They admitted to a production problem in one of their US plants.  On the other hand why is it that a blown tire causes a vehicle to roll over?  Were all of the tires defective? This is where things get murky. The same tire was fitted to a lot of other vehicles, why is it we hear only about the Explorer?

I guess that Firestone got tired (oooh that’s a bad pun) of taking the rap for what is very possibly Ford’s problem.  This led to a breakdown in the relationship between the two.  While Jack Nasser gets a lot of press, Firestone is quietly building its case. For example, Firestone built the tire that Ford requested. Apparently the auto manufacturer writes the spec for OEM tires. The tire guys build what they’re asked for.

Ford wanted a tire with rugged off-road looks to compliment the image of the Explorer At the same time, they wanted a tire that was light for better fuel consumption. That’s a tough recipe.

Now I get speculative.   A few years ago, Consumer Reports  tested a couple of SUV’s and discovered that they could roll over during an emergency lane change. The  Isuzu Trooper and the Suzuki Samurai were rated “unacceptable”. More recently the new Mitsubishi Montero did the same thing. .

Three years ago, Mercedes was embarrassed when their “A” Class city-car flipped while being tested by the Finns.  Over there, they call it a “moose test” i.e., a sudden swerve to avoid hitting an imaginary moose. Anyway, the Mercedes did a headstand resulting in a recall to fit a revised suspension and wider wheels and tires.

So what have we proved? Nothing more than tall skinny vehicles with a high center of gravity are more likely to tip over than normal cars.  Does an Explorer meet those criteria?

Over and beyond the shape of the vehicle, the roll center of the suspension has a lot to do with how easy it is to tip over. A high roll center allows the vehicle to lean over a lot when subjected to any force. Combine that with a lot of suspension travel and you can imagine how an SUV could lean waay over when it gets a flat tire.

Firestone has hired a bunch of very qualified engineers who have released a report which states that the design of the Explorer makes it much more likely to roll than the Chevy Blazer or Jeep Grand Cherokee. They also observed that the Blazer uses the same tires as the Explorer. Moreover, GM has come out in full support for Firestone, although I’m not sure that their motives are completely pure.

Tire pressure is a factor too.  Most people rarely pay any attention to tire pressure.  Other than the trackies, who checks air pressure weekly or even daily like the owner’ manual says? Heck, who reads the owners manual anyway.

SUV’s and such can carry a fair amount of stuff inside. A tire with more air inside can handle more weight than one with less.  Check the max inflation pressure on the sidewall of your tire, it is probably a lot higher than you thought.  Trouble is, more pressure means a harder ride. This is a big problem for SUV makers.  On the one hand it has to be off-road capable. On the other hand everyone knows that they don’t go off-road and that soccer mom’s want a car-like ride.  In the quest for a cushy ride, is it possible that the tire pressure tends to be on the low side?

Lastly, traction is a very important factor.  A tippy vehicle with very sticky tires is more likely to topple over than one with less grip.  The latter would tend to skid instead of lifting wheels.

At a recent tire test session, Michel Galarneau and I watched as a Ford Explorer fitted with superior tires ran through a slalom. The truck got two wheels off the ground. The driver very competently unwound his steering wheel to prevent a roll-over.  Of course he was on a skid pad and had plenty of room to correct. Had there been oncoming traffic, he might not have been able to pull it off.  The point is that with a set of sticky tires it is very possible to get two wheels of the ground. 

Ok, “where is he going with this” you ask?  Let’s put it all together.  We have a relatively narrow vehicle with a high center of gravity and a high roll center. That’s bad.  Now, let’s not inflate the tires too much. We want a cushy ride after all. Trouble is, lower inflation pressure means more traction and a greater tendency to roll instead of skid.   Is this what’s been happening on the roads?

It will be interesting to watch this play out. Firestone is playing hard-ball. They’ve   turned over their findings to the Feds along with the suggestion that Ford be forced to recall every single Explorer made up until the new 2001 model.  I don’t know this ugly battle will turn out, but speaking for myself, I’d have no concerns about using Firestone tires.  On the other hand I would not buy an SUV under any circumstances.

Tremblant!

I’m sure someone else is covering this in detail so all I’ll say is that Rennsport broke in the new track this weekend. It is everything we hoped for and more. If you haven’t signed up for the August DE by the time you read this, you’re probably out of luck.   The track is a long way from finished mind you. On Friday, it was a construction site.  I think it is appropriate that Porsches made the first tire tracks on the new surface.  Check out my new ride! It’s kinda slow down the straight but what traction in corner one! 

Powerful Braking – No Squeal!

I needed new pads for my Boxster S.  Rob Martin suggested I try the new Pagid Blue medium pads.  I’m happy to report that they work really well.  They have a higher friction coefficient than the OEM (Brembo) pads,  produce less dust and no squeal (on my car) even after a three day track event.  I’m fussy about brakes, some high friction pads I’ve tried deliver big stopping power but, a non linear response. In other words a constant pressure results in more braking force as the pads heat up.  The worst ones tend to stick and screw up the release.  The Pagid Blue’s have no unpleasant side effects and my rotors look just fine after a lot of abuse. The only downside is that they are expensive,  around 500 bucks for all four corners.

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