atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#134: Car Observations

...the punch line to the story about the oil change?

My parents and I went to Old Country Buffet this evening. I found my oil filter wrench sitting next to the rear stereo in my Dad's van.

* * *

On the way home I saw a guy with a late '90s Cadillac. He had huge rims on it (dubs, probably--actual 20 inch rims)...and emblazoned down the side in letters a foot high was the script "CADILLAC", just like it appears on the car's nameplate.

Damn. I never would have guessed what kind of car it was. How considerate of that person to plaster it in large friendly letters all over the side of the car.

* * *

At the restaurant was some nerd's Acura. It had 18" or 19" rims on it and it looked incredibly stupid.

The most amusing thing about such large wheels is that the owners of the cars with them generally do not also upgrade their brakes, so you have this enormous wheel with itty-bitty brake rotors visible inside.

"Amusing" may be the wrong word. You see, the larger the diameter of the wheel, the more force it takes to turn it...and to stop it when it is turning. Rubber weighs less than aluminum does, you see? Stock brakes are made to work with a stock wheel and tire configuration, not with those huge rims and "rubber band" tires. So it takes more braking effort to stop those rims, and that means there's less available to stop the car they are attached to.

Well, most automotive brake systems are overengineered, and nearly all drivers use less than about 15% of the car's actual capability, so most people can get away with it. But even so, it still looks damn silly to have a huge wheel with tiny brakes behind it.

The main reason for low-profile tires is twofold. First, reducing sidewall height improves handling. Second, they allow bigger brakes. But there is a certain point beyond which the larger diameter stops being helpful:

Not only did that abomination have to be lifted to put those ludicrous tires on--they won't even fit under the fender!--but notice how you can't see ANY brake system at all?

I've seen many cars on the road with stupidly large rims--rims that just do not fit the style of the car. When you see a Nissan Sentra with 18" rims, it doesn't look "cool"; it looks like a cartoon. There isn't enough rubber to balance the look.

Too much wheel is worse than too little. The Escort, for example, was originally designed for 13" rims. (So are many of the Hondas which morons put 18" rims onto.) If you put 15" rims onto an Escort--the largest stock rim available on them, at least through 1996--without changing the brakes, there is about a 1" gap between the rotor and the wheel. If you put 17" rims on, it's 2". If you somehow manage to crowbar in 19" rims, it's 3", and the brakes look tiny. And the car looks utterly ridiculous.

Let's face it: in most cases, these people are taking an econobox and trying to make it look fast. Front-wheel-drive cars can be fast, and handle very well; but slapping on $1,000 worth of wheels and tires, and changing the muffler, is not enough to do that.

The case of the Acura I saw is much the same situation. While the stock car is not a slouch, performance-wise, it is not really a sports car, either. Changing the stock wheels and tires to the aftermarket ones probably hurt the car's handling and braking more than it helped, especially if they were selected primarily for looks rather than performance.

My green 1995 Escort was surprisingly nimble without any modifications whatsoever, and it could hold its own against a BMW 318i in acceleration and braking. All this on a combined average fuel economy of 33 MPG. But it wasn't a sports car; it was an economy car with a "sport appearance package".

Go figure.

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