High Gas Prices and Vehicle Buying Habits

Yesterday I received an email forwarded from an acquaintance regarding an AOL story which references an AutoTrader.com survey. The survey was about at what price per gallon car buyers will significantly consider a vehicle that offers better fuel economy.

The AOL headline read “Car Buyers Won’t Change Habits Until Gas Hits $6.51 A Gallon“. After reading the article I immediately went looking for other views… One blog I found commented how the sensational headline didn’t match the facts of the article, presenting a slated view of the data from survey if one were to stop at the headline.

According to the AutoTrader survey data, fuel would have to be over $6.51 per gallon before 35% of respondents would “seriously consider a vehicle that got better fuel economy”. Another way to look at the article is that nearly two-thirds would seriously consider a vehicle offering better mpg before fuel reached $6.51 per gallon. The AOL article also quotes different experts about citizens already making decisions influenced by the current higher prices, or just getting accustomed to our higher fuel prices.

High Gas Prices, April 2012.

Our Lower Threshold

With our little fleet of vehicles fuel economy has always been important and is tracked with every fill-up, even the motorcycles. This doesn’t mean that we are rabid hyper-milers, but we have always had a healthy awareness of how much fuel we burn and what it costs. Long before fuel reached it’s current high price near $4, fuel economy was a factor when we considered adding or subtracting horsepower in our stable. We like and use trucks and four-wheel-drives, not just because they are cool or became trendy, but to haul and pull things, and to go beyond the blacktop.

I will likely remain a truck guy instead of a car guy until I can no longer afford to operate and enjoy them, or change hobbies and lifestyle. When my wife and I purchased a new pickup last year, fuel economy was certainly a consideration, but not the only deciding factor. While we would have preferred the slightly better mpg possible with a Toyota Tacoma or similar smaller truck over the Tundra that was chosen, the potential fuel economy improvement was not worth the inability to haul and pull larger things, and do big truck work. Added to this preference for full-sized capability is the fact that we already have a mid-sized utility vehicle, another mid-size would be redundant.

Mixed with our 4WDs are two very economical daily-drivers, one two-wheeled, one four, and the four-wheeler gets about the same (sometimes better) mpg as the moto. As shared recently in the TDI Mileage Test post, our little VW Golf diesel is a very valuable daily driver. In recent years we’ve been casually watching the automotive market to see what we might want to purchase when it’s time to replace the TDI. We have considered some AWD cars, but their fuel economy is typically so much lower than the VW/Audi TDI that they’re not serious contenders for our dollars. We like being road travelers, even in a car, which means keeping at least one very high mpg four-wheeled vehicle in our fleet for daily driving, weekend errands, and car trips is a nonnegotiable.

Fuel prices are already high in my opinion. With a fixed amount of dollars budgeted for fuel each month, higher fuel prices mean driving less, getting better mpg, both, or deficient spending—which is not allowed here.

Where Do You Stand?

What is your number? Are you part of the top third who won’t seriously consider a more economical vehicle until fuel is $6.51 a gallon?

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

MPG, Fuel Economy, Tire Width, and Treads No. 1

Newer, detailed article, click here: Tread Matters

 

Will The Most Efficient Tires Please Drive Forward

It’s often stated that narrower, lighter, less aggressive tires are more efficient and will yield better fuel economy, but how much better? To properly compare apples and pears one must take care to reduce the variables that are always present during real-world tests. In this case I used the same vehicle, same gas pump, during similar weather conditions and time of day, calculated the odometer error, and used the same section of freeway. The GPS-confirmed road speed was 64-MPH and was maintained by cruise control. The tires were inflated to 35-PSI in all but the last test with the Dick Cepek F-C II treads where I goofed and only used 32-PSI. The F-C II tires performed so well I doubt they could have provided better economy with an extra 3-PSI.

Cooper S/T 255/85R16D on Toyota 4Runner, @ 15 PSI.

If you think the fuel economy numbers listed below are too high you are partly correct, the tests involved almost zero city driving. The variables of in-town driving are not repeatable and won’t yield consistent data. What these tests do show is the fuel economy potential of this vehicle and establishes a baseline against which other tests can be measured. For each test the modified 2006 4.7L V8 4Runner was fueled and then driven a few blocks to the same freeway onramp, onward to a specific exit, and then the route was reversed and terminated at the same gas pump where the engine was promptly turned off.

Dean SXT Mud Terrain & Cooper S/T, both 255/85R16. Two of the narrowest 255/85 tires made.

All the tires used were close to the same diameter, about 33-inches, and they were all mounted on Toyota FJ Cruiser TRD 16 x 7.5-inch aluminum wheels. Because of the slight differences I tire height, one corrected odometer reading of 56.76-miles was used for all the tests. Listed below with the figures are the weights of each tire/wheel combination.

Results:

Cooper S/T LT255/85R16D: 75-lb  3.027-gal. = 18.75 MPG

Maxxis Bighorn LT255/85R16D: 82-lb  3.017-gal. = 18.81 MPG

TreadWright Guard Dog LT285/75R16E: 87-lb  3.331-gal. = 17.04 MPG

Dick Cepek F-C II LT285/75R16D: 83-lb  3.121-gal. = 18.18 MPG

Maxxis Bighorn 255/85R16D, TreadWright Guard Dog 285/75R16E, Cooper S/T 255/85R16D

Commentary

I was a little surprised that the very narrow and light Coopers consumed more fuel than the heavier, more aggressive Maxxis Bighorns. Though when filling-up after the Cooper test the gas-pump didn’t stop normally and a little gas spit from the filler, possibly contributing to the lower reading. Longer distance tests would likely be more accurate, but this type of testing is very time consuming and expensive.

It was expected that the heavier, wider TreadWright Guard Dogs with their aggressive lug tread would use more fuel. The Cepek F-C II tires impressed me by splitting the difference and topping eighteen MPG!

Cooper S/T 255/85R16D, Dick Cepek F-C II 285/75R16D

Surely tread design, width, and weight all make a difference. My theory is that width and tread design have a larger impact on fuel economy than tire weight, at least when there is only a few pounds difference. There is five pounds separating the Maxxis Bighorn 255/85R16 and TreadWright 285/75R16, but I don’t think those additional few pounds account for the 1.77 mile-per-gallon difference. There is a seven pound difference between the Maxxis Bighorns and Cooper S/Ts, but the results for these two 255s were so close you could call it a tie.

Your mileage will vary.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Dick Cepek F-C II Review No. 1

This blog will not always be so tire centric, but it seems a popular topic so I’ll continue in this vein for now.

Dick Cepek F-C II

This is a review about one set of Dick Cepek F-C II tires I have been tracking. Longevity is only one consideration when choosing a tread, and needs to be balanced with other criteria, but everyone always asks about wear. Some might argue that long wear is the most important characteristic, however that really depends on how you want your tires to perform. Some off-highway enthusiasts care much more about traction or noise.

Hummer H2 with 38" Dick Cepek F-C II

A few years ago this Hummer H2 was lifted several inches, and at the same time these 38×15.50R20LT Dick Cepek F-C II tires were mounted. I’m aquatinted with the owner and he’s not a conservative driver, or maybe he is now but he didn’t used to be. Admittedly this H2 is a street queen, though it has traveled a few fire roads when goin’ fishin’. The tires were rotated with each oil change, about every 5,000 miles.

When doing the photo shoot the owner knew the tires had logged several thousands miles, though not exactly how many. After he confirmed the date and mileage of the installation, I had the data I needed for this story.

Dick Cepek F-C II 38x15.50R20 with 20/32" tread depth.

The F-C II is no longer offered in this size, but came with 20/32″ of tread, as seen here on the still new spare.

Dick Cepek F-C II after 40,000 miles, with 10/32" of tread remaining.

Slow Wearing Tread Design

After 40,000 miles of driving, the rate of wear was nothing less than exceptional. Four thousand miles per 1/32″ of tread wear on a heavy, modified utility wagon running a fairly aggressive traction tire is outstanding.

Still plenty of tread and siping after 40,000 miles on a 38" F-C II.

Without prompting, the owner shared that the F-C II is a great winter tire, which is a common accolade. While not a dedicated winter design, the shape and density of tread sipes, combined with the layout of the center tread blocks helps make the F-C II an outstanding winter performer. This tire does well many places, that’s why Dick Cepek Tires calls it an any-terrain radial.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Safety Beads on Light-Truck Wheels

A visual always helps. In these pictures you can see the circumferential raised lips, or beads, on a typical light-truck wheel which are often called the “safety bead”. They help the tire stay on the wheel. The first photo below shows a relatively new, 17 x 8-inch TRD Tundra wheel, but they are all similar. The safety bead ring is inboard approximately one inch from the actual tire bead seat.

TRD 17 inch Tundra Rock Warrior wheel safety bead rings.

Below is another example, a very well used 16 x 7.5-inch TRD FJ Cruiser wheel, which has had several sets of tires mounted.

TRD FJ Cruiser 16 x 7.5-inch wheel with circumferential safety bead rings.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

7.3L Power Stroke Diesel Tire Q&A

I received the email below asking for input, and with the reader’s permission, decided it would be nice to respond to his question on the blog and share with everyone.

Do you have a question for RoadTraveler.net? When you do, send  an email, maybe RoadTraveler can help.

Question:

I was wondering if I could pick your brain for a minute. I just bought another F350 CC today. 97 Powerstroke with built E4OD. It is going to need rubber soonish, and I have also recently bought a 2700 lb slide in camper. I am looking for a load range E 315-75 R16. All i have found so far is the Toyo MT. I am fine with those, aside from cost vs wear ratio. Any other hats you could throw in the ring?

Much appreciated, Red Thies


Answer:
.

I love the old, first generation 7.3L Power Strokes, sounds like you found a good one. As you know, you have a substantial load with that slide-in camper. I assume you desire a load-range E 315/75R16 because you want the added capacity of over the typical load-range D, and possibly the added stiffness to reduce sidewall flex and heat.

Does the camper weigh 2,700 pounds dry or is that the gross-vehicle-weight-rating (GVWR)? My guess is that with the weight of that camper you will be very close to the maximum capacity of two typical 315/75R16Ds, which is 3,195 pounds each at 50-PSI. Depending on how you set-up the F350, you might have close of 3,000-pounds riding on the rear axle (I do) when you are wet & empty before you install the camper. Using these estimates, you would have about 690-pounds of total rear axle tire payload remaining.

I’m generally a fan of the Toyo M/T because it’s a high-quality, rugged tire that balances well and rolls nicely down the road. However, you raise a very valid point; value. The Toyo M/T is generally pretty expensive, and depending on the application, wear is not always fantastic. I also know a few people who didn’t get great mileage out of their Toyo A/Ts either. As the saying goes, your-mileage-may-vary, there are always others who can share they get great wear out of Toyos. Depends. Do you want a mud-terrain tire? Diesels can be hard on tires, and so can maximum loads, therefore starting with a tire that has a spotty reputation for wear is a big gamble.

The GoodYear DuraTrac LT315/75R16 is a load-range E tire, rated for 3,860-pounds each at 65 psi, a very healthy increase in capacity. But like the Toyo M/T, some seem to get great wear out of the DuraTrac while others receive a very short life. I like the appearance of the tread, but it hasn’t been able to lure me away from the Dick Cepek F-C II.

The Firestone Destination M/T is a load-range E in 315/75, and comes with a whopping 20/32″ of tread. The Firestone Destination A/T is also a load-range E, but is a very conservative 5-rib all-terrain tread design.

What say you?

Toyo M/T LT285/75R16E on 7.3L Power Stroke F350

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

 

TRD Tundra Wheels a 17 MPG Rock Warrior Solution?

Several weeks ago I posted about purchasing a set of OE 17-inch TRD wheels which included the original BF Goodrich All-Terrain 285/70R17 tires (17″ Tundra Wheels & BFG A/T Tires). However those were not the first, nor the best, set of TRD Rock Warrior wheels I have purchased. The Cooper S/T MAXX trial started last summer and has drug on for a while.

Cooper Discoverer S/T MAXX LT275/70R18E with Tundra SR5 18" wheel

The reasons for buying the 18-inch Tundra SR5 wheels was because I wasn’t enthralled with the fake beadlock rings on the Rock Warrior wheels (Goodbye Bling Rings), and because finding a set of  17-inch TRD second generation Tundra wheels for a reasonable price seemed nearly impossible. Most of the sets on Craig’s List were almost new, with almost new tires, and guys wanted almost new prices, upwards of $1,500 for the tires and wheels. No thanks. In addition to being far more than I was willing to spend, because I’m not a BFG A/T fan (not a hater, just not a fan) I really didn’t want to pay anything for BFG A/T take-off tires.

There were two issues with the 18-inch Cooper S/T MAXXs: the drifting to the right, and the stiff ride from the rugged, short sidewalls. I could seek alignment solutions for the pulling—which I doubted would work—but how could I soften the ride of the stiff, short sidewall tires without letting too much air out? The stout construction of the S/T MAXX appeals to me, there is a time and application for these tires and I wanted a set, but the 18-inch 275s were rougher that I cared to drive on.

After deciding I wasn’t going to keep the 275/70R18s, and to take advantage of Discount Tire’s excellent exchange policy, the question was exchange them for what? Another set of F-C II? That seemed a bit silly, since my existing set was almost new, and I’d rather have one set of mild treads and another more aggressive. Though I knew a second set of F-C II wasn’t going to pull to the right and wouldn’t be a waste of money. Since I’d been down this road several times with the 4Runner, I was confident I knew the unhappy ending.

Summer I80 Road Construction

The First Set of TRD 17-Inch Rock Warrior Wheels

Knowing my dissatisfaction with the 18-inch sidewalls, early one morning my friend Frank inquired about finding a second set of 17-inch TRD wheels. I quickly dismissed his idea, telling him via email I had looked and they were all too expensive… But I decided to look again, and hidden among all the ridiculously expensive was one reasonably priced set at an independent tire dealer in Sacramento, just a couple hours away (thank you Frank). I was the first person to contact the seller, told him I’d be there in a couple hours if he would hold them for me.

A rural road side trip in search of Dutch Bros. Coffee

Though there was summer road construction in the Sierras, and the several thousand vertical feet lost and gained during the 228 miles of travel, careful use of my right foot allowed the Tundra to squeeze 17.88 miles from each gallon.

TRD beadlock ring scuffing

The wheels were not perfect, but in hindsight they are the best set I’ve purchased thus far. There were a few scuffs on the fake beak lock rings from careless handling (which helped me to negotiate a lower price), and three of four spring clips that secure the center caps were missing, which I didn’t notice until I was home. But overall they were a very nice set the will likely stay with the Tundra as long as it lives in my barn.

TRD Rock Warrior 17-in. beadlock ring gouges.

TRD Tundra Rock Warrior 17-in. take-offs

With another set of 17s in the shop I didn’t know what I was going to exchange the S/T MAXX for, but I knew they were not going to be 18-inch tires.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Tire Pull Diagnosis

Looking For The Offending Tire 

Conventional wisdom regarding radial tire pull says that if a tire is the source of the pulling problem it can be diagnosed by using a specific procedure.

-Rotate the front tires side-to-side. If the vehicle goes in the opposite direction, it’s one of the front tires. If the vehicle goes in the same direction the pulling is from one of the rear tires, or is not a tire-related problem. There are more steps, but you can read them on The TireRack’s Pulling Tire Diagnosis PDF.

Though I have been through this procedure a few times before, I printed the PDF to insure I was following the steps exactly and made notes during the process. Guess what? The Tundra still pulled to the right, so I jumbled the position of the tires again and adjusted the tire pressure. Regardless of the position of the tires or PSI, the truck still drifted to the right rather quickly. So is there a chassis or alignment problem if there isn’t a tire problem?

Based on my experiences with my 4Runner I was quite confident that my alignment settings were fine, and not the source of the pulling problem, at least not directly. After numerous alignment adjustments attempting to redirect tire pull on the 4Runner (mostly cross-caster adjustments) some tires would still pull right while others would not. In fact depending on the tire and/or tread pattern, some tires required relatively high cross-caster while others needed very little. Using OE wheels, and in the case of the Tundra, OE sized tires, removes another variable that can make tire pull diagnosis difficult on modified vehicles. Are my modified chassis bent or broken, or are there simply compatibility issues with some tires and platforms?

Toyo M55 and Toyo M/T. Two tires that have caused tire pull on my 4Runner, but not on other trucks.

The Toyo M/T is known to cause a pull or drift on Dodge trucks, are these trucks broken too? My point is that even though the standard and accepted tire-pull diagnosis procedure might indicate the problem is not with the tires, that doesn’t mean there is a problem with the chassis. Having a second set of mounted and balanced tires has helped me confirm this a couple times. The tires may not be defective, but they may still cause a pulling problem on your truck and that doesn’t necessarily mean your truck is damaged or out of adjustment.

My favorite all-around tire remains the Dick Cepek F-C II. The Tundra’s alignment settings were working reasonably well with the F-C II and I was not willing to make changes that might improve the pulling with the S/T MAXXs at the cost of hurting drivability with the F-C IIs. Having two sets of tires isn’t practical if you need different alignment settings for each set.

What Next?

Copyright © 2012 James Langan