Solar Highways

Though I know little about the technology, I’ve long been intrigued by the possibilities with solar power. I’m not a fan of huge solar sites across our western deserts on public lands, but I do like the idea of solar panels on the roof of my house. We looked into adding solar during the construction of our home several years ago, but the cost vs. benefit wasn’t affordable at the time.

Even more interesting are solar, glass highways! I’m not sure how practical this is, but it sounds and looks great in the video. After a little web searching it seems that solar panels at the side of a freeway, not actually part of the road, is as far as the idea has progressed. Just like in my personal solar example, it seems the hurdle remains the price tag, not desire or feasibility.

This link tells the Oregon story well. (Click)

Oregon’s site. (click)

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

TDI Mileage Test

In the broad sense of the expression I’m a car guy. Though it’s much more accurate to say I’m a truck guy, or a motorcycle guy, as these machines have been the focus of my enthusiasm since my youth. But cars have their place, particularly when it comes to running errands, driving on-pavement, and hauling only people or small parcels. We have a car for these tasks, my wife’s 2000 Golf TDI.

The 1.9L TDI sips so few liters of diesel that I usually don’t drive it with a focus on fuel economy. This contrasts with how I typically drive my 4WDs, trying to squeeze all I can out of each gallon of fuel. The daily driving commuter fuel economy from the TDI is very close to 40 MPG. Sometimes a bit less, sometimes more, depending on the driving mix. Most car highway trips you will find us driving the TDI, and the fuel economy while driving 75+/– is usually around 45 MPG, depending on how many in-town miles we traveled and how hard I flog the little oil-burner.

This past weekend we took a short drive to enjoy a favorite restaurant in a nearby city. I decided we would also do a “mileage test”, the term is part of my vernacular. The trip included several miles of 65 MPH freeway, but most of the 78.4 miles were on rural highways with only a few stoplights and a 55 MPH speed limit. I accelerated moderately, drove the speed limit, and paid attention to the task at hand, driving, but there was no hypermiling silliness. We drove very few in-town miles. We returned to the same fuel pump, set it to the same setting, no topping off, etc. Our consumption was 1.392 gallons.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

The Forgotten Pedal

Operating and working on vehicles can be both fun and hazardous. Like others, I’ve made stupid and dangerous mistakes, but I’ve been lucky, and never been seriously injured. Sometimes we needlessly tempt fate because of bad habits or a lack of training. Using tire chocks when working under a car is a great idea, but before chocks are used we should practice the most basic method of securing our vehicles.

Is your parking brake missing you?

The first step in parking.

 The Parking Brake

I have always practiced and taught that the parking brake should be regularly and properly used (with few exceptions, like ice). Unfortunately many otherwise knowledgeable and skilled drivers routinely do not use their parking brake, or use it incorrectly.

Properly means that the parking brake should be firmly applied to hold the vehicle’s weight, on level ground or on an incline. Then the vehicle’s weight should be allowed to rest on the brake before the transmission is put in gear or Park. Firmly apply the parking brake, shift into neutral, release the service (foot) brakes, and confirm the parking brake is holding the vehicle. Then shift into Park if your A/T has a Park detent–many large RVs, buses, and trucks do not—or release the clutch on a manual transmission with the gear selector in first or reverse, the lowest gears.

With routine and proper use of the parking brake, the parking brake mechanisms are exercised and continue to function.  The operator will know how well the brake is working, how firmly it should be applied, and when it needs adjustment.

There are other benefits to practicing this, like not routinely making the parking pawl on an automatic transmission hold the vehicle (wear), and shifting easily out of Park while on an incline. But surely the biggest benefit is assuring that your vehicle is safely and properly parked.

If you only have the habit of using the transmission or the  parking brake, and you forget to use that one method, a driverless-moving-vehicle can result. I’ve seen this many times, mostly recently a few weeks ago at my favorite coffee shop. A college kid parked his car and was walking into the store for his cup of morning medicine. Before he reached the door his car passed him, rolling into the back of another, which was parked in front of the glass wall where I was sitting. His car could have run him over, or come through the storefront, but bent bumpers were the only result of his negligence.

Does your parking brake footpad or handle lack signs of use?

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

 

Goodbye Bling Rings

Gen 2 Tundra 17-inch TRD Wheel

For 2007 and newer Tundras the only OE 17-inch wheel is the forged aluminum TRDs with fake beadlock rings, part of the Rock Warrior package. In my previous post I said I prefer my OE aluminum rims, and I do, but I do have a few gripes with these Toyota wheels.

With my original set I immediately noticed that adjusting the tire pressure is a pain. There’s a cutout in the aluminum ring to access the valve stem, but clearance is still poor. There is little room for fingers, a tire chuck, or a gauge when checking and adjusting the pressure. They also hold water, ice, and mud, helping unbalance the tire. Strike 1.

Built-in debris holder.

The bling ring is secured with twelve screws, and they must be removed to mount or dismount a tire. I don’t trust tire shops to do this carefully, not strip any threads, nor scratch anything. Even when doing this myself recently, I cross-threaded one stainless screw upon reinsertion. These things are a pain, particularly for The Tire Meister who plays with tires more than your average gearhead. I looked into removing the rings and filling the holes with shorter screws…the screws would be so short I’d have to have them custom made. Strike 2.

Though the beadlock rings are fake, I thought they might protect the lower edge of the rims from trail damage. After one recent remove & replace session I noticed damage to the powder coating under the ring. Seems that even on a newer truck with only a few thousand miles logged, which is washed and kept clean, debris between the ring and the wheel causes damage. Strike 3. Fired!

The 21,000-mile take-offs I just purchased had never been rebalanced, the original wheel weights were still attached, and I’m pretty sure the rings had never been removed. Look at the rim damage near the bead after 21k. My solution…no ring, no bling, bada-bing.

FAKE beadlock ring removed, wheel damage

Soap and a brush didn't help. Started to use brake clean. Nope, they're spares.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

17-Inch Tundra Wheels & BFG A/T Tires

17" TRD 5-lug Tundra wheels with BFG AT LT285/70R17E tires.

Part of being The Tire Meister means that I need to have wheels on which to mount the treads I’m evaluating. Unless I want to constantly remove my proven, primary tires, extra wheels are desirable. Extra wheels make for better, more consistent tire testing, and back-to-back swaps of mounted tires is an easy process. Mounting & balancing tires and wheels is not easy, nor inexpensive. I’m not an aftermarket wheel aficionado—quite the contrary—I like perfectly fitting, relatively inexpensive, OEM aluminum wheels for my 4x4s, and using the same wheels eliminates a testing variable.

With the assistance of Craig’s List, finding take-offs from dudes who want “Lighter, Stronger, Faster” wheels, is relatively easy—as long as you have a current model truck that guys are actively modifying. (Are there actually lighter and stronger rims for the second generation Tundra than the 17-inch forged aluminum OE wheels?) This said, 17-inch 5-lug Tundra wheels are not that common, but the big wheel craze is a live-and-well, so with some patience take-offs can be found. Finding a set with worn tires, or no tires, seems to be the key to reasonable prices. Many want $1500 for their almost new take-off TRD 17-inch Rock Warrior wheels and BFG AT tires. I’m not a big fan of the BFG All-Terrain so there’s no way I’ll pay that kind of money.

The set pictured here was not located on Craig’s List, but on a Tundra forum. A guy posted a feeler several weeks before he planned to install 20-inch wheels and 35-inch tires on his Tundra after a 6-inch lift. He was in the same state so I sent him a PM. Turned out he was also in the same metro area, what are the odds? I made him an offer, he accepted, and we waited for his truck to be lifted. A couple weeks ago I purchased his TRD Rock Warrior 17-inch wheels, lug nuts, and locks, along with well used original BFG All-Terrain tires.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Wheels, Tires, and Sidewalls

On or off-highway this is a ridiculous wheel & tire combination.

A thread on the expeditionportal.com prompted this post. A gentleman asked how much sidewall is enough as he’s planning to use 37-inch tires on 20-inch wheels on a full-size diesel pickup. He asked if it would be worth it to spend money on 17-inch wheels and tires for occasional, recreational use, while using his twenties for daily driving. My answer to his question was no, it’s probably not worth it just for vacations. Though for me, it would be very desirable to run 17-inch tires & wheels everyday. His questions spurred me to expound on this important subject as it relates to overland travel for the first time here on RoadTraveler.net.

A Sidewall Baseline For 4WDs

I’m not an advocate of tall wheels if they are not necessary, of course many trucks these days have a minimum wheel diameter of 17-inches because the brakes are so large, and wheels between 18–20 inches have become fashionable. A tall wheel simply means less tire sidewall with which to perform off-highway duties for a given tire diameter. Taller sidewalls help a truck ride above the rocks and obstacles, all of the truck, including the wheels. Low-profile tires are needlessly vulnerable to trail damage, offer less flex, and are generally less versatile. It’s often forgotten, misunderstood, or unappreciated that tires are part of a vehicle’s suspension.

Using a 16-inch wheel with a 33-inch tire offers a sidewall height of 8.5-inches, (33 –16)/2 = 8.5″, a good baseline. We could get more technical and use the static radius, but it’s easier to simply use the manufacturers’ stated diameter, and it’s close enough for this topic. The lower half is what we drive on, what matters, and it provides more or less flex depending on its height and design. Sidewall flex can be a positive or a negative depending on your truck, the terrain, and your needs and preferences. In theory, a 35-inch tire on an 18-inch wheel, a 37-inch tire on a 20-inch wheel, as well as my thirty-three on a sixteen example, all have a lower sidewall height of approx. 8.5-inches.

If we are interested in the clearance we get from a particular tire size, specific tires need to be researched using the manufacturer’s data to determine the true diameter. Some tires will be very close to their stated height, 35-inches for example, while some are a half-inch short. One half-inch less diameter means 1/4-inch less sidewall on the bottom, a difference that can easily be measured and felt depending on the sensitivity of your butt dyno.

Load Range and Tire Construction 

A taller, higher aspect ratio, more flexible sidewall is helpful for off-highway travel for both ride quality and traction. One exception being that a stiffer (and tall) sidewall may be more resistant to puncture. A shorter and/or stiffer sidewall is generally less desirable off-highway. For heavy hauling and towing, a shorter, stiffer sidewall can be helpful, as less movement and flex generates less heat. However, on several occasions I’ve successfully and safely used relatively flexible, load-range D light-truck tires with 2-ply sidewalls to haul a couple tons (didn’t exceed tire capacity or GAWR), and have also towed several tons. I’ve also traveled many hundreds of miles (if not thousands) off-highway over the last two decades, mostly on load-range D tires. Have I had sidewall cuts? Of course, but only two that immediately come to mind, and one was last year. If you are concerned about sidewall punctures, there are some excellent, flexible load-range D tires with 3-ply sidewalls in some popular sizes. Your application and performance bias will help you choose your tires. There are many excellent, heavy-duty tires to choose from these days, some in load-range C, D, and E.

I acknowledge that load-range D tires are probably a dying breed, the writing has been on the sidewall for a while. The proliferation of heavy-duty pickups, particularly diesels, over the last several years has greatly influenced the tire aftermarket. Unfortunately even half-ton trucks and lightweight Jeeps are sometimes needlessly sold with load-range E tires, my 2005 Jeep Rubicon and 2011 Tundra are perfect examples. My coil-sprung, 103-inch wheelbase, 2005 Unlimited was a nice riding Jeep, with the exception of the needlessly stiff Goodyear Wrangler MT/R in a 245/75R16E (a relatively short sidewall). I liked the way the Jeep rode with only 25-PSI in the tires. After changing to taller load-range D tires, the combination of a taller sidewall and load-range D made the Jeep ride and perform better at all pressures, on- and off-highway.

My point is that as with many things these days, it’s easy to needlessly go to extremes and forget balance. All-steel, load-range F or G, Michelin military tires are not the best choice for your 3,000-pound soft-top YJ Wrangler, or for your heavy-duty pickup.

Not all load-range E tires are created equal, some are designed to flex better than others when pressures are reduced. My experience with both the BF Goodrich KM2 and All-Terrain T/A in load-range E indicates these tires are not overly stiff and flex well.

265/75R16E front , 255/85R16D rear. The sidewall difference is clear.

Tire Testing

I recently tested two sets of 33-inch tires, both the same size with reasonable 70% aspect ratios, on the same OE wheels, but with different load ratings and sidewall construction. This latest trial simply reinforced the potential differences in ride quality and overall performance between some tires with different load ranges, sidewall designs, or heights. The difference was enough that I was comfortable running considerably more PSI in the lighter, more flexible tire, but wanted to run minimal PSI in the much firmer tire to improve daily-driving ride quality, just like with the Jeep example above. Increasing PSI on a flexible tire will reduce flex and help it run cooler on-highway if desired.

One advantage to more flexible tires is there’s often less need to reduce pressures as much off-highway as with a stiffer tire. Tires that flex, conform, and ride better at a given pressure, and are sometimes so pleasant that for short drives on easy dirt roads with few rocks, there may be no need or desire to immediately lower pressures. Conversely, tires with very stiff construction can scream dump the pressure, at the first sign of anything bigger than a pebble, particularly on a firmly sprung heavy-duty pickup with no load.

Reinforcing Sidewall Lessons 

Another, older example are tests I conducted a few years ago, using two different sizes of the same tire, on two sets of Jeep Rubicon Moab wheels, on the same vehicle, with the same air pressure in both: Toyo Open Country MT LT265/75R16E vs. LT285/75R16E. Both tires have a 7-ply tread and 3-ply sidewall, are load-range E, have similar load capacities, and are very stiff designs. With 0.6″ additional lower sidewall, the taller 285s rode better on/off-road and flexed a little better when aired-down. This was experienced several times as both sets were in my fleet for a while and used on more than one 4WD. The stiff Toyo MT needs substantial deflation to obtain adequate deformation and ride quality off-highway, one of the tradeoffs for the Toyo’s very rugged design. The noticeable lack of flexibility from this otherwise excellent tire is a big negative for my all-around use. If you want a mud tire with less flex for very heavy hauling, or you don’t mind a firmer ride, the Toyo MT can be a great choice.

Flexibility and sidewall height, it matters.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

S-K In Green Boxes

S-K 94549 3/8″ drive socket set, $138

ToolTopia.com is based in Louisiana. When I ordered my new S-K 3/8-drive socket set (#94549, $138) on Monday I figured I’d be lucky if it arrived by Friday…tomorrow. Once the FedEx shipping information was available online, I saw that tools were coming from Fresno, California. Free ground shipping had the tools in my hands in just two days. Nice.

Initial fondling was pleasurable and confidence inspiring. I like the fitted plastic case the tools come in, and the ratchet has a better feel to the clicks than anything in my modest toolbox. The ultimate test will be after use and over time, but I like them.

My friend Paul, who used to make his living turning wrenches on diesel trucks and buses, was with me when I opened this late Christmas present, liked the ratchet as well. Paul’s tool knowledge is more complete than mine. He likes the direction changing dial better than the now common lever because it doesn’t inadvertently change directions, particularly at the most inappropriate time when tucked into a tight place. I’ve experienced an inadvertent direction change many times, often with my ratcheting combination wrenches.

I was surprised that I didn’t dislike the direction change dial on the round-head-fine-toothed (RHFT) S-K ratchet like I’d anticipated. Maybe this is because the RHFT dial-actuated ratchets I used decades ago were cheap? My memory is that the dial needed to be turned 90-degree or more and were rough? The S-K ratchet needs about a quarter turn to change from on to off, and feels smooth. Again, use will determine my long-term opinion, and a more detailed review will need to develop.

S-K 19733 hex bit set.

For $16.00 extra I purchase the S-K 94549A kit that “includes” the 9-piece SAE S-K 19733 hex bit set, which ToolTopia.com sells separately for $66.00. So for $154.00 I received a pretty complete 3/8-drive socket set, and a nice hex bit set that goes from a small 5/32″ to a rather large 5/8″. Am I the only one that sees this as a very good made-in-USA value?

RoadTraveler—Rolling Forward

Copyright © 2012 James Langan