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you & your car

I have an issue with a 2007 Camry SE. From day one, this car "wagon rutted," following any crack or imperfection on the road. Alignments (multiple), rebalancings, rotations – nothing resolved the issue. It was only after replacing the "factory" tires with a new set that the issue went away. I am convinced that original equipment tires are substandard to what is available aftermarket and will now install new tires with any new vehicle I purchase – keeping the originals for when I either sell or trade in. – Joe in London, Ont.

I could not agree more. Vehicle manufacturers set specifications for tire suppliers to meet when submitting bids for the business. These specs depend on the vehicle, but for a high-volume family car such as yours, primary factors are noise levels, ride quality and fuel mileage, all of which are on the opposite side of the features chart than handling or long life.

A low rolling resistance tire, by its nature, produces less noise and enhances fuel mileage. But that lack of resistance and the necessary tread design means it is more likely to "resist" changes in the road surface, to follow the path of least resistance if you like.

In addition, when suppliers submit bids for the hundreds of thousands or even millions of tires involved, you can bet price plays a significant role in the decision.

The single most important safety feature of any vehicle is the quality of rubber that meets the road. Those four little contact patches each the size of the palm of your hand determine how well it stops, turns or accelerates – the more grip they provide, the better the steering and brake systems – and how related safety features like ABS and stability control work.

Replacing original equipment tires is one area where it is wrong, if not dangerous, to seek the lowest price. A friend once said in reference to this practice, "you pocket the savings, but you take the risk."

Rather than trying to save a few dollars, this as an opportunity, perhaps the only one a consumer has, to improve the safety of their vehicle, to enhance the numerous engineering features in a modern passenger vehicle by upgrading to a higher-quality tire, one where wet and dry traction take precedence.


I recently bought a 1990 Plymouth Laser (DSM), and the owner's manual states that gasohol is not to be used in the vehicle. Given that most gasoline includes ethanol these days, how critical is it to use gasoline without ethanol? Where can I find ethanol-free gasoline? – Andrew

There is a great deal of controversy regarding this issue.

Ethanol is a liquid alcohol that in Canada is made principally from corn and wheat. Blended with gasoline, it produces fuel with environmental advantages when compared with gasoline.

Federal regulations state that gasoline sold in Canada after September, 2010, must contain an average of 5 per cent ethanol. There are also provincial mandates.

The problem is that ethanol has a corrosive effect on some materials – rubber, brass, cork, plastic, nylon, aluminum and fibreglass for example. Ethanol also has an affinity for moisture and tends to cleanse older fuel lines and systems of accumulated deposits and these may clog filters.

Studies by petroleum scientists and insurance companies who specialize in older vehicles have shown cars produced after 1998 should be okay with E10 or E15 blends (10-15 per cent ethanol). But your older car may require modifications to the fuel tank, lines and injection system to run on fuel containing ethanol.

Some stations display a yellow label at the pump indicating that the fuel may contain ethanol. In some cases, the higher grades of gasoline do not contain ethanol. For example, Shell V-Power does not contain ethanol anywhere in Canada. Shell says "typically in Canada, we only have 10 per cent ethanol in regular grade in specific markets such as Lower Fraser Valley, Southern Ontario, etc."

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