Motormouth: Winter tires urged for cars designed for fuel efficiency

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

January 1, 2018

Q: I just endured a drive of 2 1/2 hours for an 11-mile commute due to nasty ice that formed on the pavement after a measly 2-inch snowfall. Nearly one hour was spent watching three different electric or hybrid subcompact cars with high-mileage tires try to make it up a hill. All kept trying and all failed. Each had to eventually slide down the hill to take another route. Would you do all snow belt cities a huge favor and let people with high-mileage tires know they really, really need a set of snow tires for the winter?

ó K.J., Minneapolis

A: Life is full of compromises. Want good cornering and performance? Give up some tread life. Want efficiency and fuel economy? Give up winter traction. "As a group, electric and hybrid vehicles are by design hyperfocused on efficiency, and anecdotally their original equipment tires bring along the largest trade-offs in traction and wear life. But they are not alone. Many vehicle manufacturers are making real gains in efficiency with their fossil fuel-powered vehicles. The tire is doing its part in this equation, too, and I expect to see a growing number of these vehicles struggling to get up that icy hill on their OEM tires too. In the end, we all benefit if we all have better traction in wintertime. Better traffic flow, fewer accidents, less stress while driving. Letís hope more people find their way to good winter tires," says Woody Rogers, director of tire information at Tire Rack.

Q: I have a 1999 Toyota 4Runner. If I leave the car sitting idle for four to five days, the battery will be drained so much that it will not turn over the motor. Charging for a while makes it work again until it sits for a length of time. In leaving the car idle for three months, I disconnected the wires from the battery and when I hooked it up again, it started the car. I am assuming that something in the motor is draining the battery.

ó R.H. Waconia, Minn.

A: It is not the motor, but the array of electronics in the vehicle. Many of them draw some current to keep them alive even when you switch off the key (or press the off button). If your battery is old and getting weak, it may not be able to keep up.

Q: Recently, C.W. of Chicago asked about a solution for not having heated seats in a Honda Fit. Menards sells an electric heated vehicle seat cushion that plugs into the cigarette lighter of the vehicle. Iíve used it for years and it works great. I also gave them to my children and they loved them. They sell for approximately $15.00. A nice easy and cheap solution.

ó R.J., Chicago

A: Thanks for the tip and reminder. Seat-top heater cushions are available from many sources, including Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, Amazon and more. We forgot that we still have one we bought years ago that even has three-position massagers and a 110 VAC adapter so that I may use it on my office chair.