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THE CAR DOCTOR

Low rolling resistance tires do save fuel

Plus: Camaro versus Mustang, Explorer making noise at speed

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / October 26, 2009

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Q. Can tires actually save gas? I have been hearing about tires that can cause the car to use less fuel, is this true?

A. I recently had Matt Edmonds from the mail order tire company, Tire Rack (www.tirerack.com) on my radio program (Saturday 9 a.m. on www.wrolradio.com). They did a comparison study and found that low rolling resistance tires such as Michelin Energy Saver and Bridgestone Ecopia can actually save fuel. In a test with a Toyota Prius, the difference between tested tires with the lowest rolling resistance and the highest resulted in the savings of 21 gallons of fuel over 15,000 miles without any trade-offs for performance and tire life.

Q. This isn't a car repair question. I would like to buy an American car. What cars are made in America?

A. There was a time that this was an easy question to answer. Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler were all American cars, made for the most part in the United States. Now Chrysler is owned by Fiat, and many popular Ford and General Motors cars are made in Mexico and Canada. Traditional imported cars have manufacturing or assembly plants from the Carolinas to California. You could buy a Honda Accord made in Ohio, a Toyota Camry made in Kentucky, a Buick Lucerne made in Michigan or a Ford Taurus made in Illinois. Arguably the Buick and Ford are more American than Toyota and Honda.

Q. My 1998 Ford Explorer makes a noise if I'm driving more than 45 miles per hour. When I accelerate its fine, when I let off the gas, there is a loud fan-like noise. What could cause that?

A. Generally the differential pinion bearing will make this type of growling noise. Typically the noise gets louder the faster you drive. Four-wheel drive vehicles like yours can sometimes be a little hard to diagnose. As a general rule the front pinion bearing will be noisy when coasting and the rear pinion bearing will make noise under load.

Q. What are your thoughts about the Camaro versus the Mustang? It has always been an age-old rivalry.

A. Many years ago I owned a 1966 Mustang convertible and always wanted a Camaro. The 1969 and 1970 Camaro were among my favorites; the styling appealed to me and the 302 and 350 cubic-inch engines had great performance. Now that I'm much older, the 2010 Camaro styling doesn't appeal to me. Overall, the performance is great and the handling surprised me with how good it actually was. My biggest complaint is with the sight-lines – the visibility is terrible. The Mustang, after all these years, still looks great and handles better than ever. Although the 4.6 liter V-8 engine isn't nearly as powerful as the 6.0 liter engine in the Camaro, the overall performance is still quite good. Thirty-six years later, for me it's the Mustang.

Q. I'm moving to Charlestown in November and I'm looking to buy a car before then. I want a hatchback, something I can fold the seats flat to fit my skis in the winter, but something not too long so it won't be too hard to fit into street parking. I also want something with good gas mileage. I'm looking to buy a used car and the options out there are starting to overwhelm me. I hope you can make a couple suggestions for cars that would be good in the city.

A. The Volvo C30 is a compact two-door four seat hatchback that may fit your overall criteria. The 226 horsepower five-cylinder engine provides a nice balance of power and performance. You could also look at the Scion tC. With snow tires, it could fit the bill. Although not a hatchback, but a car that may fit the bill would be a Subaru Outback or Forester. The Subaru offers decent fuel economy, a good repair record, and all-wheel drive to get you out of the city and onto the slopes in just about any weather.

John Paul is the public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England. He can be reached at jpaul@aaasne.com or on Twitter @johnfpaul.