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Automotive Traveler Magazine: Vol 3 Iss 3 Page 74

rate (whatever that is). I just feel tires should be round at all times, and the Contis seldom were.

Three new cars I've purchased during the last seven years came to me with Continental tires, and I swapped them as soon as possible for different brands. The out-of-balance problem was so pronounced on my 2005 Dodge Magnum R/T that the dealer-ship replaced them at no charge at the 20,000-mile mark with a set of Goodyears. (I'm not a fan-boy or hater of any particular tire brands, but I will not buy another car that's wearing Continentals.)

To fix the Crossfire's Continent-al problem, on Friday I stopped by Punchy Whitaker's Wheel & Tire in Concord, North Carolina, to have a set of Kumho Ecstas installed. I've been buying from Punchy for 15 years, and I always get a great price, even on special-order tires such as the Crossfire's 18-inch fronts and 19-inch rears.

When I dropped the Crossfire off to have them installed, I told the service desk I would pick up the old Continentals in case I need a temporary spare in an emergency. Keeping old tires is not an uncommon practice, so I thought this request needed no further explanation.

It appears I was very wrong.

On the subject of car care, the world is divided into two schools of thought --a conflict of standards that sparked my recent Crossfire Tire Fiasco.

Some people believe cars are boxes that transport people, luggage, and animals, and they expend no effort to keep them presentable. These are otherwise normal, friendly folks whose floorboards are landscapes of shifting fast food cups and reams of shoe-stamped papers from long-ago college courses. Their cars' battered hoods and roofs look like the undersides of ancient seagoing vessels, only the barnacles are insects trapped in a layer of tree sap and ossified bird droppings. These vehicles are rolling trash bins that tell the world in one glance, "Nobody loves me!"

Others--and you must know by now I include myself in this second group--feel every reasonable attempt should be made to keep a car in good condition, inside and out. My wife and I perform the bare minimum amount of work on our vehicles, yet they are always clean and "ready for guests," you might say.

Anything that goes into the car with us comes out with us. There is a trash can next to our garage should we have anything to deposit, which we almost never do. I give both cars a good vacuum cleaning every three months or so; the rest of the time, I might spend 30 seconds shaking out a dirty floor mat. A bi-weekly visit to Auto Bell keeps the paint and body shiny and bug-free.

Those of us in the latter group don't want people from the former group working on our cars any more than we would ask a serial killer to look after our children.

I returned to Whitaker's that after-noon with my wife's Forester and a stack of shop towels to transport the old, dirty Continentals back to my garage safely. Here's the short, one-act play that transpired:

Me: I'm here to pick up the old tires you pulled off my Crossfire.

Manager: Oh, the black Crossfire. They're already in the car.

Me (thinking he's confused): No, I mean the old tires--the Continentals you pulled off.