By Brad Bowling
Four years ago, my wife and I each bought our "real-world fantasy cars." Hers is a turbo-charged 2007 Subaru Forester in World Rally Blue with the biggest sliding sunroof I've ever seen. Mine is a 2006 Chrysler Crossfire two-seater. The Forester has just crossed the 50,000-mile mark; the Crossfire sits for long periods and has yet to see 20,000 miles. Both live in a nice protective garage.
The Crossfire's only negative has been its factory-supplied Continental tires. I'm not a high-performance tire snob, so my Continental complaints don't involve arcane points such as drift angles or how they affect my yaw 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.
Manager: Yeah, we already put them in the car.
Me (confused, but willing to give it another try): You're saying the old tires are in my car? It's a tiny little sports car. Are we talking about the same Crossfire?
Manager: Yeah, we put two in the back and two in the passenger seat. They fit.
There were so many things wrong with what Manager said that I couldn't think of any further questions. I walked out to the lot and took a look inside the Crossfire. Manager was not kidding me.
They really did stuff four large tires into my immaculate two-seater's interior, leaving just enough room for the driver. There was wadded plastic under the tires, although a fully exposed rubber sidewall was squeezed against my passenger door panel, and there were other points of contact due to the randomness of the sheet placement. I could tell the plastic had been used to ship or store tires, because it showered my interior with hundreds of tiny rubber bits that were especially noticeable on the silver-colored console. After baking in the hot June sun for two hours with the windows closed, the interior smelled like a FEMA trailer.
Rather than waste my time discussing this bizarre interpretation of the term "customer service," I draped my shop towels over every tire surface that was touching or in danger of rubbing against an interior part and slowly drove the Crossfire to the safety of its garage.
After four careful extractions and a lot of tire dust removal, only the strong rubber smell serves to remind me of the day my Karmann-built, Mercedes-engineered coupe was mistaken for a parts hauler.
Note from the editorial director: Brad Bowling has been writing about and photographing cars for magazines since 1985. He was a member of the board of directors of the Mustang Club of America and has been the editor of Mustang Times, associate editor of Mustang Illustrated, editor of Old Cars Weekly News & Marketplace, director of website development for Charlotte Motor Speedway, and editor of Cars & Parts. Bowling served on Saleen Autosport's public relations staff in the late 1980s.
I had the pleasure of working as a contributing editor to Cars & Parts while he was its final editor, and together we collaborated on more than 20 features, including a dozen cover stories. There are few editors I personally hold in higher regard than Brad Bowling.
His published credits include 14 books and countless magazine articles. He is probably best known for his definitive history of the Mustangs of Steve Saleen, The Saleen Book (1984-2003): 20 Years of Saleen Mustangs, published with his wife under their imprint Driveway Books LLC and available directly on his website. --Richard Truesdell