Why it sucks to be an American car enthusiast in 2010

When laws are suggested that are obviously and blatantly anti-gearhead, it's easy to fight it. Crushing classic cars or restrictions on modifying exhaust systems would be good examples. But it's hard to fight things that you don't even see coming.

The TREAD act, signed into law in fall 2000, is and will continue to cause significant pain to many people who want to modify newer vehicles. Due to the flurry of lawsuits regarding failures of Firestone tires originally equipped mainly on Ford Explorers at the end of the last century, a law was passed mandating tire pressure monitoring sensors (TPMS) starting in September 2007 on 2008 model year vehicles. Since the law was worded as "any vehicle sold starting September 2007," it's a safe bet that most 2007 model vehicles have them too. The end result of this law is that changing wheels and tires is now a much more expensive and annoying proposition.

For those people who may not have seen a TPMS, it's important to describe. From the outside of the mounted wheel and tire, it looks just like a normal valve stem. But on the inside of the wheel is the sensor, attached to the valve stem. It sends a radio signal to your vehicle that the car can be calibrated to read. The sensors are proprietary, as there were no standards set by the law, so they vary by make or even model.


A traditional valve stem costs $1 or less. $100 per corner is a fair estimate for a TPMS. If you switch wheels and tires on a newer vehicle, you have three choices really. The first is to not put sensors on the new wheels and tires. This results in beeping on every vehicle start and a warning light constantly lit on the dash (that mind you looks absolutely nothing like anything related to a tire) that can not legally be disabled. It also opens the door to concerns about safety inspections, resale and liability. The second choice is to move the sensors from your original wheels and tires, but then you're paying for extra dismounts, and what of your original wheels and tires? You can either leave them separated and dismounted, or reassemble them with traditional valve stems. The third option is to pony up for a second set of sensors, which is hundreds of dollars of extra cost in the mix. Also adding to the pain, many shops will not work on wheels and tires with the sensors in them, and some that do charge a large premium for mounting and dismounting, or moving sensors from rim to rim.

Changing wheels and tires will never be the same again. And it's questionable at best if it would even have had an impact in the original Ford Explorer cases. Essentially, as the sidewall and tread separated, the sensor would have been beeping at you WHILE your truck was crashing.

The second legislation is the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was designed to reduce reliance on foreign oil. A part of the bill included a Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandate, which had a requirement of 10.5 million gallons of ethanol being included into our fuel source in 2009 and onward. The intent here was to spread usage of E85 fuel. However, to comply with the law, the oil companies just starting pushing more and more E10 out the door, which is legal to sell as "regular" gasoline. It's at a point now where it's so widespread, that of many dozens of gas stations in my area, there are only two left that sell ethanol-free fuel and they charge extra per gallon for it.

Why is this so terrible for gearheads? E10 fuel was regionally and/or seasonally used only until this bill, if at all. Consequently, any vehicle older than two or three years has a really good chance of running poorly on E10 fuel, and was probably not designed to run it year round. At best, even the vehicles that are calibrated to run on it are going to get worse mileage, by 3 - 5%. At worst, in time there can be broken parts, leaking/failing seals and gaskets and who knows what else?


Both of these acts were passed into law without regard for their long term effects, or the potential expense burden they bring to the table. And unfortunately, there is virtually no vehicle whatsoever on the road that is exempt from dealing with one or both of these issues. If you own a pre-2008 car, you may not have to deal with forced TPMS, but you may have issues with E10 fuel. Buying a new car gets you around the E10 fuel problem, but the TPMS sensors are guaranteed.

I found out both things myself the hard way this year. A $300 set of wheels and a $120 set of used tires were $780 by the time they were on the car, and that was with used sensors from eBay. I also spent a full afternoon dirty and on my back, as well as $50 of parts changing my fuel level sensor on a truck that was weeks out of warranty. Had I taken it to a dealer? $300 easily, and with no guarantee the problem won't just repeat in a few more years.


Unfortunately there's nothing we can do to change either. Both of these are only becoming issues now, years after they first became laws, and it's too late to fix them. At absolute minimum though, there needs to be far more education about both topics, so people know what sort of potential hidden headaches they might need to deal with.

This piece was written and submitted by a Jalopnik reader and may not express views held by Jalopnik or its staff. But maybe they will become our views. It all depends on whether or not this person wins by whit of your eyeballs in our reality show, "Who Wants to be America's Next Top Car Blogger?"


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