Have you encountered vehicle vibrations caused by road tar? They're far from the Beach Boys' “Good Vibrations” variety.
You can add road tar accumulations as another potential cause of nasty vibrations on otherwise good tires.
Recently, my wife asked me to road test her car because it had developed some kind of vibration. Sure enough, the car had a strong vibration when it reached 60 miles per hour.
The condition seemed to be in the front of the vehicle. While the steering wheel shook violently at cruising speeds, I didn't feel any vibration in the seat of the car.
Furthermore, carefully shifting the transmission into neutral while the steering wheel was shaking had no impact on the vibration. The vibration varied according to changes in vehicle speed only—not engine load. (Shifting the vehicle into neutral eliminates the variable of engine load powertrain-related causes of vibrations.)
The severity of the vibration suggested some kind of substantial problem—missing wheel weight, large piece of road debris, etc. But a very quick visual inspection revealed nothing obvious.
A telephone call later, I had an appointment with the tire seller for a tire inspection. The tire dealer, Leipold Tire Co. in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, is family owned and operated.
Within several minutes, Leipold's technician identified a large glob of road tar on the right front tire of my wife's car. Fortunately, he was able to peel off enough of the tar to eliminate the vibration. For good measure, he rebalanced the tire and rotated it to the rear of the car.
The car, which is used daily, has driven smoothly ever since.
To me, the first lesson of this episode is the ease with which we can miss the most obvious of problems.
Granted, I was in a hurry. But I suspect that I looked right at or nearly at that blob of tar on the tire and missed it.
I don't pretend to be an expert, but I certainly did my share of tire inspections years ago at a full-service gas station. That was the era of truly full-service sites—the oil companies pushed us long and hard to move more TBA (tires, batteries and accessories).
In fact, we did move a lot of tires and did see some interesting problems.
Perhaps the most memorable lesson from those tire inspections was the notion that one should never underestimate the range of debris—and related symptoms—motorists can encounter.
After a while, finding the basic shard of glass or common nail in a tire was routine.
The bigger surprises were the chunks of shredded wood and fragments of broken steel. We'd marvel at the debris we pulled from customers' tires and good-naturedly invite car owners to explain the source of this bizarre material.
Typically, the customer had no idea.
During freezing winter weather, I learned that blobs of wet snow could freeze on the inside of the wheel or tire and cause vicious vibrations. Several times we had to put the car on a lift and show a doubtful customer what had happened.
But for all the unusual junk I remember extracting from tires, I don't remember peeling off blobs of road tar.
According to Dennis Leipold, owner/president of Leipold Tire, summer is a prime time for municipalities to repair road cracks with hot, molten tar.
What's more, many businesses use it to repair parking lots. Sometimes the size of the repair is negligible; other times the workers cover the tar patch with fine cinders.
Experience shows that in many instances sizable patches of gooey tar are left exposed, Mr. Leipold explained.
He said that one customer encountered large patches of tar that probably should have been cindered over or blocked off for a while. The customer's tires accumulated so much tar from this repaired roadway that Leipold's techs couldn't remove it!
Ultimately, the municipality responsible for maintaining that road paid for a new set of tires.
In the comedy classic, “Ghostbusters,” funny man Bill Murray whines that ghostly creatures have “slimed” him. Instead of slime, readers should watch for luckless customers whose vehicles have been “tarred.”