Hubcaps of the Undercover Highway Patrol

Jun 27, 2005

RAY: The inspiration for this puzzler was sent in a decade or two ago by a fellow named Eric Orr. Actually, it was just a few months ago. And, of course, I had to completely scrap what he sent in.

TOM: He sent you the kernel of the idea.

RAY: Exactly. Here it is:

I remember a day some years ago when I got into a scrape with the law. Okay, I got stopped for speeding. It was an unmarked state police car that pulled me over. As he drove off after handing me my license and speeding ticket, I looked his car over, trying to find something that would make this unmarked car easier to spot in a crowd of cars the next time.

Well, the one thing I did notice - there were no other features really - was that this car had something called "half moon hubcaps." They're the kinds that cover only that part of the wheel where the lug nuts are located. They don't cover the entire wheel like traditional hubcaps.

Over the next few weeks, I began to look at lots of police cars, both marked and perhaps even unmarked. Most of them had these very same hubcaps, and not the full wheel hubcaps that most civilian cars had.

The question is why do you see these kinds of hubcaps on police cars? By the way, you do see them on some civilian cars. You see them on hot rods, for example--and it may be that they're on hot rods and police vehicles for the same reason.
RAY: Full size hubcaps have a hole in them for the valve stem. That's where you put the air. And if the car's engaged in high-speed operation, it's possible for the hubcaps to come flying off. And when those hubcaps come flying off --

TOM: They take the end of the valve with them!

RAY: Right. The valve stem gets cut off and leads to rapid tire deflation and an abrupt end to the high-speed chase.

TOM: It's not a chase anymore because one guy ain't going anywhere.

RAY: Do we have a winner?

TOM: Yes, we do. Our winner this week is Ruth Bargus, from Port Byron, Illinois. And for having her answer selected at random from among all the correct answers that we got, Ruth is going to get a 26-dollar gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division at, where she can get an extremely skimpy Car Talk bikini.

RAY: What, we're selling bikinis?

TOM: Oh sorry, I meant a T-shirt. What did I say, I meant a lovely 100% cotton Car Talk T-shirt.

RAY: You're losing it.

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