What sort of tires do you recommend for wet pavement hill starts? I'm skidding out a lot in Seattle.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

I drive a 1998 Honda Civic with a standard transmission. I live in Seattle, so I do a lot of driving on wet streets. Sure, everybody knows that it rains a lot in Seattle, but not everyone realizes that we have hills that rival San Francisco's. I often get stuck at stoplights facing uphill, and I almost always have trouble with my tires slipping as I try to start from a full stop (no matter how quickly or slowly I try to pull away). Once I'm going, it's not a problem. What do you recommend? -- Kate

TOM: You mean other than moving to the desert Southwest, Kate?

RAY: Two things. One is to try the "hand brake" method of starting on a hill. When you stop and you're facing uphill, engage your hand brake. Then put the car in first gear, and put one foot on the clutch and one on the gas. You don't need a foot on the brake, because your parking brake is keeping you from rolling backward.

TOM: Then you can step on the gas slowly and gently, without fear of rolling backward into some wiseguy's just-painted Fleetwood. And once you feel the car start to pull forward, you release the hand break, and you're on your way. Just being more gentle with the gas might cut down on the tire spinning.

RAY: If not, you might just need new tires. When tires get old, their traction suffers. Plus, some tires are simply better than others on wet roads, due to their tread patterns and rubber compounds.

TOM: Consumer Reports rates tires on a regular basis. The top performer in its most recent test was the Michelin X-One, which received excellent marks -- in particular, for its wet-road braking. And while braking on wet roads is not your immediate concern, the same qualities that make a tire stop well on wet surfaces make it start well, too.

RAY: Another place to look is tirerack.com. The Tire Rack is a mail-order tire retailer. But it has a lot of good information on its Web site. For each tire, its customers rate wet and dry traction, among other things. So you can cross-check any of the tires that are highly rated by Consumer Reports, and see what Tire Rack users say about their wet traction (but realize that TR's survey is a lot less scientific than CR's tests).

TOM: If new tires don't work, the only other solutions are to flatten out the hills or to put more weight over the front wheels of your Civic, Kate. Try dropping a V8 in there, and let us know how that works.

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