Measuring Up Romania

Jan 08, 2007

RAY: I had to help out Kenneth Letz who sent in the kernel of this puzzler. In fact, I helped out so much, he won't even recognize it.

In the good old USA we still use something called the "British" system of measurement, i.e., the mile, the gallon, the bushel, the inch, the rod, while practically the entire rest of the world has embraced the elegant simplicity of the metric system.

As you would expect American car manufacturers used the British system until globalization infiltrated the marketplace and forced them to adopt the metric system. Well, nowadays every American manufacturer uses the metric system almost exclusively. So that practically every fastener--you know nuts and bolts and whatnot--is measured in millimeters and even torque specifications are now given in Newton-meters and not foot-pounds.

I travel quite a bit and I spend a lot of time in Bucharest, Romania, where they most likely have never heard of the British system of measurement. While being chauffeured around town one day and sitting in in traffic, I noticed something interesting. I noticed that every car from the lowly Dacia, where none of the body parts quite fit, to the high-end Mercedes, is using the British system of measurement. That's right, there's something on all of these cars, that is not metric. What is it?

I'm going to give you a hint. Your Toyota or your Volvo or any car that you drive in the United States might have the same part that's not metric; that is, it's using the British system of measurement.
TOM: I think I know the answer to this puzzler.

RAY: I bet you do. What he noticed, while he was being chauffeured around in traffic, were the tires.

TOM: The tires! I knew it!

RAY: He noticed the tires on the cars that were next to him. Just like tires in this country they're half metric and half English. If you have a tire, let's say, a 225/15, the 225 is in millimeters.

TOM: The 15 is inches!

RAY: Right. That's the size of the hole in the tire.

The rest of the tire measurements are in millimeters. There's some agreement that's been struck between the Europeans. I'm sure in Asia you'll find tires whose wheels are not measured in inches, but all the Asian cars that come here use the system that we and the Europeans use. Pretty cute, eh?

Who's our winner?

TOM: Our winner this week is Kate Imholt from Washington, D.C. And for having her answer selected at random from among all the correct answers that we got, Kate is going to get a 26-dollar gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division at, with which she can get our classic tire gauge. This is the most serious tire gauge you can get, an old-fashioned dial gauge made of brass, with a rubber protective cover, and a sturdy hose coming off of it. It's so reliable, in fact, I use it to check my blood pressure too.

RAY: Oh yeah, what is your blood pressure?

TOM: 32 PSI over 80.

RAY: I think you need to cut down on the salt.

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