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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Yes, ‘Gyro-Matic’ proves handy in turns

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Bob Sikorsky The New York Times Syndicate

Dear Bob: In a recent article you mentioned a device mounted in the trunk of a car to keep the car steady on high-speed turns. You asked if readers had any information on the device. I can do better than information, because I have one of these devices.

It is 24 inches long, 5 inches high and 4 inches wide, and it weighs 51 pounds. The decal on top says that it is a “Gyro-Matic,” introduced by Auto Control Company in Reno, Nev., and made by Safety Control Inc. of Reno. It has U.S., English and West German patent numbers on it. On its side are stamped the words “Safety Control.”

If you hold it in front of you and rock it back and forth, you can feel liquid of some type moving back and forth inside the unit. I think it is filled with mercury, but that is only a guess. It is a rivet-sealed unit, with what looks like a stem to fill it.

— W.K., Spencer, Ohio

A: Sounds like a pretty cool device. It’s nice to know that my reader didn’t simply imagine it. Another seemingly ingenious invention that never made it to the main assembly lines!

Dear Bob: I’m a little confused about tire pressure. On the sidewalls of my P245/75R16 tires is listed a maximum tire pressure of 44 psi. My vehicle manufacturer’s sticker on the door calls for 35 psi in both front and rear tires.

I checked the Rubber Manufacturers of America Web site, and it says to go by the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations for air pressure. If that is the case, what does the maximum 44 psi on the sidewall of the tire mean?

I drive a 1997 GMC 4X4 extended-cab pickup. Should I keep my tire pressure at 44 psi or at 35 psi? I have noticed a difference in ride between the 44 psi and the 35 psi.


— K., Hagerstown, Md.

A: You should keep it at 35 psi, as the RMA and vehicle manufacturer suggest.

The 44 psi is the maximum pressure that the tire manufacturer judges the tire to be capable of safely holding. While you could safely use this amount, the ride would be much harsher, as you and your bruised bottom have already found out.


Here’s a tip that will help you get better gas mileage while fighting terrorism and cutting our nation’s dependence on Mideastern oil:

According to Champion Spark Plug Co., the condition of your ignition system is the single most important factor in whether or not your car starts in cold weather. It’s even more important than the condition of the battery. And that it’s also critical for good wintertime fuel economy goes without saying.

When an ignition system has broken or cracked ignition cables, worn spark plugs or a worn or corroded distributor cap or rotor, on older cars, it can be a chore to start the car, even with a new battery. Electricity, like water, seeks the easiest path along which to flow. Faulty wiring and bad ignition components interrupt or drain the electrical flow. Worn spark plugs, for example, easily require twice the electrical current that new ones do.

Cold also affects a battery’s capacity to produce the necessary power for starting. At 80 degrees F a battery has maximal power — 100 percent of its capacity. That drops to 60 percent at 32 degrees and goes down even further, hitting 46 percent at 0 degrees.

Engineers at Champion attempted to start two cars, one with a conventional ignition and one with an electronic ignition, at 0 degrees F. Before the tests, both cars had been demonstrated to be able to start without difficulty in warm-weather conditions.

In 0-degree conditions, however, the vehicle with the electronic ignition did not start at all in four three-second attempts. Technicians installed a new battery, but another attempt at starting was likewise unsuccessful.

Technicians then tuned the car, putting in new spark plugs, resetting timing to factory specs and replacing distributor components. Using the original battery, they made five new attempts at starting it in 0 degrees, and it started each time, averaging 2.67 seconds per attempt.

In the car with a conventional ignition system, with its battery and engine still in as-is condition, three initial attempts at starting it produced one unsuccessful start and two successful ones, one after 9.52 seconds and one in 2.31 seconds. After a new battery was installed, eight attempts to start the car yielded an average starting time of 9.87 seconds. With new spark plugs and a tuned engine, but using the old battery, starting time averaged only 1.75 seconds.

In short, a new battery could not help start either car at 0 degrees. Once their engines were tuned, however, even the old battery could fire the engines on either car.

Unsurprisingly, Champion concludes that a prewinter tune-up is indispensable for dependable starting. Though obviously the company has a vested interest in drivers replacing their spark plugs, I agree with their conclusion, and might add that a good tune-up is indispensable for maximal fuel economy, in the wintertime or at any other time.