I drive a Toyota Corolla. It was purchased to be my commuter car, and it does it’s job very well. It’s small and economical, getting good mileage. Unfortunately, because it is light in weight and front-wheel drive (some of the same factors that make it economical) it can be a bit squirrelly. Particularly on wet pavement, it’s easy to lose traction. Now, you can imagine that being in Portland, I spend a lot of time on wet pavement. This is something that has made me nervous on more than one occasion.

So, when I noticed that my tires were getting a bit worn, I decided to try and improve the situation with an upgrade in tires. I went to my local Les Schwab, and told them the situation. They recommended a new set of all-season radials, with siping.

I’ve never been one for showy appearances. If I cared how the car I drove looked, I wouldn’t be driving a Corolla. But the plastic hubcaps on the Corolla are spectacularly ugly:

I just wanted something that looked a little better. So I asked about new rims. Nothing flashy, nothing showy, nothing expensive, just something that looked better than those plastic hubcaps. The Les Schwab guy pointed out some inexpensive clear-coated rims that he thought would look nice on the car.

Then we discussed going from a 14-inch to a 15-inch tire. The larger tire and rim would be slightly more expensive, but should improve handling. So I said yes.

I was driving home with my daughter, when I heard an intermittant scraping noise from the wheel wells. This was troubling, but I had an apppointment across town, so I loaded up the rest of the family and headed out. This time the noise was incredibly loud. We went back home and took the minivan.

When we got back home, I started to take the Corolla back to Les Schwab, but it made no noise. I went fast, I went slow, I went over speed bumps, turned hard right, turned hard left. No noise. Hmmm. Must have fixed itself, whatever it was.

So I loaded up the family to go to dinner, and stayed outside the car while they climbed in. The car body settled disturbingly low on the new tires, low enough that when the car hit any bump at all, the edge of the wheel well rubbed on the outside edge of the new, and wider, tires. Well, damn.

Schwab is closed on Sundays, so I will have to wait until next week to address the issue. I can’t decide whether to go back to a 14-inch tire, or try to do something about the suspension, maybe get stiffer shocks. I don’t really want to give up the new tires, because it was raining cats and dogs this afternoon but the car felt much more stable. I even tried to peel out from an intersection, on a hill, and it was hard to do.

But aside from the uncertainty in resolving the wheel scraping, I am still troubled. I look at my car now, and I wonder why I got those new rims. I’ve never particularly cared what my vehicle looked like before. I think that if I had realized that the rims were made by American Racing, with their logo prominantly displayed, I would have demurred.

When I look at my car, with those new rims on it, it looks very flashy and ostentatious to my eyes. Whatever could have gotten into me?

Then it hits me. This is the first stirring of my mid-life crisis. First flashy rims and new tires. Next, I’ll put on a spoiler. Then, tinted windows and decals. An overpowered stereo with a massive subwoofer. A coffee can exhaust pipe. A body kit. Then….neon lights underneath. Heaven help me.