Project VehiCross Part 3: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

by David Zipf

If you've ever owned a project car, you know that things never go according to plan.  Our VehiCross is not supposed to be a normal project car, falling more into the mildly restored daily driver category.  But when you need to replace parts and can gain some performance, you might as well, right?  Unfortunately with any project, things don't always go as planned and as you replace one thing, you find another and another and...

Things started with the tires.  The first time we saw our VX, we knew it would need tires.  The original tires were Nexen CUV tires, made for soccer moms to put on their Ford Edge to fight in parking space battles at the mall.  On top of being wussy tires, they were nearly bald and dry rotting, which is very unsafe.  Now foolish us, we bought our VX in winter and thanks to global warming, we bought it right in the middle of the snowiest winter Kentucky had ever seen!  Instead of risking our rare SUV to some moron in a clapped out Silverado, we drove our old sacrifical CR-V with its nice grippy BF-G A/Ts and waited for the snow to thaw, while we planned out our tire choice.


I have to admit, for a bald, dry rotted commuter tire, these were quite good in the dry.  In the wet?  Not so much, but considering their age, that's to be expected.

When looking at tires, we set some guidelines.  The first was we wanted to keep the stock wheels.  Our entry level engineering budget simply didn't have the room for both wheels and tires.  Even if we could afford to buy them, we had nowhere to store 4 spare wheels and tires (this has since changed).  The VX's pretty chrome wheels are definitely good looking, but the 18" size will limit our tire selection.  Second, while our VX will see some mud and dirt (and definitely snow in 2016), most of our driving will be on the highway.  We commute 80 miles a day and a serious off-road tire will be wasted on the road.  Heavy and sticky mud tires will chew themselves to bits while hammering our ear drums and killing our already mediocre fuel mileage.  So a street oriented tire with some off-road features should do the job nicely.

After eliminating all of the boring CUV choices, we were left with Hankook's Dynapro ATM RF10 and Nitto's Terra Grappler.  MotoIQ already uses the Terra Grappler on our Project Tundra and with great success.  However we went with the Hankook for two reasons: first, it was noticeably cheaper than the Nitto, and second it should last us longer.  Both of these are important for new engineers still getting their financial feet on the ground, so the Hankook it is!  Oddly enough, we had our Hankook tires installed at the local Goodyear center.  Not only are they open on Saturdays, but they are within walking distance from our apartment.  The Goodyear center also performed a 4-wheel laser alignment on our VX to ensure our cool new tires wear evenly.


The Dynapro has a symmetric tread pattern, with lots of deep tread voids, perfect for shrugging off mud, snow, and water.  Lots of sipes add even more biting edges for when the terrain gets rough.  Underneath the rugged tread is a reinforced belt system that helps prevent damage when the tire is aired down and trekking over rocks.  This extends to the sidewalls, protecting against both rocks and curbs.  Note how the tread extends down the sidewall: when aired down, the sidewall will flatten out, making the tire wider.  The side lugs also help the tire find grip when stuck between rocks or muddy sinkholes.  The tread blocks have all sorts of little features to aid in self cleaning and add biting edges.  Also aiding against curb damage are a nice set of rim protectors.  The Isuzu has some funky sightlines, so these are quite a welcome addition for parallel parking!

When we picked our new Hankook Dynapro, we did not stick with the factory size.  The factory VX tire is a 225-50/18 and looks way too small.  There is lots of fender gap and it just looks wrong on a badass multi purpose SUV.  Not only that, but tire choice in this size is less than stellar.  Our Nexens were actually 255/60-18, and that is exactly what size the Hankooks came in.  Perfect!  We did not realize the Nexens were larger until we started looking up new tires.  The larger diameter would explain why our speedometer reads a few MPH too low.  However the extra tire is a welcome addition to the ride comfort and the chunkier looking tire suits the personality of the VX much better.  In fact, on the stock wheels, it looks just right.  Score!


Taking a dip through this muddy road, you can see how all those side lugs bite into the mud to help pull the truck forward.  The tires do clean nicely when you get some wheel speed.  Our side steps and doors were covered in mud when we hit the road after this!

Since we've mentioned the BFGs from our old CR-V, they were a consideration until we looked at the price: double what we paid for the Hankooks!  Yikes!  


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Thursday, October 15, 2015 5:23 AM
The cv's in my saab are that blueish color. I was hoping to get away with a cleaning, grease repack and reboot. Nope.
Thursday, October 15, 2015 9:47 AM
Bluish strip? Pish-posh, heat-treated stub axles! ;-p
Thursday, October 15, 2015 10:44 AM
You replaced brake pads that still had a groove visible in the center? You had tons of life left!

And yeah I thought the consensus in the comments from your CRV article was that EBC pads are okay, but there's always something better no matter what you're looking for in a brake pad. That's certainly my feeling on EBC.

Lastly, I love cars where replacing brake rotors is a hell of a job. I'm looking at replacing front rotors on a 911 SC and steps include disconnecting the caliper from the hydraulic system (which means a bleed is necessary at the end) and pulling the hubs (might as well do the wheel bearing while you're there...).
Thursday, October 15, 2015 12:53 PM
Oh, and speaking of repairs that are supposed to be 3/10 difficulty and end up 9/10... those saab axles. They're splined in, with a captive circlip. Nothing unusual. We pounded on each axle for about 4 hours, with the circlip gully open, before it finally let go. Even used an air hammer.

And then once it was finally apart, we saw the blued metal. Waste of a saturday.
Thursday, October 15, 2015 1:04 PM
I had those pads on my Highlander. The first two weeks I had them they dusted like crazy, but didn't dust after the bed in layer was rubbed off.
Thursday, October 15, 2015 2:36 PM
Try heat or penetrant?
Thursday, October 15, 2015 5:45 PM
Everyone should know that EBC brakes are inferiors to Hawk.
Friday, October 16, 2015 1:02 PM
Please elaborate how Hawk pads are better than EBC. There's a brake pad for every situation and and car and I feel it's completely up to the use case to determine what brand and model would be a good pad/disc to use, be it EBC, Hawk, Stoptech, Carbotech, etc.
Monday, October 19, 2015 5:43 AM
@Samuel: just like in my EBC piece, there are different pads for different applications. For both the VX and my old CR-V, both are pure street driven vehicles with zero track time. Neither need high temperature ratings, or super high mU. More important was ensuring a wide temperature range, low dust, and effectiveness in all types of weather and terrain. I was very happy with the EBCs on my CR-V, especially in the mud. I drove through axle deep water and mud holes many times and always had brakes on the other side. My only complaint then was the pads only lasted 35K miles before wearing out completely and I would have liked better life. However with the VX, the dust is bad and the squealing was unacceptable, lasting for a month. I think a lot of that has to do with the brakes on the VX being a bit undersized. They're about the same size as they were on my CR-V, but with 800 lbs more to stop! So the brakes have to work a lot harder and will therefore make more dust. On the VX, I don't think the EBCs were the right choice. When they wear out, we'll try something else. However, I would really like to find some kind of big brake upgrade. The brakes are almost laughably small for something this heavy. It'll take some creativity since the VX is not exactly an aftermarket powerhouse, but if we can improve the brakes overall, we can stick with a less aggressive pad and solve our dust problems.
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