The Mystery Mileage VW

Oct 12, 2004

Mystery Mileage on a '73 Beetle

RAY: This puzzler came from a guy named Steve Boyd. As a way of introducing the puzzler he says, "The puzzler for this week was really bad. I felt I must suggest a truly automotive puzzler."

He writes, "When I bought my 1973 Beetle about 10 years ago, the hippie I bought it from told me that the 80,000 on the odometer were original miles. I didn't believe him for a second, because when I took the car for a test drive I noticed there was rust all over the body, the brakes would barely stop the car-- I had my heart in my throat when I stepped on the brakes—and the clutch was beginning to slip.

"I negotiated the price down to 400 bucks, and felt pretty proud of myself. I gave him the money and drove my yellow time bomb...I mean, time warp, home. About a year later, I got around to buying new tires. When I called around to get the best price, a tire vendor told me something that made think that, just maybe, I had been told the truth about the 80,000 original miles.

"What was I told?"
RAY: The answer has everything to do with the tires. When this car was made, tires were not measured the same way they are now. They were measured in a typically American way, in which the width of the tire was one of the measurements. This car had something like 560-15 tires, which meant that the width of the tread was 5.6 inches.

It wasn't until about the mid-70's that they stopped making tires like this, and we went over to measuring tires in the metric system.

Now, if you buy tires, they might be 195, even though we also kept the 15 part. The 195 is the size of the tread, the 15 is still the diameter of the wheel, which is in inches.

There are also bias ply tires, but that's another story. Do we have a winner?

TOM: We do. The winner this week is Amy Bailey, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And for having her answer selected at random from among all the correct answers that we got, Amy is going to get a $26 gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division of, where she can get, among other things, a beautiful, blue Car Talk baseball cap, just in time for what? Football season.

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