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Tire Inflation--Take Two

Posted by: David Kiley on August 4, 2008

The McCain campaign, incredibly, has actually doubled down on its incredibly wrong lampooning of Barack Obama for making the entirely correct point on the stump this week that a majority of Americans will save more money at the pump by making sure their tires are properly inflated than if McCain got his way on his gas tax holiday.

McCain aides are distributing tire gauges to the traveling press corp. On the side of the gauge, “Obama Energy Plan” is written on the side.

“John McCain says we need off-shore oil drilling and we need it now,” says campaign manager Rick Davis in an email to supporters. “Senator Barack Obama has consistently opposed offshore drilling - calling it a “gimmick.” Senator Obama’s solution to high gas prices is telling Americans to make sure their tires are inflated.”

Obama, of course, never said that proper inflation was the entirety of his energy plan. In fact, he disclosed more specifics of his plan today.

These posts are not meant to knock McCain for being a Republican. It is to knock the Arizona Senator and his staff for being obtuse and ill-informed about the real issue of poor tire inflation that DOES cause people to waste a lot of money on gas they don’t need to be burning. After spending quite a bit of time on the phone last week with McCain staffers, I can report that they have no real interest in being held accountable for spreading falsehoods in ads and their daily e-mails—including this falsehood.

What is disappointing is the way the McCain staff is acting like Otter, Bluto and D-Day getting ready for the Homecoming Parade rather than grown-ups about a serious issue.

It’s one thing to disagree with Obama’s energy positions. They probably don’t go as far as they should. But that’s no excuse for childish behavior and rhetoric.

Reader Comments

William C Montgomery

August 4, 2008 3:06 PM

First, let me agree with you that Sean Hannity is a poorly educated blowhard who debate repertoire consists solely of yelling. And let me disclaim that I have an air compressor in my garage and diligently (i.e. OCD) keep my tires properly inflated. Why? Because I’m cheap and I can hear the loose change squishing out the sidewalls of my tires when I drive (not really, but you get the point). That said, I find Obama’s energy policy comes off like he is making it up as he is going along (I suppose because he is). From a political standpoint his tire pressure statement is as daft as Jimmy Carter’s thermostat / sweater fireside chat. Advocating tire pressure maintenance is good practical advice. But it is ridiculous governmental policy coming from a presidential candidate. I dare say that if President Bush made the same suggestion that you would be lambasting him. Further evidence that Obama has no clear energy policy is his more recent pronouncement that the federal government should take down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by 10% to drive pump prices down. Has he not noticed that the prices have dropped materially over the last few weeks? The marketing is taking care of itself right now. He sounds like a rookie fool. And, of course, his timing could not be worse since he released this “plan” on a day that the price of oil dropped $5.00 per barrel.


August 4, 2008 3:20 PM

Im not surprised by the childish antics. McCain is going to fall prey to "silly season" same way Hillary's camp did. It is more adventageous for the candidates to seek realistic- mature- solutions than to belittle the other in such a 3rd grade way. The Obama strategists really know how to capitalize on such immature rhetoric- so keep it coming McCain lol.


August 5, 2008 11:08 AM

You are presenting a straw man fallacy here. It's not whether or not air pressure will save gas, it was Obama's assertion that it would save as much oil as expanded drilling would provide. A foolish statement since by some estimates I've read, more than 70% of cars already have proper air pressure (most people pay to have oil changed and checking air pressure is usually part of the service).

From Kiley: Your 70% figure seems high. What's your source? Also...Obama began touting tire pressure as something consumers could do now to save themselves money. If the U.S. expanded continental shelf drilling, it would take several years to even get rigs out to new spots. So, what's the impact of that on gas prices and consumer savings today, versus stumping that everyone should keep checking their tire pressure and make sure their cars are properly tuned.

The Obama quote: "There are things you can do individually, though, to save energy. ... Making sure your tires are properly inflated - simple thing. But we could save all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling - if everybody was just inflating their tires? And getting regular tune-ups? You'd actually save just as much." - Aug. 1 speech in Springfield, Mo.


August 6, 2008 9:46 AM

Mr Obama is being lampooned by some not because they disbelieve proper air pressure will save any oil, but because he asserted that "[m]aking sure your tires are properly inflated...could save all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling." And then he added, "And getting regular tune-ups? You'd actually save just as much." That means we could get (according to Mr. Obama's math) *twice* as much from expanded drilling by adjusting air pressure and getting tune ups in cars (some designed to go up to 100,000 miles without one).

Go to and you can see the wide range of estimates as to what % of the cars out there have properly inflated tires. Chose the % that fits what you're willing to believe. Crunch the numbers. It still does not add up. Also keep in mind that the % of cars not optimally inflated does not necessarily mean that they all contain sufficiently low enough air pressure to gain the fully possible/necessary increase in mileage to support Mr. Obama's claim.

Mr Obama says "getting off drilling"...that is ANWAR, the outer continental shelf, and (depending on what side of the argument you are) the oil sands. That is a heck of alot of oil to offset (by twice!) just through properly inflating tires and tuneups.

As for Kiley's comment in my previous posting: "So, what's the impact of that on gas prices and consumer savings today, versus stumping that everyone should keep checking their tire pressure and make sure their cars are properly tuned." My response is "economics." Part of the high prices we see today is from speculators who are speculating that demand will exceed supply in the future. If they realize that there will be increased supply, then they will sell off causing prices to drop. Oil is almost $20 off its peak not too long ago. Ask yourself what branch of the government recently removed its hold on expanded drilling? One could speculate that might that might have had an effect on speculators. But keep in mind Obama is being ridiculed for the size of the savings in oil barrels based on his solution, not the price effect.

I think Mr Obama does best when reading off a prompter. But he has prompted me to check my air pressure and I think him for that...even though the hyperbole of his assertion leaves him open to ridicule.


August 7, 2008 3:11 PM

Your whole premise is off as earlier stated. Obama's point was not about saving money, it was about proper tire inflation being a greater savings than "all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling." HUGE difference.

See the math as well at

Again, Obama said we can get more savings from tire inflation than more drilling. This guy is one election cycle away from a state Senator. He should go back and learn some basics before running for the Presidency of the US, or the globe as he sees it.

John Ayres

August 7, 2008 3:29 PM

Mr. Kiley points out the obvious. While there are those who will act on Barack Obama's suggestion today, most will revert to their careless indifference tomorrow and drive with underinflated tires. Drilling for oil wherever, will increase the supply and decrease the price. It is a tenet of basic economics. Kiley's point is emotional and lacking of common sense reality.

From Kiley: While this is a contentious issue, I know at least two things for sure from my reporting: 1--There is no guarantee that opening up more drilling in the U.S. will send prices down this year, or be of much benefit in terms of bringing prices down years from now when it starts to flow. 2: Having a sustained message to the public about tire inflation will have immediate effect on the consumption of gasline and how much gas people have to pay to get where they are going. Why not chase the sure thing rather than the gamble?


August 7, 2008 5:44 PM

I don't think that drilling will happen in ANWAR, the big giants just want to sit on the reserves to make sure their rivals won't drill there. We've got oil in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Texas,
Colorado, and other states that isn't being pumped because Big Oil doesn't want to build refineries that can handle the stuff. But they'll spend huge money drilling in ANWAR????


August 7, 2008 6:46 PM

Off Shore Drilling is not the answer.
I am quite surprised by the amount of poor information being displayed here. The basics of it is that 90 Million Acres of land have ALREADY been leased to oil companies for drilling. Of that only 20 Million have been drilled on and are producing oil. Hmm why aren't the other 70 Million acres being drilled by these same companies that are "begging" for access to off shore oil. It is because 1. labor/material shortages make drilling impractical, especially when there is a 2 year wait for some types of drill rigs.
2. The marginal profit of pumping any oil they do find, is not enough to offset the cost.
3. Oil companies do not expect oil prices to remain at this level into the future as a result they would rather sit on their oil leases than go through with the expense of drilling them right now, or reallocate capital to items such as stock buybacks and whatnot to immediately return value to shareholders.

All of the above issues would remain even with access to offshore oil

I mean at the very least we should legislate that companies have to adequately explore the leases they currently have before stepping back to the table and asking for more.

Kind of like what Obama says huh... now imagine that.
Oh and I didn't realize that people could see 10 years into the future, because that is when we would see the first drop of oil from these rigs that is if it is still even economical for these companies to pump it.

I thought people would have been hoodwinked enough by George Bush, but aparently McCain has done it to you all again. The funny thing about democracy is we get the govenment we choose. At the end of the day we have chosen the republicans TWICE and what has it gotten us. Honestly we went from a multi-billion surplus to a $489 Billion deficit. Went from a strong $US dollar to one that is incredibly weak yeah so sorry if I don't believe the republican energy plan is the right way to go. Past experience has left me jaded.


August 7, 2008 11:57 PM

I'm not sure what Kiley is suggesting whey he says, "There is no guarantee that opening up more drilling in the U.S. will send prices down..." That sounds like a logical fallacy to me, "argumentum ad ignorantiam." To summarize: just because something has not been proven true (guaranteed in this case) then it must be false.

Regarding "Why not chase the sure thing rather than the gamble?"...

I think Obama would have done himself (and the whole sustained message bit) a huge favor if instead he had advocated going back to the 55mph speed limit. That would provide immediate, measurable, enforceable, and--more importantly-- substantially greater benefits. But I doubt neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. McCain has the backbone to put that front and center in their energy policy.

George L

August 8, 2008 12:31 AM

Once again, your magazine shows its propensity toward left leaning. I've quit subscribing, choosing instead to peruse your web offerings from time to time, more for a (derisive) laugh than to garner any substantive info.By the way, for your edification, McCain is in a virtual tie with Obama since airing these ads you think so wrongheaded. Who's wrongheaded?

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