Wearing a Grin

Jim’s Garage helped another happy customer find what was hidden in their ride yesterday. 

The owner of this 2004 Acura TSX loved his family sedan for its comfort and quality, but felt the compromises that the factory took with the handling kept the car from being as much fun and enjoyable to drive as it deserved be.  He was right.  I took the Acura out for a spin on “the circuit” and found it would go into understeer mode almost immediately.  Body lean was enough to give a seasoned sailor a queasy stomach.  

Before he came by I had done some research on the Internet (amazing tool, that Internet) and discovered that one of the biggest complaints from TSX owners was the brakes.  They were not bad, just not great.  Several owners complained that the front rotors warped soon after purchase.

So the goal was to improve the handling and braking in the most cost effective way.  As I’ve preached before, the fastest way to upgrading handling is to put better tires on your ride.  The Acura owners are fortunate to have plenty of space in the wheel wells.  It made it easy to go up two tire sizes.  The standard tires were 215/50-17 which is not a sweet spot for performance tire choices, but going up to a 235/45-17 offered many excellent choices for tires that would offer far better grip than the stock rubber.  Improving tires doesn’t just improve cornering, it affects braking and acceleration to.

Moving up two sizes takes more than just buying the right size, it requires that the rim width allows you to take advantage of the increase in tread width.  A 235 requires at least a rim that is 7.5” wide and ideally eight inches wide.  This ensures that the sidewalls are not pinched and remain relatively perpendicular to the tread. That allows the sidewall to do the work it was designed to when you add cornering forces.  So the next decision was what wheels should be considered.  We knew the diameter, seventeen inches, the width of the rime, eight inches, what else mattered?  A little thing called offset.  Offset controls where the centerline of the wheel ends up in the wheel well.  It could mean that the wheel and tire stick outside of the fender, rub the inner fender, or sits just right.  Of course we wanted ours to fit just right and for the Acura that means a 48mm offset.  A quick trip to Tire Rack (thanks again Internet) and all the wheel and tire choices were there.  The owner picked out some fantastic looking OZ wheels that fit his budget as well as the Acura.  That left the tires.  We could have gone with some Ultra sticky summer performance tires, but reality was that he had to face the fact that weather does have its seasons and Bridgestone Potenzas were a nice compromise where there was plenty of performance and yet would still provide safety when the weather wasn’t so nice.

Then it was on to the brakes.  The owner found a high quality set of drilled and slotted rotors for the front and rear.  They came cadmium plated which meant that behind those sharp looking OZ wheels he would not have to worry that the rotor hats would turn rusty brown.  Goodridge stainless steel brake lines were chosen for durability, looks, and performance.  They would be less spongy than the stock rubber lines and would provide better response in terms of brake pedal feel.  They are also DOT approved.  Pads were Porterfield R4-S pads all around.  Porterfield makes and excellent street pad that doesn’t have the issues that many of the metallic pads out there, yet has all of the performance.  The Porterfields don’t have to heat up to provide braking performance, yet don’t fade when stressed.  They have minimal dusting properties so it will be easier to keep those nice wheels good looking. 

All of this deserved a great brake fluid.  Not all brake fluids are created equally, but they all soak up water right out of the air and within a year or less their boiling point goes down.  Most of the time this will not cause any problems with braking .  It happens so slowly most of us don’t notice.  The problem is that the water corrodes many of the brake components internally and this causes contaminants to accumulate as brake performance deteriorates.  Ate high performance blue brake fluid was chosen to replace the factory original fluid.  Ate makes this fluid in the traditional clear fluid as well as a blue fluid.  What is nice about the blue fluid is it gives you the ability to know that you’ve flushed all the old fluid out and that the new fluid is now all the way out to the calipers.  If you alternate between the colors you can know that your fluid flush is complete.  Ate has a very high boiling point with is nice when you are coming down a steep mountain road with the car packed with kids and luggage.  The constant braking required in that kind of situation could result in a very sickening surprise of brake fade when the fluid boils and you’ve still got miles more mountain road to go down.

The drilled and slotted rotors will provide better heat dissipation that the stock solid rotors can as well as providing a very performance look behind some great wheels.  In order to make the most of the look we picked up some red brake caliper paint so we cold dress up the stock calipers. 

While the wheels and tire were going to make a big difference in the overall handling, we needed to do something to reduce the body roll.  The choice was to upgrade the stock 15 mm rear antiroll bar to a 22 mm bar.  This was easy to install on the Acura and, in combination with the new wheels and tires, dramatically change the handling for the better.  Acura had engineered in a lot of understeer into the car so the larger bar was not overkill. 

To round everything out we also picked up a Neuspeed short shift kit.  This was relatively easy to install and complemented the overall feel of this total upgrade.

After the test drive the car went up on the lift and the stock wheels were removed and set aside.  The rear antiroll bar was switched out for the upgrade and the owner tackled the short shifter kit while we worked on the brakes.  The brakes took a good deal of time and the calipers needed to be cleaned well before the paint went on.  There was also some drama getting the brakes bled and returning the brake pedal feel back to where is should be, but when we took it out with all the upgrades in place and did a lap of the circuit all was right with the world.  Now the car took corners with confidence and authority.  Where before the engines lack of power was frustrating, it now was pushed to the background as the car snaked its way through the corners. 

I do believe the owner was wearing a grin.

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