I just bought a set of nice chrome wheels with low profile tires for my car. Since these 4 wheels are 40 pounds heavier than the old ones, I removed 40 pounds of weight from the body of the car to compensate. My acceleration times and braking distances have increased dramatically. Why? — DTS, Shawnee, Kansas
When you accelerate forward from a stop, the car’s kinetic energy is increasing. The time it takes you to reach cruising speed is largely determined by how fast the car’s engine can increase the car’s kinetic energy. Stopping speed is similarly determined by how quickly the brakes can remove the car’s kinetic energy. While your car still has the same mass that it had before you changed wheels, and thus would seem to require the same transfers of energy to start and stop, that’s not the case. Transferring mass from the car’s body to its wheels has substantially increased the amount of kinetic energy the car has when it’s moving at cruising speed. That’s because each spinning wheel has two forms of kinetic energy. First, its center of mass is heading forward at cruising speed, so it has a translational (motion along a line) kinetic energy proportional to its mass. Second, it is spinning about its center of mass, so it has a rotational kinetic energy proportional to its moment of inertia (the rotational equivalent of mass). If most of each wheel’s mass is located near its periphery, its rotational kinetic energy will be roughly equal to its translational kinetic energy. The 40 pounds you transferred to the wheels is counting twice as much as before! You’ve effectively added 40 pounds to the mass of your car. Your new wheels and tires are demanding far more energy from your car’s engine and delivering far more energy to your car’s brakes than the old wheels did and you’ll have to remove an additional 40 pounds from the car’s body to compensate.