Flat tire, by Flickr user Lissalou66

Flat tire, by Flickr user Lissalou66

Barack Obama was widely derided for suggesting last August during the presidential election campaign that if Americans kept their tires properly inflated, the nation could conserve as much oil as would be gained from the increased offshore drilling proposed by his rival.

As LA Times columnist Dan Neil noted: When it comes to politics, conservation doesn't sell. Many Americans are allergic to the suggestion that they should change behavior or moderate consumption, particularly when it comes to their automobiles.

Nonetheless, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has now taken a small step toward better inflated tires. A new regulation adopted yesterday requires smog-check stations, engine repair shops, and oil service stations to check the tire pressure on every vehicle they service, starting in July 2010.

CARB says if all Californians kept their tires properly inflated, they could save 75 million gallons of gasoline and use 700,000 fewer tires every year. And the Rubber Manufacturers Association concurs, noting the clear safety benefits from properly inflated tires as well. The Board is also urging the US Environmental Protection Agency to adopt similar regulations nationwide.

It's not clear, however, whether the need for such checks will abate over time as mandated tire-pressure monitoring systems make their way into the fleet. That story goes back to 2000, when Firestone recalled 14.4 million tires used on Ford SUVs. That followed massive media coverage of reports that underinflated tires failed suddenly when they became hot, causing Ford Explorers in particular to roll over and kill their occupants.

That led to the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act of 2002, which directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue regulations requiring automakers to install tire-pressure monitoring systems in new cars and light trucks. Those regulations were issued in 2002; while systems are now showing up in certain new vehicles, litigation over implementation and their effectiveness continues.

While regulation of cars and how they function is clearly on the upswing, you can cross one item off the list: CARB does not intend to ban the sale of black cars.

Why would such an idea have arisen in the first place? The genesis is hazy, but the thinking goes something like this: Black cars absorb more heat from the sun, so their air conditioning has to work harder to cool them, which increases fuel usage, thereby raising the car's greenhouse gas emissions ... and so CARB decided to ban them?

Well, no. It didn't. It never even considered doing so, it says, calling the idea "completely fallacious". But, you know, these rumors do sometimes take on a life of their own out there on the Interwebs and talk radio.

The genesis of the rumor turns out to be a draft CARB proposal to reduce auto air-conditioning use by increasing the reflectiveness of car paints. In the end, the agency concluded the proposal was technically unworkable, and killed it.

So rest assured, black-car fans, California has your back. They'd like you to keep the A/C to a minimum, but black is still beautiful.

Black Saleen Mustang by Flickr user CalifDreama

Black Saleen Mustang by Flickr user CalifDreama

[SOURCES: The always excellent Snopes.com, sourced to the San Jose Mercury News; PHOTOS: Flickr users Lissalou66 and CalifDreama]