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Fun and Amazing Facts About Tires

Tire stack background.  Selective focus.

Okay, so tires aren’t exactly sweeping the nation as a source of amazement. The only fun they offer is when you’re behind the wheel. And not behind the wheel in a chasing it with a stick on your way to the soda fountain kind of way, but behind the wheel as in the steering wheel.

Even then, when’s the last time you heard someone say, “sweet tires,” meaning “sweet ride?”

Right. Never.

Still, tires are absolute necessities and there are some fun facts that make them worthy of a second look. The next time you’re shopping for cheap tires in Cincinnati, you’ll be reminded of these tire tidbits and probably won’t be able to stop yourself from sharing one or two with the sales associates.

Lucky them.

Historic Highlights

artillery tires

The next time you complain about changing a flat tire, think about the early production model cars, which came equipped with “artillery wheels.” The tire was bolted to the wheel and required Hulk-like strength to change.

Tires used to be white, due to the addition of zinc oxide, a strengthening agent which reinforced the rubber but turned the tires bright white. That must be the equivalent of a car sporting brand new bright white sneakers. Nerd alert!

Fortunately, researchers in the early 1920’s, in an effort to make tires even more durable, used carbon black to make tires more durable and long-lasting. Adding carbon black, compared to untreated rubber, increased the road-wear abrasion by almost 100 times and improved the tires tensile strength by as much as 1000%.

Carbon black, which is almost pure elemental carbon in colloidal particle form, is made by charring any organic material.

Treating tires with carbon black reduces thermal damage by conducting heat away from the tire’s hot spots on the treads and belts, which increases the life of the tire by reducing thermal damage.

Child’s Play

carbon-black-for-tire-grades

Who came up with this carbon black business?

The answer will surprise you.

Binney & Smith, which invented Crayola Crayons, sold their carbon black to the Goodrich Tire Company and white tires soon started to fade away as the superior black tires became favored and eventually commonplace.

These stronger tires now sported a tougher look. If white tires were the brand-spanking new sneakers of the automotive industry, black tires were the leather jackets.

The Whitewall Tires

57-Chevy-Conv

In 1914, Chicago’s Vogue Tyre Company invented whitewall tires by melding a carbon black tread with a zinc white sidewall, making tires look not unlike Oreo cookies.

Premier tire-manufacturer, Goodyear, decided to take tire design up a notch in 1961 when it created the illuminated tire, which glowed soft white from the inside by glass incandescent bulbs. These tires never made it past the show circuit. Shocking.

Current Claims

Although it hinders performance, BMW equips most of its vehicles with run-flat tires. Run-flats are able to drive for up to 100 miles without air.

How? The thicker sidewall is able to support the weight of a vehicle, again, only for a short distance. But still.

Maybe run-flats could kill the tired plotline endlessly recycled by horror films: “driver with flat tire meets ax murderer.” Not if said driver had 100 extra miles to get to that always-elusive gas station!

Especially considering that new cars are rarely equipped with spare tires since manufacturers are always in pursuit of producing lighter vehicles. Instead of a spare, drivers are given patch kits with a can of compressed air. Imagine fighting off an ax-murderer with a few puffs from a can of compressed air. Best of luck.

The Stuff of Roadtrip Lore

The next time you want to truck the family cross-country for a road trip, don’t miss this sightseeing opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to check out the World’s Largest Tire?

Located in Allen Park, Michigan, the largest tire on the planet is a 12-ton, 80 foot-tall monstrous tower, able to withstand hurricane-force winds.

Initially unveiled as a Ferris Wheel during New York’s World Fair in 1964-65, this Uniroyal tire was relocated in 1966. Since then, legend has it that it broke loose and spun across I-94. As with all urban legends, there is absolutely no proof of this. But, what family road trip is complete without an urban legend or two? Gotta see how gullible those kids in the backseat really are.

Waste not, Want not

wasteTire

Every year, Americans dispose of 280 million tires. Of those, approximately 235 million are passenger car tires, 42 million are truck tires, and the remaining 3 million or so come from various equipment and aircraft tires.

This enormous source of waste inspired the creation of recycling programs which repurpose the old tires for a variety of uses. The good news is an estimated 25-30 percent of tires are somehow recycled in increasingly useful and creative ways.

A few of those ways include: melting down the rubber to repave asphalt, which actually improves the surface and helps extend the life of the road.

Once melted down, the rubber can then be ground into “crumbs” and added to sports and recreational facilities, like running tracks and playgrounds. Adding recycled tires to these surfaces prolong their lives up to five years.

Recycled tires can be used to make boat bumpers, carpet padding, and insulation.

Another popular repurposing option is to shred old tires for garden mulch and flower-bed lining.

Whether public building or private residence “green” construction uses recycled tires.

Depending on the overall wear and tear, some old tires can actually be recycled into new ones.

Timberland, the retail store specializing in footwear, has even partnered with Omni United, a tire manufacturer out of Singapore, to design a line of tires that can be made into the soles of new shoes.

This plan to recycle ahead of production is known as upcycling. The difference between recycling and upcycling is that upcycling involves planning for, rather than reacting to, the inevitability of tire waste.

Design Dreams

In addition to the sophisticated and surprising line of concept tires envisioned by various tire manufacturers, Michelin is developing a “tweel,” which is a one-piece airless wheel and tire. If successful, the tweel will put an end to flat tires…and horror movie ax murderers.

Rather than replacing the tweel the way you would a flat tire, Michelin is designing replaceable treads that would be changed as part of regular vehicle maintenance.

Built for Speed

So, tires have speed ratings of Y or Z. Ironically, Z-rated tires were introduced first, and had a speed rating of 149+ mph. Those short-sighted manufacturers must have blushed when technology upset their alphabet apple cart by creating a need for a higher rating because tires were developed to be even speedier. The highest rating of 186+ mph is a Y.

Tire Titans…and Toys

lego tires

Goodyear, Michelin, Hankook, Bridgestone, Nokian, Pirelli, Toyo, the list goes on and on and on. Tire manufacturers can be found all over the world. But the biggest tire manufacturer is actually found in Denmark. Hans Christian Andersen’s homeland is also home of the world’s largest tire manufacturer: Lego. Yep, the little blocks. The toys.

Founded in 1932, Lego started manufacturing tires for its building block sets in 1962. In 2011, the company reported production of little tires at 318 million.

The next time you’re in the market for cheap tires in Cincinnati, you’ll likely be reminded of Legos….and Crayolas…and maybe even Oreos.

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