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Four unsung heroes on your car – how far did tire technology come?

Posted May 10, 2017

Back when cars were invented, tires were incredibly simple. In fact, many vehicles did not have inflatable tires for a very long time. This is definitely not the case with today‘s cars as they became an object of some incredible scientific research. Now Hyundai decided to tell more about tires on its incredible i20 rally car.

i20 rally car is followed by a full team of technicians and can change tires according to conditions. But tires of road cars have to be prepared for everything. Image credit: Hyundai

Tires are very important regardless of the car. Engineers spent years developing tires that are currently mounted on your car. But in motorsports people are little bit more particular about tires. Hyundai says that tackling gravel, sand, or snow tracks during the World Rally Championship season requires extensive efforts from the engineering team to look after tire pressure, thread depth and so on. Tires are very important – you could compare their significance to aerodynamics, engine performance and overall design of the car. Team has to try out different option from different manufacturers, till they find the optimal setup. But it is equally important for your SUV too.

Modern SUV’s usually live in urban environments, but they have to be able to navigate tight country roads, gravel roads and even go off-road. Because they are not rally cars and engineering teams do not follow every car, no one changes tires for different conditions. So a single set has to cover an impressive range of circumstances. However, interestingly, first tires were just bands of leather or metal.

It is often said that invention of the wheel changed the world. But really, rubber tires moved this invention to a whole new level. First rubber tires were made of solid rubber, but nowadays they are made from a mixture of rubber and synthetic compounds, threads and wires. How this transition from primitive to high-tech happened? Well, natural rubber becomes sticky in hot temperatures is not that good at shock absorption, so companies tried inventing something. Charles Goodyear succeeded in 1830’s when he invented vulcanization process (heating rubber with sulphur) making tires firmer and more pliable.

First pneumatic tire was invented in 1847 by Robert William Thomson, but it didn’t catch on until it was invented for a second time by John Boyd Dunlop in 1888. Still, up until invention of synthetic rubber in 1920’s manufacturers had to rely on natural rubber, which had its limitations even after vulcanization process. Since then many innovations were introduces. Manufacturers started playing with different plies and cords embedded in the rubber, until radial tires were created in 1940’s.

Nowadays computer simulations are heavily involved in tire production. Actually, they are involved in monitoring tires too. Now driver can know state of the tires without stepping out of the vehicle. Some other novel tires are not inflatable and thus are resistant to punctures.

Tire technology came a long way. It is easy to take them for granted, but try imagining how many punches they are getting every day and they are taking them just fine.


Source: Hyundai

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