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Why are Tires Made of Rubber?

There are several types and designs of tires that span over a number of vehicles and uses. From tractors to sports cars, rubber is one of the only materials used on wheels around the world. Several components of rubber make it the ideal candidate for use a tire, and perhaps it just goes with the age-old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But regardless of where you are in the world and how expensive the vehicle is, we only see rubber tires.

Rubber tires

There is more to your standard tire than just the rubber we know it for. Layers of wires and fabric, as well as several other components, are used to improve the performance and design of the tire. There is actually a surprising amount of engineering and design that goes into the tire industry. Tires must perform well under certain conditions, depending on what type of tires, such as all-season and snow tires. Regardless of special components being used, all tires in the automotive industry are rubber.

A car with snow chains pulled up stands at the entrance of the closed Riedberg pass | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance, Getty Images

Makeshift tires

If you spend way too much time on YouTube, chances are you’ve seen plenty of automotive channels make their attempt at a makeshift tire. This can range from absurd to logical, like using rubber chickens and even rubber bands. I guess the thought process is that if tires are made of rubber, theoretically, you could use rubber in other forms as a tire. The physics doesn’t quite work out that way, and tires aren’t rubber all the way through, but it does lead to some entertaining content.

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The physics of tires

Tires themselves are the only point of contact that your vehicle has with the road. That means that they are responsible for carrying the weight of your car and can make a big difference in your ride quality. Rubber is an ideal material because it is strong, mostly unaffected by temperature changes, and is readily available. The physical components of rubber allow it to remain rigid with the internal pressure of the tire, but contort laterally and vertically accommodate the curves in the road and shift in weight as the car moves, turns, accelerates, and stops.

2020 Speed Demon Poteet Bonneville Speed Week | Facebook
2020 Speed Demon Poteet Bonneville Speed Week | Facebook

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The history of tires is so old it’s hard to track where it all started out. One thing is clear, rubber tires have worked decently well for so long that there hasn’t really been any need to change it.