Car Tyre (Tire) Components Explained
A tire carcass is composed of several parts.
The tread is the part of the tire that comes in contact with the road surface. The portion that is in contact with the road at a given instant in time is the contact patch. The tread is a thick rubber, or rubber/composite compound formulated to provide an appropriate level of traction that does not wear away too quickly. The tread pattern is characterized by the geometrical shape of the grooves, lugs, voids and sipes. Grooves run circumferentially around the tire, and are needed to channel away water. Lugs are that portion of the tread design that contacts the road surface. Voids are spaces between lugs that allow the lugs to flex and evacuate water. Tread patterns feature non-symmetrical (or non-uniform) lug sizes circumferentially to minimize noise levels at discrete frequencies. Sipes are valleys cut across the tire, usually perpendicular to the grooves, which allow the water from the grooves to escape to the sides in an effort to prevent hydroplaning.
Treads are often designed to meet specific product marketing positions. High performance tires have small void ratios to provide more rubber in contact with the road for higher traction, but may be compounded with softer rubber that provides better traction, but wears quickly. Mud and snow (M&S) tires are designed with higher void ratios to channel away rain and mud, while providing better gripping performance. Specialized tires will always work better than general/all purpose/all weather tires when being used in the conditions the specialized tires are designed for.
Tread lugs provide the contact surface necessary to provide traction. As the tread lug enters the road contact area, or footprint, it is compressed. As it rotates through the footprint it is deformed circumferentially. As it exits the footprint, it recovers to its original shape. During the deformation and recovery cycle the tire exerts variable forces into the vehicle. These forces are described as Force Variation.
Tread voids provide space for the lug to flex and deform as it enters and exits the footprint. Voids also provide channels for rainwater, mud, and snow to be channeled away from the footprint. The void ratio is the void area of the tire divided by the entire tread area. Low void areas have high contact area and therefore higher traction on clean, dry pavement.
The rain groove is a design element of the tread pattern specifically arranged to channel water away from the footprint. Rain grooves are circumferential in most truck tires. Many high performance passenger tires feature rain grooves that are angled from the center toward the sides of the tire. Some tire manufacturers claim that their tread pattern is designed to actively pump water out from under the tire by the action of the tread flexing. This results in a smoother ride in different types of weather.
Tread lugs often feature small narrow voids, or sipes, that improve the flexibility of the lug to deform as it traverses the footprint area. This reduces shear stress in the lug and reduces heat build up. Testing of identical siped and unsiped tires showed measurable improvements in snow traction and ice braking performance, however diminishing and extending braking distances on wet and dry pavement by a few feet on siped tires. Off-road tire enthusiasts have been siping tires for years for greater traction, as many manufacturers now offer already siped off-road-tires.
Wear bars (or wear indicators) are raised features located at the bottom of the tread grooves that indicate the tire has reached its wear limit. When the tread lugs are worn to the point that the wear bars connect across the lugs, the tires are fully worn and should be taken out of service. Most wear bars indicate a remaining tread depth of 1.6 millimetres (0.063 in) and are deemed "worn out" at that point.
The bead is that part of the tire that contacts the rim on the wheel. The bead is typically reinforced with steel wire and compounded of high strength, low flexibility rubber. The bead seats tightly against the two rims on the wheel to ensure that a tubeless tire holds air without leakage. The bead fit is tight to ensure the tire does not shift circumferentially as the wheel rotates. The width of the rim in relationship to the tire is a factor in the handling characteristics of an automobile, because the rim supports the tire's profile.
The sidewall is that part of the tire that bridges between the tread and bead. The sidewall is largely rubber but reinforced with fabric or steel cords that provide for tensile strength and flexibility. The sidewall contains air pressure and transmits the torque applied by the drive axle to the tread to create traction but supports little of the weight of the vehicle, as is clear from the total collapse of the tire when punctured. Sidewalls are molded with manufacturer-specific detail, government mandated warning labels, and other consumer information, and sometimes decorative ornamentation, like whitewalls.
The shoulder is that part of the tire at the edge of the tread as it makes transition to the sidewall.
Plies are layers of relatively inextensible cords embedded in the rubber to hold its shape by preventing the rubber from stretching in response to the internal pressure. The orientations of the plies play a large role in the performance of the tire and is one of the main ways that tires are categorized.
Several additional components may be required in addition to just the tire to form a functional wheel.
Tires are mounted onto wheels that most often have integral rims on their outer edges to hold the tire. Automotive wheels are typically made from pressed and welded steel, or a composite of lightweight metal alloys, such as aluminum or magnesium. These alloy wheels may be either cast or forged. The mounted tire and wheel assembly is then bolted to the vehicle's hub. A decorative hubcap and trim ring may be placed over the wheel.
The beads of the tire are held on the rim, or the "outer edge" of a wheel. These outer edges are shaped to obtain a proper shape on each side, having a radially cylindrical inclined inner wall on which the tire can be mounted. The wheel's rim must be of the proper design and type to hold the bead of the appropriately sized tire. Tires are mounted on the wheel by forcing its beads into the channel formed by the wheel's inner and outer rims.
Most bicycle tires, many motorcycle tires, and many tires for large vehicles such as buses, heavy trucks, and tractors are designed for use with inner tubes. Inner tubes are torus-shaped balloons made from an impermeable material, such as soft, elastic synthetic rubber, to prevent air leakage. The inner tubes are inserted into the tire and inflated to retain air pressure.
Large inner tubes, which are large inflatable toruses, can be re-used for other purposes, such as swimming and rafting (see swim ring), tubing (recreation), sledding, and skitching. Purpose-built inflatable toruses are also manufactured for these uses, offering choice of colors, fabric covering, handles, decks, and other accessories, and eliminating the protruding valve stem.
The valve stem is a tube made of metal or rubber, through which the tire is inflated, with a check valve, typically a Schrader valve on automobiles and most bicycle tires, or a Presta valve on high-performance bicycles. Valve stems usually protrude through the wheel for easy access. They mount directly to the rim, in the case of tubeless tires, or are an integral part of the inner tube. The rubber in valve stems eventually degrades, and, in the case of tubeless tires, replacement of the valve stem at regular intervals or with tire replacement reduces the chance of failure.
Bias tire (or cross ply) construction utilizes body ply cords that extend diagonally from bead to bead, usually at angles in the range of 30 to 40 degrees, with successive plies laid at opposing angles forming a crisscross pattern to which the tread is applied. The design allows the entire tire body to flex easily, providing the main advantage of this construction, a smooth ride on rough surfaces. This cushioning characteristic also causes the major disadvantages of a bias tire: increased rolling resistance and less control and traction at higher speeds.
A belted bias tire starts with two or more bias-plies to which stabilizer belts are bonded directly beneath the tread. This construction provides smoother ride that is similar to the bias tire, while lessening rolling resistance because the belts increase tread stiffness. The plies and belts are at different angles, which improves performance compared to non-belted bias tires. The belts may be cord or steel.
Radial tire construction utilizes body ply cords extending from the beads and across the tread so that the cords are laid at approximately right angles to the centerline of the tread, and parallel to each other, as well as stabilizer belts directly beneath the tread. The belts may be cord or steel. The advantages of this construction include longer tread life, better steering control, and lower rolling resistance. Disadvantages of the radial tire include a harder ride at low speeds on rough roads and in the context of off-roading, decreased "self-cleaning" ability and lower grip ability at low speeds.
Many tires used in industrial and commercial applications are non-pneumatic, and are manufactured from solid rubber and plastic compounds via molding operations. Solid tires include those used for lawn mowers, skateboards, golf carts, scooters, and many types of light industrial vehicles, carts, and trailers. One of the most common applications for solid tires is for material handling equipment (forklifts). Such tires are installed by means of a hydraulic tire press.
Semi-pneumatic tires have a hollow center, but they are not pressurized. They are light-weight, low-cost, puncture proof, and provide cushioning. These tires often come as a complete assembly with the wheel and even integral ball bearings. They are used on lawn mowers, wheelchairs, and wheelbarrows. They can also be rugged, typically used in industrial applications, and are designed to not pull off their rim under use.
Tires that are hollow but are not pressurized have also been designed for automotive use, such as the Tweel (a portmanteau of tire and wheel), which is an experimental tire design being developed at Michelin. The outer casing is rubber as in ordinary radial tires, but the interior has special compressible polyurethane springs to contribute to a comfortable ride. Besides the impossibility of going flat, the tires are intended to combine the comfort offered by higher-profile tires (with tall sidewalls) with the resistance to cornering forces offered by low profile tires. They have not yet been delivered for broad market use.