The history of tyres
Automobile technology is forever evolving, but it seems like some things always stay the same. As in decades past, cars today have a steering wheel, a transmission, and four wheels on the axles. And the tyres they roll on are a deep black. With a few exceptions, this has consistently been the case across manufacturers and models in modern history.
But why is this the case? Why aren’t tyres different colours? If you’ve ever wondered why tyres are black, read on to learn more.
To understand why tyres are black, it’s important to understand the history of tyres as a whole. While other modern-day standard additions to our cars – like digital dashboards and power steering – feel like they’ve always been there, black tyres have been around even longer. It can be tempting to think that tyres basically haven’t undergone many changes.
That’s not actually the case, though – throughout the decades, tyres have gone through countless innovations and changes, including, yes, colour.
The first rubber car tyres, which were invented in 1895, were off-white, and then later a brightening agent was added. While today tyres roll out of the factory black en route to over 2,000 tyre businesses across Australia, it’s been an evolution.
The tyre-making process
The tyre-making process has obviously been modernised over the years. Although the natural colour of rubber is a milky white, back in 1910, B.F. Goodrich started using the stabilising chemical “carbon black” in the manufacturing process. Carbon black (a fine manufactured soot) not only coloured the tyres, but it also strengthened the rubber (a tenfold increase in wear resistance) and made it more durable. Once Henry Ford’s famous Model T switched from white tyres to black, black began its path to being the default colour.
Carbon black not only increases a tyre’s resistance to general wear and tear, it also assists in improving its heat dissipation capabilities and protects the rubber from deteriorating UV light. As a result of shifting from white to black in the production process, tyres are stronger, last longer, and improve driving safety, so naturally, black tyres have become the standard.
Then there is the presentation and maintenance factor. Let’s face it, some roads can be very dirty. This can be the result of natural environmental factors like dirt and dust making their way onto the pavement. Rubbish and leaking motor oil can also quickly find their way onto your tyres if you drive over them.
Even though rubber products generally clean up well, a look at the current set of tyres on your car will show even trusty black can look worse for wear after a rough ride. Imagine how much worse this issue would be if tyres were white – or any other colour that picked up dirt easily.
Nonetheless, black isn’t the only option for someone who wants to add some colour to their rubber.
Can you paint tyres another colour?
Black tyres may be the default colour seen on our roads, but some enterprising individuals may wonder if it’s possible to paint their tyres another colour. While it is possible, it’s also difficult to make a success of it. For one thing, the tread pattern will see its paint chip and wear down faster than the paint on the sidewalls. If you’re going to attempt it, make sure you’re using paint specifically for tyres.
There are a few tyre-painting scenarios that may work more in your favour, such as painting them to look like whitewalls or adding tyre lettering. Additionally, if you’re using old tyres in recycling projects around the home and yard, painting them should work fairly well since they’ll be exposed to far less wear and tear. In these cases, a painted tyre’s colour should hold pretty well over the long term.
If you really have your heart set on some tyres that are a different colour, it’s usually best to seek them out new, if you can find them. Tyres that are manufactured to be a certain colour in the factory will typically last longer against the elements than a coat of paint will on top of a black set of tyres.
The future of tyres
Tyres have been black for decades, but in future, this could change. Right now we’re seeing rapid progress in car and tyre manufacturing, and it’s only getting faster as innovation cycles speed up. The future may soon see tyres with markedly different colours, materials, and even digital technology included within them.
In addition to tyres, there’s so much fascinating history out there surrounding cars and the way in which their parts have come to be central to car lore and development. The interesting history of the car horn is one example of this.
All up, it’s unlikely that the black tyres we know and love are going to completely disappear from our roads anytime soon. But for now, while so many innovations have been seen across the years, our current version of car tyres remains a living link in car history all the way back to the beginning.
So be sure to make the most of this history by keeping your set cleaned and inflated, and enjoy them by taking your car out for a spin on the open road.