The large majority of tires on the road today are made out of rubber. While companies have tried other materials, none of them have competed successfully with natural rubber.
But why is rubber such a good material for tires? In this article, we’ll take a look at why rubber makes such a good material for tires, as well as why other materials haven’t been able to beat it.
Why Are Tires Made of Rubber?
Tires are made of rubber because it allows them to remain rigid while also flexible enough to adapt to the changing conditions of the road. Furthermore, rubber also maintains its grip under wet conditions. Plus, rubber is widely accessible and relatively inexpensive. In other words, rubber is simply the perfect material to make tires out of.
Rubber provides many different benefits when used in tires. Keep reading to learn about all the traits that make rubber the perfect material for tires.
1. Rubber Is Very Cheap To Produce
Firstly, rubber tires are extremely cheap. While tires could be made out of a different material, no other material performs quite as well for the price.
Plus, tires are already expensive enough! The average tire price is about $80 to $150 each for all-weather tires. However, it isn’t odd to find tires that are far more expensive.
For instance, some may cost as much as $350 each if you’re purchasing an SUV.
Could you imagine tires being even more expensive? Because rubber is so cheap, it’s likely to be the primary material in tires for a very long time.
2. Rubber Maintains Grip
To drive correctly, tires need to maintain their grip in a variety of different temperatures and climates.
For instance, you need a tire that can function on very dry roads and very wet roads.
Therefore, using a material that becomes slippery when wet just isn’t going to work.
Luckily, rubber does not become slippery when wet. It maintains its ability to grip the road and isn’t terribly worn down by the elements.
3. Rubber Is More Flexible For Rough Roads & Corners
Importantly, rubber is a flexible material, but it still holds its shape. These factors allow it to adjust to the rough conditions of the road as necessary, while also maintaining its overall shape.
If the tires were hard, you’d have a hard time getting over even small obstacles.
Plus, the tires would wear down faster, since they wouldn’t be able to adjust to minor stones and other obstacles.
At the same time, if the tires were softer, you would waste a lot of energy driving them. The softer tires would drag more on the road, leading to more energy loss.
4. Rubber Is Surprisingly Durable
Despite all the above traits, rubber is also quite durable. It doesn’t wear down very quickly – even when holding up a heavy vehicle.
With most other potential materials, you’re looking at much less durability.
As you might imagine, it is tough for tires to be both durable and flexible. Luckily, rubber is one of the few materials that have both of these necessary traits.
5. Rubber Is Can Hold Heavy Loads
Rubber is capable of holding up quite a bit of weight. When you’re driving a car, this trait is necessary.
Even when carrying things that weigh much heavier than them, tires can hold their shape and perform.
Of course, many materials can also carry a large load – like metal, for instance. However, none of these materials have the other traits that tires need, like flexibility.
6. Rubber Is Soft Enough To Provide Good Cushioning
On top of carrying the car safely from place to place, rubber is soft enough to cushion the car from the road’s vibrations.
Can you imagine driving on metal tires? You’d feel everything!
No one wants to drive in a car that vibrates you to death during the whole trip. Luckily, rubber allows us to craft tires that can cushion the car from some of these vibrations.
7. There Is No Short Supply Of Rubber
Rubber is not difficult to find. There are rubber trees growing throughout much of the world. Plus, rubber is renewable, as it grows on trees and isn’t mined. Therefore, it is easy for companies to access.
On the other hand, if you attempt to make tires out of something else, you may end up running out faster than you’d hope.
With that said, we are slowly running out of rubber. After all, trees only grow so fast, and we need lots of tires.
Why Are Tires Not Made of Iron?
You might imagine that iron may be an excellent material for tires. After all, it is robust and durable.
However, there are several problems with iron. Firstly, it can rust very quickly when exposed to water. When driving on a wet road, this trait just isn’t going to work.
Secondly, iron is not flexible at all. In other words, it will be unable to adjust to the road quickly.
In the end, this will lead to more wear and tear. While rubber can easily conform to uneven road conditions, iron cannot.
Plus, iron is also costly. Purchasing an iron tire would cost a lot of money.
Furthermore, iron isn’t renewable. In other words, there is only so much iron in the ground – unlike rubber, which comes from trees.
Can Tires Be Made Without Rubber?
Technically, you can make tires out of just about anything. For example, old tires were likely made out of wood and similar materials.
As you might imagine, these materials were not very durable or nearly as functional as rubber.
For instance, wood cannot adjust to the conditions of the road, leading to an extremely bumpy ride.
Therefore, you may make a tire without rubber, but it won’t often be as good as rubber tires.
To meet the rubber shortage, many companies are starting to use synthetic tires.
However, while these function similarly to rubber, they aren’t nearly as good at other applications.
Is There an Alternative to Rubber Tires?
Some companies are beginning to produce synthetic tires. However, these do not perform quite as well as rubber tires. Therefore, they are a replacement – but a worse replacement.
With that said, synthetic rubbers are often long-lasting. For instance, they lose less mass overall and have as much as half the tread loss.
Are Spare Tires Made of Rubber
Instead of rubber, spare tires are typically made of a plastic material.
For this reason, they wear down faster, which is precisely why they aren’t designed to be used for the long term.
For the most part, these tires will often drive fine for a bit, but they can quickly wear down and blow.
To learn more about tires, you can also see our posts on which tires wear faster, if tires float in water, what is the tire marshmallow man, and blown-out tires.
Rubber is both flexible and rigid enough to work well in tires. For instance, it can adapt to the road conditions while also holding up a rather large car.
Furthermore, rubber is also incredibly inexpensive when compared to other materials. This cheapness allows companies to keep the cost of tires at a reasonable amount.
Plus, rubber is also renewable in technicality, though our rate of rubber usage can outstep the regrowth of rubber trees.
Despite its benefits, some companies have attempted to use different materials for tires. However, none of these have gained wide usage and often don’t perform as well as natural rubber.