How Q Tires Work

Icy roads can scare even the most fearless drivers, but Q Tires may make the next cold snap a little less terrifying. See more car safety pictures.
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Icy roads can intimidate even the best of drivers. With regular tires, your vehicle may skid much further to stop on sheet ice than on dry pavement. Imagine the extra security you'd feel in winter if you could only switch added surface grip on and off as needed. Soon, you may have that option. Q Tires, Inc. plans to release their Q tire at some point in 2009. Q tires will look and ride like mild-mannered all-season radials, but each one will pack a secret arsenal of 120 hardened studs that you can deploy at the push of a button when you encounter ice or packed snow. Then, once road conditions normalize, you simply retract the studs with another push of a button.

Until the Q tire appeared on the horizon, tire chains and studded snow tires have been the only products available to help drivers accelerate, stop and keep control of their vehicle on serious ice. However, chains and studs are really suitable only for the icy sections of the road. You may run into and out of these extra-slick areas several times over the course of your daily commute. On roads where you don't need chains or studs, they can be noisy, damaging to the road surface and even dangerous. Some states have made them illegal, while others have restricted their use.

Deployable stud tires are a seemingly simple concept, yet it would be impossible to execute without today's wireless technology. On the next page, we take a closer look at the innovative technology buried within the Q tire.

Anatomy of a Q Tire

There are two air chambers inside the Q tire, while conventional tires have only one. The main air chamber, located within the casing, is essentially the same as any regular tire and is sealed to the wheel rim. It's filled with pressurized air to help support the vehicle, while also absorbing road shocks. The Q tire has a secondary air chamber (really a series of chambers connected by channels) located where the tread and casing meet. The studs are located in a series of 120 pods placed in crevasses molded into the tread. (Q Tires says the average traditional studded snow tire has only 80 studs.) While retracted, the Q tire studs rest below the tread surface. They protrude about 1.5 millimeters (0.05 inch) above the tread surface when deployed.

Each individual stud is embedded into its pod during the manufacturing process. The stud pods are then cured right into the tread rubber. As a result, it's extremely difficult to dislodge a stud. These studs will be made of stainless steel or possibly from a composite material. Q Tires notes that their studs "will likely stay in optimal condition for the life of the tire" as they normally ride below the tread surface.

Pressurized air from the tire's main chamber is used to deploy the studs. Pushing a button on the iQ remote transmitter supplied with the tires triggers the deployment. The iQ's wireless signal commands a valve within each tire to open. Q Tire's proprietary valve technology flows the pressurized air into the secondary chamber. As the pressurized air pushes on the flexible stud pods, they bow outward, moving the studs out to their deployed position. From start to finish, the deployment takes about three seconds.

Pushing another button on the remote sends a signal to retract the studs. The technology accomplishes this by evacuating the pressurized air in the stud chamber to the atmosphere. Releasing the air pressure on the stud pods causes them to return to their relaxed state -- which pulls the studs below the surface of the tire tread.

On to the next page, we'll talk about where to find Q tires, how they're mounted and why they'd need special maintenance.

Buying, Installing and Maintaining Q Tires

The manufacturer plans to begin selling Q tires in late 2009. Popular P-metric sizes for crossovers, SUVs and pickups will come first; additional types will follow in 2010 and 2011. The tires will be available through independent chains. The company anticipates a tread-life warranty of more than 40,000 miles (64,373 km).

A set of Q tires will probably cost about 30 to 40 percent more than comparable premium all-season radial tires. However, buying a set of all-season Q tires could be more cost-effective in the long run than owning and maintaining another set of studded or winter-tread tires for seasonal use.

For Q tires to work properly, a full matching set of Q tires must be installed on your vehicle. The manufacturer suggests that you mount a matching Q tire for the spare if the vehicle is designed to accommodate a full-size spare tire. Mounting and balancing Q tires is done in the same way as regular tires. The installer will also secure a multiported valve receiver (MVR) that controls the stud functions on the inner surface of each of the vehicle's wheels. A valve assembly that works around the existing valve stem will also be installed. The installer will then program the MVRs to work with the customer's iQ remote.

The manufacturer recommends that drivers deploy Q Tire studs while the vehicle is at rest so that they can visually confirm their deployment. Eventually, wireless transceiver-based technology will provide this confirmation electronically.

The tires will need to be slightly re-inflated after about 25 deployments. This makes sense, as the small amount of pressurized air taken from the casing chamber with each deployment isn't returned. When the tires require re-inflation, the iQ remote will alert the driver with a red warning light and audible signal. Q Tires says their tires are compatible with the tire pressure monitoring systems featured on many newer vehicles.

What kind of a company comes up with a tire so new that it already has six patents and 30 more in progress? Let's cruise on to the next page to learn about the people and ideas that drive Q Tires, Inc.

Who Makes Q Tires?

The hassles of mounting tire chains during Oregon winters inspired Q Tires founder Michael O'Brien to develop the deployable-studs tire concept more than a decade ago. He built the original prototype about 6 years ago. Q Tires Inc. was founded in 2005 with the goal of becoming a global manufacturer and marketer of all-season all-weather tires that used the firm's patented Studs-on-Q technology. In May, 2006, Q Tires announced that Roy Bromfield had joined the firm as CEO after a 21-year career with Michelin. A number of the other executives at the company also have significant tire industry experience.

During 2007, Q Tires, Inc. corporate headquarters were moved from Akron, Ohio to new offices in Greenville, S.C. The firm's research and development facility in Akron is also headed to new quarters in Greenville.

A joint venture company will produce the Q tire at a new plant in Qingdao, China. A Q Tires representative notes that "although Q tires incorporate several kinds of unique, patented technologies, the essential elements of each Q tire are manufactured using basic processes that have been used to manufacture hundreds of millions of tires over decades."

Let's roll along to the final page, where we'll discuss safety and environmental aspects -- and help you determine if Q tires might be a good choice for your vehicle.

What Can Q Tires Do For You?

It's possible that Q tires may reduce accidents -- and resulting insurance claims -- for drivers who replace their regular all-season tires with studded tires and continue to drive carefully on icy roads. What's more, because tire studs tend to break up ice and packed snow, using Q tires helps to create a traction-friendly path for other vehicles that follow.

Retractable studs also eliminate the safety concerns associated with running conventional studded tires on dry or wet surfaces. These dangers include reduced traction and significantly longer braking distances. Studded tires running in direct contact with a road can accelerate development of ruts in the surface, which may trap runoff water. Road engineers call this type of deterioration raveling. It can lead to dangerous hydroplaning when vehicle tires track in water-filled ruts [source: Creswell]. Conventional studded tires are also noisy on dry or wet roads, while Q tire's retractable studs offer the quiet, smooth ride of an all-season tire.

Driving with conventional studded snow tires in anything other than severe winter conditions also damages road surfaces and contributes to excessive dust pollution on dry concrete [source: Creswell]. Across the U.S., costs for repairing concrete and asphalt road surfaces damaged by permanently studded tires add up to millions of dollars each year.

Is the Q tire a good choice for you? To determine your answer, evaluate your driving needs and conditions and prioritize the attributes you desire in your tires. The all-season Q tire is designed to provide studded-tire traction on demand and control on icy roads. When properly used, the Q tire technology won't harm road surfaces. Winter-service tires may work well on snowy roads and may be as effective as studded tires on ice in extreme cold, but they're usually recommended for winter driving conditions only. If you get winter-only tires, you'll likely need to buy a set of regular all-season tires for the rest of the year as well.

Regardless of the tires you choose for your vehicle, keep in mind that driving on ice always requires exceptional caution and concentration.

For more information on tires and other related topics, take a look at the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Blizzak Tires. "A New Substitute for Studded Tires?"
  • California Assembly Bill 1971. Chapter 220 (amended). 2008.
  • Chariker, Sean K. Director of Marketing, Q Tires, Inc. Personal interview, received Oct. 22, 23 and 28, 2008.
  • Creswell, J. S., Cunlap, C. F., Green, J. A. "Effects of Studded Tires - Highway Safety - Non-Winter Driving Conditions." Highway Safety Research Institute. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. 1973.
  • Howell, Parker. "Whatever Happened to Retractable Studs? Maybe next winter." Spokesman Jan. 1, 2008.
  • International Tire Exhibition and Conference. 2008.
  • Nokia Tires. "Studded or Unstudded?"
  • Rosenberg, Robert. "Why Is Ice Slippery?" Physics Today. December 2005
  • Scheibe, Robert. An Overview of Studded and Studless Tire Traction and Safety; Washington State Dept. of Transportation. 2002.
  • Thompson Financial News. "New Snow Tires Protect Drivers."
  • Transportation Research Board of the National Academies. "Effectiveness of Studded Tires." 1971.
  • Washington State Department of Transportation. "Pavements and Studded Tire Damage." 2006.