Over the decades, tires have changed much more than most drivers realize. Tire companies are constantly coming up with new ways to make tires that achieve better safety, handling, fuel economy and longevity. In fact, there are many ways to extend the life of a tire without Michelin's complex self-regenerating tire treads. Here are just a few examples of what's currently on the market:
Michelin offers some tires with its Infinicoil technology. This uses a giant steel cord -- up to 1,312 feet (400 meters) long -- wrapped underneath the rubber layer. The steel increases the rigidness of the surface of the tire, and allows them to be made wider than before. They also tend to last longer [source: Tire Review Online].
The same company also introduced a concept called the Tweel Airless Tire. This uses rubber tread supported by small, flexible spokes extending outward from the center of the wheel. It has no air inside, just flat rubber connected to the spokes.
A Czech company, Coda Development, has pioneered a system called the self-inflating tire (SIT). This keeps the tire pressure constantly at its proper level with a valve that takes in outside air and forces into the rubber. Once at optimal pressure, the valve shuts off the intake of air and circulates it inside the tire. Since improperly inflated tires can lead to blowouts and even rollovers in some circumstances, this technology, which always keeps the tires inflated to the right level, could mean big advances in safety [source: Coda].
All of those technologies are interesting concepts, but what's on the road that you can use right now? Don't forget about run-flat tires. Those have been around for more than a decade, ever since they came as standard equipment on the 1997 Chevrolet Corvette, and have been gaining popularity among performance and luxury car owners ever since. Self-supporting tires (SSTs) have heavily reinforced sidewalls that support the tire in the event of a tire puncture. One system from Michelin uses a semi-rigid insert inside the rubber to support the car in the event of a blowout [source: Edmunds].
However, run-flats have their tradeoffs as well. They're famous for having a harsher ride than normal tires, and in the event of a puncture, most are limited to a maximum speed of 50 mph (80.5 km/h) and a limited distance until they can be repaired or replaced. Many car companies have begun offering run-flats as standard equipment but not offering a spare tire or even the equipment required to change a tire. After all, if a run-flat tire can get you to safety when it's punctured, what's the point of carrying around a heavy tire iron, jack and spare tire?
For more information about tires and other related topics, follow the links below.
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- Brown, Stuart F. "A Truck Tire That Goes the Extra 100,000 Miles." The New York Times. Aug. 26, 2007. (Feb. 18, 2009) http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/automobiles/26TIRES.html
- Coda Development s.r.o. "How it works: SIT - Self Inflating Tire." (Feb. 18, 2009) http://www.selfinflatingtire.com/how-it-works.html
- Edmunds, Dan. "Run-flat Tires: A Primer." Edmunds.com. Nov. 15, 2006. (Feb. 18, 2009) http://www.edmunds.com/ownership/driving/articles/117588/article.html
- Michelin. "Michelin's Newest Innovation Marvel: Tires That Regenerate Themselves." Aug. 23, 2007. (Feb. 18, 2009) http://www.michelinmedia.com/pressSingle/value=MCH2007082343275/kw=xda5/kw2=
- Racerchicks.com. "Our question from Jesh: Why do tires have different treads?" (Feb. 18, 2009) http://www.racerchicks.com/qa/auto_tiretread.html
- Tire Rack. "Measuring Tire Tread Depth with a Coin." (Feb. 18, 2009) http://www.tirerack.com/tires/tiretech/techpage.jsp?techid=51
- Tire Review Online. "Michelin Launches 'Durable Technologies.'" Oct. 28, 2005. (Feb. 18, 2009) http://www.tirereview.com/default.aspx?type=wm&module=4&id=2&state=DisplayFullText&item=2789