How Tires Work

How Tires are Made

As illustrated below, a tire is made up of several different components.

  • The bead is a loop of high-strength steel cable coated with rubber. It gives the tire the strength it needs to stay seated on the wheel rim and to handle the forces applied by tire mounting machines when the tires are installed on rims.
  • The body is made up of several layers of different fabrics, called plies. The most common ply fabric is polyester cord. The cords in a radial tire run perpendicular to the tread. Some older tires used diagonal bias tires, tires in which the fabric ran at an angle to the tread. The plies are coated with rubber to help them bond with the other components and to seal in the air.

    A tire's strength is often described by the number of plies it has. Most car tires have two body plies. By comparison, large commercial jetliners often have tires with 30 or more plies.
  • In steel-belted radial tires, belts made from steel are used to reinforce the area under the tread. These belts provide puncture resistance and help the tire stay flat so that it makes the best contact with the road.
  • Some tires have cap plies, an extra layer or two of polyester fabric to help hold everything in place. These cap plies are not found on all tires; they are mostly used on tires with higher speed ratings to help all the components stay in place at high speeds.
  • The sidewall provides lateral stability for the tire, protects the body plies and helps keep the air from escaping. It may contain additional components to help increase the lateral stability.
  • The tread is made from a mixture of many different kinds of natural and synthetic rubbers. The tread and the sidewalls are extruded and cut to length. The tread is just smooth rubber at this point; it does not have the tread patterns that give the tire traction.

Tire assembly

All of these components are assembled in the tire-building machine. This machine ensures that all of the components are in the correct location and then forms the tire into a shape and size fairly close to its finished dimensions.

At this point the tire has all of its pieces, but it's not held together very tightly, and it doesn't have any markings or tread patterns. This is called a green tire. The next step is to run the tire into a curing machine, which functions something like a waffle iron, molding in all of the markings and traction patterns. The heat also bonds all of the tire's components together. This is called vulcanizing. After a few finishing and inspection procedures, the tire is finished.