Spotlight: Cooper Tire shares ‘The Art & Science of Tire Design’
By Heather Mosier / Director of Technology Development / Cooper Tire & Rubber Company
New tires are not likely to be at the top of your customers’ holiday wish lists, yet choosing and replacing tires should be a priority for everyone who owns a car. When it comes to vehicle safety and maintenance, tires are often an afterthought – but selecting the right tire, along with consistent tire maintenance, is absolutely critical when it comes to staying safe on the road.
There is a significant amount of innovation and technology required to design tires, and a complex process in place to ensure their quality. As the Director of Technology Development for Cooper Tire, I think about tires every day (so your customers don’t have to). I work with colleagues who are developing new compounds and tread configurations in labs; talking to auto service professionals like you to get feedback; and conducting performance assessments from the rocky deserts of Texas to our extreme winter test tracks in Canada.
Not all tires are created equal and below is an overview of tire construction basics to help your customers better understand this critical component of their vehicle and what to look for to get the right fit.
Basic Tire Functions
Tires have four basic functions:
- Holding air to carry the vehicle’s load (i.e. the amount of weight the vehicle can support) – Customers should select a tire that is recommended for their vehicle and that has the appropriate load rating to avoid premature wear, damage and, most importantly, tire overload.
- Responding to road hazards such as potholes, debris, etc. – Depending on the environment, these hazards can cause minimal to severe damage to your customers’ vehicles. Tires get the brunt of the impact – making tire quality, durability and strength crucial.
- Responding to the vehicle’s steering – A vehicle’s steering, handling and braking is directly related to the tread on the tires, which is covered in more detail below.
- Stopping and accelerating a vehicle – The vehicle can’t move without the tires!
Tire tread gives drivers the traction to handle curves on the road and to stop. Because tires are the only part of the vehicle that is in contact with the road, they need the appropriate traction for all types of surfaces and weather conditions, from loose gravel to rain to snow and ice. The section of rubber from the tire that contacts the road is called the “contact patch” or the tire “footprint.” The contact patch/footprint provides the necessary grip for the tire against the road.
When customers choose tires, they should consider both the conditions they will be driving in and the type of surface they are driving on (i.e. highway commuting vs. outdoor terrains). Depending on the weather and road conditions, a different tire may be needed to effectively handle those conditions. Here are some key tread aspects of different tire types:
- Winter tires – Winter tires have deeper tread grooves and more sipes (tiny slots in the tread) that allow the tires to maintain better traction in snowy, slushy and icy conditions. Additionally, the tread on winter tires is made of a special compound that does not harden in freezing temperatures, allowing your tires to remain flexible and keep traction with the road.
- Summer tires – The tread on summer tires has fewer grooves and is designed to have maximum rubber contact with road. The tread compound allows these tires to perform well in hot and wet conditions. They typically have fewer sipes and do not perform well in colder conditions with snow and ice.
- All-season tires – These tires have a blended tread design of both summer and winter tires to perform well during all four seasons with moderate weather conditions. Because the tread on all-season tires is not as deep as winter tires, they are not recommended for climates with serious snow, sleet and ice.
- On/off road tires – These tires also have a blended design and four-season capability, but their tread consists of larger blocks and deeper groves to handle off-road elements (mud, rock, sand, etc.) to a moderate extent. For rougher terrain, the deeper grooves would not be enough to handle those extreme conditions.
- Off-road tires – The tread on these tires has very large blocks and deep groves for maximum traction in off-road conditions. However, they can be louder to drive on smoother surfaces like highways and can impact ride comfort.
Many customers may not get into the technical details of their tires, but it’s helpful for them to know that tires are complex and advanced pieces of equipment, with a variety of components performing unique functions. All of this adds up to deliver the performance, quality and safety that your customers need.
- Inner liner – Made of impermeable rubber that restricts air molecules, this liner is fatigue resistant and a precise thickness. Its primary function is maintaining inflation pressure and reducing oxidation. All of these features are designed to keep the air in the tire.
- Bead bundle – This is the foundation of the tire and is made up of a very precise high-strength wire and rubber coating.
- Bead filler – Rubber wedge that has a high hardness and stiffens the lower sidewall area.
- Body plies – Helps the inner liner contain air pressure. This component is made up of rubber coated cords and provides the tire structure strength.
- Chafer – Composed of fabric or rubber to act as abrasion resistance and mounting protection.
- Sidewall – Rubber that is flexible, fatigue resistant and ozone/weather resistant. It also protects the carcass (click here to learn more about how to read a tire sidewall).
- Steel belts – Belts are brass coated steel cords encapsulated in a rubber coating. They strengthen the tread area and distribute the load from the contact patch.
- Nylon overwrap – Can be made from nylon, aramid or a hybrid. This overwrap influences speed ratings and ensures the tires maintain their shape and do not “grow” while traveling at high speeds.
- Tread cap/base – This component has a precise profile and is made up of polymer blends of natural and synthetic rubber, which can be formulated to meet different needs including high performance handling, higher mileage capabilities, and heavy load applications. Fillers, such as carbon black and silica, are utilized to varying ratios to reach specific performance targets.
Key Tire Components
Choosing the Right Tire
While they look simple, tires are a complex product designed to accomplish specific performance requirements, and there are many factors to consider when helping your customers choose the best tire. The right tire for your customers depends on the conditions they drive in, vehicle type and the activities the vehicle is used for (i.e. off-roading).
By helping your customers understand and consider each of these aspects when they are tire shopping, you can also help them get a good value for their spend. According to a recent survey conducted by Cooper Tire, Americans want a product that will deliver a good value and among the top features that drive purchase decisions include a reasonable price (69%), being long lasting (63%) and having the exact features needed (51%). Help your customers:
- Think about their driving style. How and where your customers typically drive is a critical factor in making sure they are getting the right features in their tires—not too many features and not too few for their real-life needs. For example, longer commutes and frequent road trips may require your customers to consider the tires’ anticipated mileage, ride comfort, fuel efficiency and road noise. Colder winters will require a tire designed to have better traction in harsh conditions, such as winter tires. And, for off-road driving on muddy and dirt roads, all-terrain tires or dedicated off-road tires might be good options.
- Identify the correct tire size. Just like vehicles, tires come in many different types and sizes, including tires sized for passenger cars, minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks. Help your customers find the right tire size by consulting the information placard on the driver’s side doorjamb, glove box or fuel door.
- Maintain your new tires (value is about long-term benefits and savings!). Your customers should understand that maintaining and regularly inspecting their tires is a critical component of value shopping to make sure they get the longest, safest life out of them. Emphasize the basics, like checking to be sure that the tires are not over- or under-inflated, ensuring the alignment is correct, checking that the tires have enough tread depth for proper traction, and rotating the tires as recommended.
For more information, visit coopertire.com.
About the Writer
In her role, Heather leads an organization of engineers and scientists who develop advanced technologies and processes that are utilized in the manufacture of new tires to meet key performance criteria such as noise reduction, fuel economy, wear, and traction in various weather and on/off-road driving conditions.
Heather has over 24 years of automotive experience, and successfully led a group of engineers in developing several of Cooper’s award-winning products including the Discoverer SRX, the Discoverer A/TW, and the Discoverer STT Pro. Heather and her team developed tires that were selected by luxury automaker Mercedes-Benz as original equipment on their SUVs. In 2016, she received a national Women in Manufacturing STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Ahead Award from The Manufacturing Institute/National Association of Manufacturers.
Heather joined Cooper in 1996 as an engineering co-op and has since served in various engineering, managerial and director roles of increasing responsibility. In April 2020, she was promoted to the role of Director – Technology Development.
Heather holds a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from the University of Cincinnati and a Master of Science degree in manufacturing management from Kettering University.