Tire maintenance 101

Categories: Tech Articles

The science of tires and maintaining them.

It doesn’t matter if you own a $10,000 economy sedan or a $80,000 sports coupe, maintaing your tires should be kept up with just like oil changes and car washes. Why you ask? Left alone tires will discolor, dry out, crack, and overall deteriorate and become a safety issue.

When it comes to tire deterioration there are three major factors that come into play.
First is ultraviolet light. Tire makers do their best to combat this problem right from the factory by adding synthetics to the rubber mix as well as “competitive absorber”, also known as carbon black. This, obviously, is what gives tires their color. The carbon black absorbs some of the more destructive UV rays and converts it to harmless heat energy that is then safely dissipated. However over time the carbon will become depleted and the tire will eventually become gray and brittle, a condition known as dry rot.

Secondly is ozone. When a tire is manufactured a wax compound is added to help impede the effects of ozone. How this process works is as the vehicle is driven the tire flexes and moves, forcing the wax to the surface and forming a protective barrier between the tire and the atmosphere in a process called “blooming”. When tires are parked for extended periods of time, this process doesn’t occur and the ozone quickly gets to work attacking the polymers of the tire.

And finally the third factor is oxidation and microorganisms. Once the first two deteriorating factors have set in, microorganisms are able to penetrate and weaken the bonds of the rubber even further. These attacking microorganisms further speed up the deterioration process.

So now that you know what causes tire deterioration, what can you do to help prevent or slow down these processes?

First and foremost, clean your tires when you wash your car. A simple car wash mitt and car shampoo is too gentle to penetrate the surface and pores of tires to remove the dirt and grime that gets imbedded in the surface. Use of a stiff bristle brush and a strong detergent or tire cleaner specifically made for tires is the best technique. Before you do anything, always read the label of the product you are using to insure that it does not contain any petroleum distillates, silicone/silicone oil, or formaldehyde, as these chemicals act as a solvent and will literally eat the rubber. Or in the case of silicone, it will actually block and prevent the blooming process from occurring by penetrating deep into the tire. And since silicone provides absolutely no UV protection, it actually speeds up the break down of the rubber. If the label does not specify, a quick look around on the internet at the MSDS sheet will let you know.

So why do so many companies use these chemicals in their products? Because it’s cheap, cleans the tire with ease and leaves the tire with a “wet look” that so many people look for. However all of this just adds to the deterioration of the tire.

Once you have sufficiently cleaned your tires, a little bit of tire dressing should be applied to help aid in the protection of the tire and retard the effects of UV and ozone. Just think of tire dressing as SPF for your tires. Again avoid any product that contains petroleum distillates, silicone, or formaldehyde.

A few other simple tips like parking in the shade whenever possible or using tire covers if you will be parking the vehicle for an extended period of time, will further prolong the life of your tires.