You're not getting anywhere without a set of tires on your ride, and you're certainly less likely to get there safely if you're driving on under-inflated or damaged tires. Tire technology involves more than just rubber, treads, and rain grooves, and as part of National Tire Safety Week, it seems like to good time to take a closer look at three technologies that promise a safer, smoother ride.
Tire pressure monitor systems
Low tire pressure can cause poor handling, hydroplaning, skidding or loss of control around tight curves; in the worst case, it can cause blowouts. (Keeping those tires properly inflated can also help you get better gas mileage.) A simple tire pressure gauge can montior how much air you've got in your tires, but if you have a more modern car, built-in systems can probably do the job for you.
Cars made in the US since 2007 come with a tire pressure monitor system (or TPMS), which can alert you--usually with a light on the dashboard--when your tire pressure has dropped.
"We don't expect everyone to check their tire pressure," said Arun Anad, senior engineering manager, Continental North America. "Many people think of their cars as transportation from point A to point B, which is why we created a TPMS that is seamless."
In one TPMS system Continental designed for Nissan, air pressure appears on the dash. The car lights flash as the air is being filled, and the horn beeps at the correct pressure. It's all aimed at improving the ease and accuracy of filling the tire with air.
If you car doesn't currently have a monitoring system for your tires, aftermarket TPMS systems are available for installation and can run you abut $250. Such systems come with wireless sensors that connect to the tire valves and an LCD display. They're especially helpful for large vehicles, trailers, and motor homes, where a blown tire can be especially dangerous.
TPMS systems typically warn you once your tire pressure falls 25 percent, which hopefully gives you enough notice to switch over to a spare or get your car to a service center. But they're not foolproof, warns Matt Edmonds, vice president of retailer TireRack.com. "By the time the TPMS light goes on it's usually too late," he said. For that reason, you shouldn't ditch that tire pressure gauge just yet.
As for Continental, it's also looking at other ways to notify you of tire pressure problems. The tire maker is working with carmakers to provide mobile apps that report tire pressure levels directly to smartphones.
Technology for treads
Tires sold in this country have a band on the tire that appears when the tread is low. These "wear bars" can warn you when your tires no longer meet the safe minimum tread depth. (Another handy way to check: Place a penny in the groove of your tire to see if Lincoln's head pops up over the tread.)
Tread depth is important for traction, and the grooves in your tires are there to help channel water away. So Continental is developing a small cylindrical sensor about the width of a nickel to go inside the tire and monitor the depth of the tire treads. Continental calls that an electronic tire information system, (eTIS).
In such a system, the dashboard would feature a warning light near the odometer; Continental says its eTIS could also integrate with cars' infotainment systems, letting you schedule a service appointment when your treads are getting a little worn down.
You'll have to wait for the eTIS system to make its debut, though: Continental's Anad says it won't be available until the 2017 model year. Another reason to keep a penny on hand at least for a few more years.
Most tires' grip and treads degrade and wear over time. A new tire from Michelin, the Premier A/S tire with EverGrip, has grooves that expand with wear; it also features new grooves that emerge over time, helping to improve the tire's grip in wet weather. EverGrip tires are made from a proprietary blend of silica and sunflower oil and could be very helpful in rainy climates.
Some cars don't have spare tires, instead offering drive-flat tires or extended mobility tires; BMW is an example of one automaker who offers this on its cars. Up until recently, only certain luxury cars could be equipped with these kinds of tires, but Bridgestone's new DriveGuard tires let you drive on punctured tires for up to 50 miles and at speeds of up to 50 mph. The tires have reinforced sidewalls made with a proprietary Nano-Pro Tech compound to support the car even without air and cooling fins that reduce heat and friction. DriveGuard tires are available in 32 sizes for cars not originally equipped with run-flat technology for tire pressure monitoring systems.