Assorted new automotive road tires, showing a variety of tread patterns.
Tractor tires have substantial ribs and voids for traction in soft terrain.

A tire (North American English) or tyre (Commonwealth English) is a ring-shaped component that surrounds a wheel's rim to transfer a vehicle's load from the axle through the wheel to the ground and to provide traction on the surface over which the wheel travels. Most tires, such as those for automobiles and bicycles, are pneumatically inflated structures, providing a flexible cushion that absorbs shock as the tire rolls over rough features on the surface. Tires provide a footprint, called a contact patch, designed to match the vehicle's weight and the bearing on the surface that it rolls over by exerting a pressure that will avoid deforming the surface.

The materials of modern pneumatic tires are synthetic rubber,[1] natural rubber, fabric, and wire, along with carbon black and other chemical compounds. They consist of a tread and a body. The tread provides traction while the body provides containment for a quantity of compressed air. Before rubber was developed, tires were metal bands fitted around wooden wheels to hold the wheel together under load and to prevent wear and tear. Early rubber tires were solid (not pneumatic). Pneumatic tires are used on many vehicles, including cars, bicycles, motorcycles, buses, trucks, heavy equipment, and aircraft. Metal tires are used on locomotives and railcars, and solid rubber (or other polymers) tires are also used in various non-automotive applications, such as casters, carts, lawnmowers, and wheelbarrows.

Unmaintained tires can lead to severe hazards for vehicles and people, ranging from flat tires making the vehicle inoperable to blowouts, where tires explode during operation and possibly damage vehicles and injure people. The manufacture of tires is often highly regulated for this reason. Because of the widespread use of tires for motor vehicles, tire waste is a substantial portion of global waste. There is a need for tire recycling through mechanical recycling and reuse, such as for crumb rubber and other tire-derived aggregate, and pyrolysis for chemical reuse, such as for tire-derived fuel. If not recycled properly or burned, waste tires release toxic chemicals into the environment. Moreover, the regular use of tires produces micro-plastic particles that contain these chemicals that both enter the environment and affect human health.[2]

Etymology and spelling

The word tire is a short form of attire, from the idea that a wheel with a tire is a dressed wheel.[3][4]

Tyre is the oldest spelling,[5] and both tyre and tire were used during the 15th and 16th centuries. During the 17th and 18th centuries, tire became more common in print. The spelling tyre did not reappear until the 1840s when the English began shrink-fitting railway car wheels with malleable iron. Nevertheless, many publishers continued using tire. The Times newspaper in London was still using tire as late as 1905.[6] The spelling tyre began to be commonly used in the 19th century for pneumatic tires in the UK. The 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica states that "The spelling 'tyre' is not now accepted by the best English authorities, and is unrecognized in the US",[7] while Fowler's Modern English Usage of 1926 describes that "there is nothing to be said for 'tyre', which is etymologically wrong, as well as needlessly divergent from our own [sc. British] older & the present American usage".[8] However, over the 20th century, tyre became established as the standard British spelling.[4]


John Boyd Dunlop on a bicycle, c. 1915

The earliest tires were bands of leather,[9] then iron (later steel) placed on wooden wheels used on carts and wagons. A skilled worker, known as a wheelwright, would cause the tire to expand by heating it in a forge fire, placing it over the wheel, and quenching it, causing the metal to contract back to its original size to fit tightly on the wheel.

The first patent for what appears to be a standard pneumatic tire appeared in 1847 and was lodged by Scottish inventor Robert William Thomson.[10] However, this idea never went into production. The first practical pneumatic tire was made in 1888 on May Street, Belfast, by Scots-born John Boyd Dunlop, owner of one of Ireland's most prosperous veterinary practices. It was an effort to prevent the headaches of his 10-year-old son Johnnie while riding his tricycle on rough pavements. His doctor, John, later Sir John Fagan, had prescribed cycling as an exercise for the boy and was a regular visitor. Fagan participated in designing the first pneumatic tires. Cyclist Willie Hume demonstrated the supremacy of Dunlop's tires in 1889, winning the tire's first-ever races in Ireland and then England.[11][12] In Dunlop's tire patent specification dated 31 October 1888, his interest is only in its use in cycles and light vehicles. In September 1890, he was made aware of an earlier development, but the company kept the information to itself.[13]

In 1892, Dunlop's patent was declared invalid because of the prior art by forgotten fellow Scot Robert William Thomson of London (patents London 1845, France 1846, USA 1847). However, Dunlop is credited with "realizing rubber could withstand the wear and tear of being a tire while retaining its resilience".[14] John Boyd Dunlop and Harvey du Cros worked through the ensuing considerable difficulties. They employed inventor Charles Kingston Welch and acquired other rights and patents, which allowed them some limited protection of their Pneumatic Tyre business's position. Pneumatic Tyre would become Dunlop Rubber and Dunlop Tyres. The development of this technology hinged on myriad engineering advances, including the vulcanization of natural rubber using sulfur, as well as the development of the "clincher" rim for holding the tire in place laterally on the wheel rim.

Synthetic rubbers were invented in the laboratories of Bayer in the 1920s.[15] Rubber shortages in the United Kingdom during WWII prompted research on alternatives to rubber tires with suggestions including leather, compressed asbestos, rayon, felt, bristles, and paper.[16]

In 1946, Michelin developed the radial tire method of construction. Michelin had bought the bankrupt Citroën automobile company in 1934 to utilize this new technology. Because of its superiority in handling and fuel economy,[17] use of this technology quickly spread throughout Europe and Asia.[18] In the US, the outdated bias-ply tire construction persisted until the Ford Motor Company adopted radial tires in the early 1970s,[19] following a 1968 article in an influential American magazine, Consumer Reports, highlighting the superiority of radial construction.[20][21] The US tire industry lost its market share to Japanese and European manufacturers,[22] which bought out US companies.[23]


Tires may be classified according to the type of vehicle they serve. They may be distinguished by the load they carry and by their application, e.g. to a motor vehicle, aircraft, or bicycle.


Light–medium duty

Studded winter tire
A winter tire without studs, showing tread pattern designed to compact snow in the gaps.[24]
High-performance rally tires

Light-duty tires for passenger vehicles carry loads in the range of 550 to 1,100 pounds (250 to 500 kg) on the drive wheel. Light-to-medium duty trucks and vans carry loads in the range of 1,100 to 3,300 pounds (500 to 1,500 kg) on the drive wheel.[25] They are differentiated by speed rating for different vehicles, including (starting from the lowest speed to the highest): winter tires, light truck tires, entry-level car tires, sedans and vans, sport sedans, and high-performance cars.[26] Apart from road tires, there are special categories:

Other types of light-duty automotive tires include run-flat tires and race car tires:

Heavy duty

Off-road tires under transport

Heavy-duty tires for large trucks and buses come in a variety of profiles and carry loads in the range of 4,000 to 5,500 pounds (1,800 to 2,500 kg) on the drive wheel.[25] These are typically mounted in tandem on the drive axle.[34]


Aircraft, bicycles, and a variety of industrial applications have distinct design requirements.

Tires on the wheels of a bogie on a Boeing 777

Construction types

A cross-section of a tire showing ply orientations

Tire construction spans pneumatic tires used on cars, trucks, and aircraft, but also includes non-automotive applications with slow-moving, light-duty, or railroad applications, which may have non-pneumatic tires.


Following the 1968 Consumer Reports announcement of the superiority of the radial design, radial tires began an inexorable climb in market share, reaching 100% of the North American market in the 1980s.[20] Radial tire technology is now the standard design for essentially all automotive tires, but other methods have been used.[26]

Radial tire construction utilizes body ply cords extending from the beads and across the tread so that the cords are laid at approximately right angles to the centerline of the tread, and parallel to each other, as well as stabilizer belts directly beneath the tread. The belts may be cord or steel. The advantages of this construction include longer tread life, better steering control, fewer blowouts, improved fuel economy, and lower rolling resistance. Disadvantages of the radial tire are a harder ride at low speeds on rough roads and in the context of off-roading, decreased "self-cleaning" ability, and lower grip ability at low speeds.[26]

Bias tire (or cross ply) construction utilizes body ply cords that extend diagonally from bead to bead, usually at angles in the range of 30 to 40 degrees. Successive plies are laid at opposing angles forming a crisscross pattern to which the tread is applied. The design allows the entire tire body to flex easily, providing the main advantage of this construction, a smooth ride on rough surfaces. This cushioning characteristic also causes the major disadvantages of a bias tire: increased rolling resistance and less control and traction at higher speeds.[26]

A belted bias tire starts with two or more bias plies to which stabilizer belts are bonded directly beneath the tread. This construction provides a smoother ride that is similar to the bias tire, while lessening rolling resistance because the belts increase tread stiffness. The design was introduced by Armstrong, while Goodyear made it popular with the "Polyglas" trademark tire featuring a polyester carcass with belts of fiberglass.[46] The "belted" tire starts two main plies of polyester, rayon, or nylon annealed as in conventional tires, and then placed on top are circumferential belts at different angles that improve performance compared to non-belted bias tires. The belts may be fiberglass or steel.[46]


Airless tire

Tubeless tires are pneumatic tires that do not require a separate inner tube.

Semi-pneumatic tires have a hollow center, but they are not pressurized. They are lightweight, low-cost, puncture-proof, and provide cushioning.[47] These tires often come as a complete assembly with the wheel and even integral ball bearings. They are used on lawn mowers, wheelchairs, and wheelbarrows. They can also be rugged, typically used in industrial applications,[48] and are designed to not pull off their rim under use.

An airless tire is a non-pneumatic tire that is not supported by air pressure. They are most commonly used on small vehicles, such as golf carts, and on utility vehicles in situations where the risk of puncture is high, such as on construction equipment. Many tires used in industrial and commercial applications are non-pneumatic, and are manufactured from solid rubber and plastic compounds via molding operations. Solid tires include those used for lawnmowers, skateboards, golf carts, scooters, and many types of light industrial vehicles, carts, and trailers. One of the most common applications for solid tires is for material handling equipment (forklifts). Such tires are installed utilizing a hydraulic tire press.

Wooden wheels for horse-drawn vehicles usually have a wrought iron tire. This construction was extended to wagons on horse-drawn tramways, rolling on granite setts or cast iron rails.

The wheels of some railway engines and older types of rolling stock are fitted with railway tires to prevent the need to replace the entirety of a wheel. The tire, usually made of steel, surrounds the wheel and is primarily held in place by interference fit.

Aircraft tires may operate at pressures that exceed 200 pounds per square inch (14 bar; 1,400 kPa).[49] Some aircraft tires are inflated with nitrogen to "eliminate the possibility of a chemical reaction between atmospheric oxygen and volatile gases from the tire inner liner producing a tire explosion".[50]


Main article: Tire manufacturing

Pneumatic tires are manufactured in about 450 tire factories around the world. Tire production starts with bulk raw materials such as rubber, carbon black, and chemicals and produces numerous specialized components that are assembled and cured. Many kinds of rubber are used, the most common being styrene-butadiene copolymer.[51]

Forecasts for the global automotive tire market indicate continued growth through 2027. Estimates put the value of worldwide sales volume around $126 billion in 2022, it is expected to reach the value of over $176 billion by 2027.[52] Production of tires is also experiencing growth. In 2015, the US manufactured almost 170 million tires.[53] Over 2.5 billion tires are manufactured annually, making the tire industry a major consumer of natural rubber. It is estimated that by 2019, 3 billion tires will be to be sold globally every year.[54] Estimates put worldwide tire production of 2,268 million in 2021 and is predicted to reach 2,665 million tires by 2027.[55]

As of 2011, the top three tire manufacturing companies by revenue were Bridgestone (manufacturing 190 million tires), Michelin (184 million), Goodyear (181 million); they were followed by Continental, and Pirelli.[56][57] The Lego group produced over 318 million toy tires in 2011 and was recognized by Guinness World Records as having the highest annual production of tires by any manufacturer.[58][59]


Components of a radial tire
Mountain bicycle tires with an open-lug pattern for grip in soft soil
Absence of grooves maximizes dry-pavement friction on a set of slick Formula One tires

A tire comprises several components: the tread, bead, sidewall, shoulder, and ply.


The tread is the part of the tire that comes in contact with the road surface. The portion that is in contact with the road at a given instant in time is the contact patch. The tread is a thick rubber, or rubber/composite compound formulated to provide an appropriate level of traction that does not wear away too quickly.[60]

The tread pattern is characterized by a system of circumferential grooves, lateral sipes, and slots for road tires[26] or a system of lugs and voids for tires designed for soft terrain or snow. Grooves run circumferentially around the tire and are needed to channel away water. Lugs are that portion of the tread design that contacts the road surface. Grooves, sipes, and slots allow tires to evacuate water.

The design of treads and the interaction of specific tire types with the roadway surface affects roadway noise, a source of noise pollution emanating from moving vehicles. These sound intensities increase with higher vehicle speeds.[61] Tires treads may incorporate a variety of distances between slots (pitch lengths) to minimize noise levels at discrete frequencies. Sipes are slits cut across the tire, usually perpendicular to the grooves, which allow the water from the grooves to escape sideways and mitigate hydroplaning.[26]

Different tread designs address a variety of driving conditions. As the ratio of tire tread area to groove area increases, so does tire friction on dry pavement, as seen on Formula One tires, some of which have no grooves. High-performance tires often have smaller void areas to provide more rubber in contact with the road for higher traction, but may be compounded with softer rubber that provides better traction, but wears quickly.[62] Mud and snow (M&S) tires employ larger and deeper slots to engage mud and snow.[26] Snow tires have still larger and deeper slots that compact snow and create shear strength within the compacted snow to improve braking and cornering performance.[63]

Wear bars (or wear indicators) are raised features located at the bottom of the tread grooves that indicate the tire has reached its wear limit. When the tread lugs are worn to the point that the wear bars connect across the lugs, the tires are fully worn and should be taken out of service, typically at a remaining tread depth of 1.6 millimetres (0.063 in).[64]


The tire bead is the part of the tire that contacts the rim on the wheel. This essential component is constructed with robust steel cables encased in durable, specially formulated rubber designed to resist stretching. The precision of the bead's fit is crucial, as it seals the tire against the wheel, maintaining air pressure integrity and preventing any loss of air. The bead's design ensures a secure, non-slip connection, preventing the tire from rotating independently from the wheel during vehicle motion. Additionally, the interplay between the bead's dimensions and the wheel's width significantly influences the vehicle's steering responsiveness and stability, as it helps to maintain the tire’s intended shape and contact with the road.

The sidewall is that part of the tire, or bicycle tire, that bridges between the tread and bead. The sidewall is largely rubber but reinforced with fabric or steel cords that provide for tensile strength and flexibility. The sidewall contains air pressure and transmits the torque applied by the drive axle to the tread to create traction but supports little of the weight of the vehicle, as is clear from the total collapse of the tire when punctured.

Sidewalls are molded with manufacturer-specific detail, government-mandated warning labels, and other consumer information.[65][66]

Sidewall may also have sometimes decorative ornamentation that includes whitewall or red-line inserts as well as tire lettering.[67]

The shoulder is that part of the tire at the edge of the tread as it makes the transition to the sidewall.[68]

Plies are layers of relatively inextensible cords embedded in the rubber[69] to hold its shape by preventing the rubber from stretching in response to the internal pressure. The orientations of the plies play a large role in the performance of the tire and are one of the main ways that tires are categorized.[70]


Blem (short for "blemished") is a term used for a tire that failed inspection during manufacturing - but only for superficial/cosmetic/aesthetic reasons. For example, a tire with white painted lettering which is smudged or incomplete might be classified as a "blem". Blem tires are fully functional and generally carry the same warranty as flawless tires - but are sold at a discount.[71]


The materials of modern pneumatic tires can be divided into two groups, the cords that make up the ply and the elastomer which encases them.


The cords, which form the ply and bead and provide the tensile strength necessary to contain the inflation pressure, can be composed of steel, natural fibers such as cotton or silk, or synthetic fibers such as nylon or kevlar. Good adhesion between the cords and the rubber is important. To achieve this the steel cords are coated in a thin layer of brass,[72] various additives will also be added to the rubber to improve binding, such as resorcinol/HMMM mixtures.


About 50% of tires use the Styrene-butadiene copolymer as a primary ingredient[15]

The elastomer, which forms the tread and encases the cords to protect them from abrasion and hold them in place, is a key component of pneumatic tire design. It can be composed of various composites of rubber material – the most common being styrene-butadiene copolymer – with other chemical compounds such as silica and carbon black.

Optimizing rolling resistance in the elastomer material is a key challenge for reducing fuel consumption in the transportation sector. It is estimated that passenger vehicles consume approximately 5~15% of their fuel to overcome rolling resistance, while the estimate is understood to be higher for heavy trucks.[73] However, there is a trade-off between rolling resistance and wet traction and grip: while low rolling resistance can be achieved by reducing the viscoelastic properties of the rubber compound (low tangent (δ)), it comes at the cost of wet traction and grip, which requires hysteresis and energy dissipation (high tangent (δ)). A low tangent (δ) value at 60 °C is used as an indicator of low rolling resistance, while a high tangent (δ) value at 0 °C is used as an indicator of high wet traction.[31] Designing an elastomer material that can achieve both high wet traction and low rolling resistance is key in achieving safety and fuel efficiency in the transportation sector.

The most common elastomer material used today is a styrene-butadiene copolymer. It combines the properties of polybutadiene, which is a highly rubbery polymer (Tg = -100 °C) having high hysteresis and thus offering good wet grip properties, with the properties of polystyrene, which is a glassy polymer (Tg = 100 °C) having low hysteresis and thus offering low rolling resistance in addition to wear resistance. Therefore, the ratio of the two monomers in the styrene-butadiene copolymer is considered key in determining the glass transition temperature of the material, which is correlated to its grip and resistance properties.[74]

Non-exhaust emissions of particulate matter, generated by the wearing down of brakes, clutches, tires, and road surfaces, as well as by the suspension of road dust, constitute a little-known but rising share of emissions from road traffic and significantly harm public health.[75]

On the wheel

Main articles: Wheel, Bicycle wheel, and Motorcycle wheel

A bicycle inner tube with valve stem

Associated components of tires include the wheel on which it is mounted, the valve stem through which air is introduced, and, for some tires, an inner tube that provides the airtight means for maintaining tire pressure.

Performance characteristics

Tire performance envelope by Goodyear

The interactions of a tire with the pavement are complex. A commonly used (empirical) model of tire properties is Pacejka's "Magic Formula".[81] Some are explained below, alphabetically, by section.





See also: Rubber pollution and Road wear

Tire wear is a major source of rubber pollution. A concern hereby is that vehicle tire wear pollution is unregulated, unlike exhaust emissions.[91]

Tire showing uneven tread wear to the point of exposing the casing
Tread wear
This occurs through normal contact with roads or terrain; there are several types of abnormal tread wear. Poor wheel alignment can cause excessive wear of the innermost or outermost ribs. Gravel roads, rocky terrain, and other rough terrain cause accelerated wear. Over-inflation above the sidewall maximum can cause excessive wear to the center of the tread. Modern tires have steel belts built in to prevent this. Under-inflation causes excessive wear to the outer ribs. Unbalanced wheels can cause uneven tire wear, as the rotation may not be perfectly circular. Tire manufacturers and car companies have mutually established standards for tread wear testing that include measurement parameters for tread loss profile, lug count, and heel-toe wear.[26]
Wear bar and tread wear indicator on the snow tire tread
Tread wear indicators (T.W.I.)
Raised bars in the tread channels, which indicate that the tread is becoming worn and therefore unsafe. Indicators have been required on all new tires since 1968 in the US.[92] In many countries the Highway Code forbids driving on public roads when the contact surface is flush with any of these bars - this is often defined when the groove depth is approximately 1.5 or 1.6 mm (2/32 inch). TWI can also be used to refer to small arrows or icons on the tire sidewall, indicating the location of the raised wear bars.
Damage by aging
Tire aging or "thermo-oxidative degradation" can be caused by time, ambient and operating temperatures, partial pressure of O2 in a tire, flex fatigue, or construction and compounding characteristics. For example, prolonged UV exposure leads to rubber's chemicals warping, potentially causing dry rot. Various storage methods may slow the aging process, but will not eliminate tire degradation.[93]

Sizes, codes, standards, and regulatory agencies

Tire identification diagram with tire codes

Further information: Tire code

Automotive tires have a variety of identifying markings molded onto the sidewall as a tire code. They denote size, rating, and other information pertinent to that individual tire.


The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a U.S. government body within the Department of Transportation (DOT) tasked with regulating automotive safety in the United States.[94] NHTSA established the Uniform Tire Quality Grading System (UTQG), is a system for comparing the performance of tires according to the Code of Federal Regulations 49 CFR 575.104; it requires labeling of tires for tread wear, traction, and temperature. The DOT Code is an alphanumeric character sequence molded into the sidewall of the tire and allows the identification of the tire and its age. The code is mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation[94] but is used worldwide.[95] The DOT Code is also useful in identifying tires subject to product recall[96] or at end of life due to age. The Tire and Rim Association (T&RA) is a voluntary U.S. standards organization that promotes the interchangeability of tires, rims, and allied parts. Of particular interest, they publish key tire dimensions, rim contour dimensions, tire valve dimension standards, and load/inflation standards.

The National Institute of Metrology Standardization and Industrial Quality (INMETRO) is the Brazilian federal body responsible for automotive wheel and tire certification.[97]


The European Tyre and Rim Technical Organisation (ETRTO) is the European standards organization "to establish engineering dimensions, load/pressure characteristics and operating guidelines".[98] All tires sold for road use in Europe after July 1997 must carry an E-mark. The mark itself is either an upper case "E" or lower case "e" – followed by a number in a circle or rectangle, followed by a further number. An (upper case) "E" indicates that the tire is certified to comply with the dimensional, performance, and marking requirements of ECE regulation 30. A (lowercase) "e" indicates that the tire is certified to comply with the dimensional, performance, and marking requirements of Directive 92/23/EEC. The number in the circle or rectangle denotes the country code of the government that granted the type approval. The last number outside the circle or rectangle is the number of the type approval certificate issued for that particular tire size and type.[99]

The British Rubber Manufacturers Association (BRMA) recommended practice, issued June 2001, states, "BRMA members strongly recommend that unused tires should not be put into service if they are over six years old and that all tires should be replaced ten years from the date of their manufacture."[100]


The Japanese Automobile Tire Manufacturers Association (JATMA) is the Japanese standards organization for tires, rims, and valves.[101] It performs similar functions as the T&RA and ETRTO.

The China Compulsory Certification (CCC) is a mandatory certification system concerning product safety in China that went into effect in August 2002. The CCC certification system is operated by the State General Administration for Quality Supervision and Inspection and Quarantine of the People's Republic of China (AQSIQ) and the Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People's Republic of China (CNCA).[102]


A tire repair shop in Niger

To maintain tire health, several actions are appropriate, tire rotation, wheel alignment, and, sometimes, retreading the tire.


Rolling resistance as a function of tire inflation

Inflation is key to proper wear and rolling resistance of pneumatic tires. Many vehicles have monitoring systems to assure proper inflation. Most passenger cars are advised to maintain a tire pressure within the range of 32 to 35 pounds per square inch (220 to 240 kPa) when the tires are not warmed by driving.[105][106]


Tire bubble
Tire showing weather-cracking over long-term exposure to the weather
A flat tire on a passenger car

Tire hazards may occur from failure of the tire, itself, or from loss of traction on the surface over which it is rolling. Structural failures of a tire can result in flat tires or more dangerous blowouts. Some of these failures can be cause by manufacture error and may lead to recalls, such as the widespread Firestone tire failures on Ford vehicles that lead to the Firestone and Ford tire controversy in the 1990s.

Tire failure

Tires may fail for any of a variety of reasons, including:[111]

Vehicle operation failures

Health impacts

Further information: Rubber pollution

Tires contain a number of trace toxic chemicals including heavy metals and chemical agents used to increase the durability of the tires.[2] These typically include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, benzothiazoles, isoprene and heavy metals such as zinc and lead.[2]

As tires are used for vehicle operations, the natural wear of the tire leaves microfine particles equivalent to PM0.1, PM2.5, and PM10 as tire residue.[2] This residue accumulates near roadways and vehicle use areas, but also will travel into the environment through surface runoff.[2] Both humans and animals are exposed to these chemicals at the site of accumulation (i.e. walking on the road surface) and through the accumulation in natural environments and foodchains.[2] A 2023 literature review from Imperial College London, warned of both the toxic chemicals and microplastics produced from tire wear as having potential widespread serious environmental and health consequences.[2]

Moreover, burning of tires releases these chemicals as air pollutants as well as leaving toxic residues, that can have significant effects on local communities and first responders.[116]

End of use

Main article: Tire recycling

Tires recycled into water tanks on the roof in Cherchen, Xinjiang

Once tires are discarded, they are considered scrap tires. Scrap tires are often re-used for things from bumper car barriers to weights to hold down tarps. Tires are not desired at landfills, due to their large volumes and 75% void space, which quickly consumes valuable space. Rubber tires are likely to contain some traces of heavy metals or other serious pollutants, but these are tightly bonded within the actual rubber compound so they are unlikely to be hazardous unless the tire structure is seriously damaged by fire or strong chemicals.[117] Some facilities are permitted to recycle scrap tires by chipping and processing them into new products or selling the material to licensed power plants for fuel. Some tires may also be retreaded for re-use.

Environmental issues

Toxic fumes emerging from a fire at a tire dump.

Americans generate about 285 million scrap tires per year.[118] Many states have regulations as to the number of scrap tires that can be held on-site, due to concerns with dumping, fire hazards, and mosquitoes. In the past, millions of tires have been discarded into open fields. This creates a breeding ground for mosquitoes, since the tires often hold water inside and remain warm enough for mosquito breeding. Mosquitoes create a nuisance and may increase the likelihood of spreading disease. It also creates a fire danger, since such a large tire pile is a lot of fuel. Some tire fires have burned for months, since water does not adequately penetrate or cool the burning tires. Tires have been known to liquefy, releasing hydrocarbons and other contaminants to the ground and even groundwater, under extreme heat and temperatures from a fire. The black smoke from a tire fire causes air pollution and is a hazard to downwind properties.

The use of scrap tire chips for landscaping has become controversial, due to the leaching of metals and other contaminants from the tire pieces. Zinc is concentrated (up to 2% by weight) to levels high enough to be highly toxic to aquatic life and plants.[119] Of particular concern is evidence that some of the compounds that leach from tires into the water contain hormone disruptors and cause liver lesions.[120]

Tires are a major source of microplastic pollution.[121]


Main article: retread

Tires that are fully worn can be retreaded, re-manufactured to replace the worn tread.[122] This is known as retreading or recapping, a process of buffing away the worn tread and applying a new tread.[123] There are two main processes used for retreading tires, called mold-cure and pre-cure methods. Both processes start with the inspection of the tire, followed by non-destructive inspection method such as shearography[124] to locate non-visible damage and embedded debris and nails. Some casings are repaired and some are discarded. Tires can be retreaded multiple times if the casing is in usable condition. Tires used for short delivery vehicles are retreaded more than long haul tires over the life of the tire body. Casings fit for retreading have the old tread buffed away to prepare for retreading.[125]

During the retreading process, retread technicians must ensure the casing is in the best condition possible to minimize the possibility of a casing failure. Casings with problems such as capped tread, tread separation, irreparable cuts, corroded belts or sidewall damage, or any run-flat or skidded tires, will be rejected. The mold cure method involves the application of raw rubber on the previously buffed and prepared casing, which is later cured in matrices. During the curing period, vulcanization takes place, and the raw rubber bonds to the casing, taking the tread shape of the matrix. On the other hand, the pre-cure method involves the application of a ready-made tread band on the buffed and prepared casing, which later is cured in an autoclave so that vulcanization can occur.[125]


Tires can be recycled into, among other things, the hot melt asphalt, typically as crumb rubber modifier—recycled asphalt pavement (CRM—RAP),[126][127] and as an aggregate in portland cement concrete.[128] Shredded tires can create rubber mulch on playgrounds to diminish fall injuries.[129] There are some "green" buildings that are being made both private and public buildings that are made from old tires.[130]

The tire pyrolysis method for recycling used tires is a technique that heats whole or shredded tires in a reactor vessel containing an oxygen-free atmosphere and a heat source. In the reactor, the rubber is softened after which the rubber polymers continuously break down into smaller molecules.

Other uses

Children on a tire swing
Burning tires in protest

Other downstream uses have been developed for worn-out tires, including:

See also


  1. ^ PubChem. "1,3-Butadiene". Retrieved 8 May 2024.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Tan, Z.; Berry, A.; Charalambides, M.; Mijic, A.; Pearse, W.; Porter, A.; Ryan, M.; Shorten, R.; Stettler, M.; Tetley, T.; Wright, S.; Masen, M. (10 February 2023). "Tyre wear particles are toxic for us and the environment". Imperial Zero Pollution. doi:10.25561/101707. hdl:10044/1/101707.
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  8. ^ Fowler, H.W. (2009). David Crystal (ed.). A Dictionary of Modern English Usage: The Classic First Edition. Oxford University Press. p. 655. ISBN 978-0-19-953534-7. Retrieved 18 January 2024.
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