6 hrs ago
With the possible exception of some Big Wheels or other child transportation vehicles, most tires are black. You’d be hard-pressed to find a tire shop and come across a Goodyear or Michelin sample that’s any other color.
Natural rubber, however, is closer to an off-white shade, and early-model cars sported that lighter color. Early tire makers also often added zinc oxide to their natural rubber as a way to strengthen the material, resulting in white tires. But at some point, tire manufacturers decided to go darker. Why?
Jalopnik automotive journalist David Tracy pondered the question when he visited Detroit’s Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Museum and came across the white tires of a Ford Model T, a vehicle that began production in 1908. Tracy posed the question of the color transition to Michelin, which informed him that tires changed color when manufacturers began adding carbon black around 1917.
It wasn’t for cosmetic purposes. Carbon black—an elemental carbon made from the incomplete combustion of gas or oil and collected as particles—increases a tire’s durability, in part by blocking damaging UV rays that can cause rubber to crack, and by improving road grip. It also improves tensile strength, making tires more resistant to road wear.