Driving down the road, my wheels started turning,
I thought … over 17 million cars are sold every year, in every color imaginable … so,
why are the tires always black? Is it to match the road?
For that matter, why make the roads black? Why not pink or green? The first roads were
dirt paths (brown). When these got muddy and impassable, people paved them —with gold!
Gold straw that is—creating history’s first road food! (if you were a horse). Later,
pavement included shells, pebbles, and cobble stones. You can still find cobbled streets
today—blue ones in Puerto Rico and goldish brown or amber in New York’s lower Manhattan.
Why swap such beautiful colors for monotonous black? To go with the tires?
Today’s roads are usually made with a combination of asphalt, bitumen, and other petroleum products
—a durable mixture that melts easily and spreads smoothly across a road’s surface.
And …it’s naturally very dark. You can make asphalt colorful, but it’s expensive!
And it’s just going to get dirty. Why not save that money to plant flowers in the divider?
… you know, for color. Still, the roads in Texas are sometimes a
kind of clay red. That’s no accident: it’s because those roads are made of aggregate—or
crushed up and mashed together—rock. And the rocks in Texas are kind of red (maybe
they’re sunburned). I couldn’t find a pink road anywhere, but if you know one —mention
it in the comments! Ok, that explains black roads, but what’s
with all the black tires? After all, wheels weren’t always black. Chariot wheels could
be shiny bronze. And donkey carts and covered wagons had wooden wheels—sometimes painted!
The first tires were actually made of leather—they smoothed the ride, but—unlike black leather
jackets (which never go out of style and last forever) — leather tires were undyed and
wore out quickly. If you’ve ever bumpety-bumped along in a
vehicle with wooden wheels, you get why we use rubber tires. When you get to the bottom
of it, the shock absorption of rubber is a huge improvement! But the rubber on those
tires is naturally white! So, why are the tires black?
I mean, we let the axle retain its natural silvery color. Probably, because axles need
to be strong and you don’t make anyone nervous by implying that your axle is anything other
than steel. But why is it called an axle when it isn’t an axe? You don’t cut down trees
with your car. Axle comes from the Latin root, “axis” and it means pivot or line.
But, it doesn’t take a Latin road scholar to notice that some tires have white walls—where
the natural rubber color is left alone, or even brightened up, with zinc oxide. In fact,
bright white was once standard for the whole tire—that’s why chauffeurs in old movies
are constantly polishing them: imagine trying to keep white tires clean! But camouflaging
dirt is not the reason manufacturers started adding the chemical compound, “Carbon Black,”
to their product. So why travel to opposite end of the color spectrum all the way to black?
We paint the bodies of cars, but usually one solid color. Boooriiing! Older cars were often
two toned. And I could go for a nice plaid or leopard print. Why not stripes? Early car
manufacturer, Henry Ford set the standard when he said: “Any customer can have a car
painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Are you “tired” of all this tire talk?
No? Okay, let’s continue… Exposed to the wind, rain, snow, mud, and
the occasional collision, car paint undergoes lots of wear and tear. That’s why Henry
Ford developed a super-tough, asphalt-based, paint that could really take the road. We
know asphalt is tough, but it’s also expensive. All car paint is. Depending on factors like
rust and chips, repainting a car in the US can range anywhere from $300 to over $3,000.
You can make colored asphalt; colorful cars bloomed all through the 1920’s but light
and bright colors made the paint even more expensive! When the stock market crashed,
people went back to depressing—I mean durable! Economical! —colors.
Today, the most common car colors are neutrals. But —if you like money—invest in a yellow
car. Not only will its cheery color keep you on the Bright Side of life, yellow cars have
a higher resale value than their dour mates. I’m no economist, but it has to do with
supply and demand — there are fewer yellow cars on the market, so lemon-lovers have to
ante up. You will see colorful advertisements painted
on trucks… but that’s because ads aren’t meant to last, and if they work, they pay
for themselves. Otherwise, patterns are cost-prohibitive. But, wouldn’t it be great to see art on
every car? Instead of going to museums … our highways, could become “Moving see ‘ems”
(OK … if you can come up with a better name—leave it in the comments.)
But looking at yellows, and neutrals, and fancy ads, I wonder … maybe tires are black
because black goes with everything? Accidents happen … why tempt fate with tires that
clash? Tires do have a lot of safety features: no-slip
tread prevents skidding, snow-tires prevent sledding, and run-flat tires let you drive
to repair shop after you drive over a spike. And colors are traffic safety features. Orange
cones, red fire trucks, the stripes of a cross walk … There’s a long list of colors on
the road chosen to catch your eye and help you avoid hazards. But the black of your tires
isn’t one of them. You know what is in some tires for safety?
Walnut shells! It sounds nutty, but walnut shells are super-strong, and their “micro
bits” help tires grip slippery roads! Maybe they could use the inside of the walnut too.
Peanut-butter sticks to the roof of your mouth, would walnut-butter stick to the road? But…
shouldn’t that make the tires nut-colored? Why stick with black?
Goodyear asked the same question. In the 1950’s Goodyear developed tires in many shades to
match your car. They even suggested you might want to change tires regularly to match your
fancy evening dress! (Of course, you should wait to put on that lime green chiffon number
until after you changed the tire!) They also developed tires made of translucent material
with lights inside. They glowed down the road! Cool! Why weren’t they a hit?
Two problems. First, like the white tires, they got dirty really quickly. And second…
you got it, Bright Sider—money! The look of these tires was not just short lasting;
it was expensive. Bad combo. Tonight, you might see some lighted tire rims
(the metal part of the wheel that shows). White, yellow, pink, or green—light-up rims
have glow-in-the dark stickers or LED lights, but check your local regulations before you
buy them: light-up rims can be the opposite of safe, and not legal in places that have
deemed them a distraction. Speaking of distractions, the world’s biggest
tire is also black: it started life as Ferris Wheel at the New York World’s Fair in 1964!
Today, it sits on the side of Highway I-94, in Detroit (The Motor City). Weighing 12-tons,
and standing 80 feet tall, it’s difficult to miss. (If you do, maybe you shouldn’t
be driving.) Paradoxically, the world’s biggest tire
manufacturer, calculating by units created, makes the tiniest tires. Lego makes tires
with diameters just over a ½ inch and they produce about 318 million tires a year! Making
Lego the “Biggest” tire producer! And yes … these teeny tires are black … to
look like the real thing. Black is chic. Maybe manufacturers would add
dye to tires if they weren’t black already. But they don’t have to. The compound Carbon
Black does the trick and it’s there, not to please Goth drivers (although that’s
nice too), but because Carbon Black makes the tire stronger— and more likely to get
you to your destination. I hope all the tire talk didn’t leave you
flat. Ha get it? Hey, if you learned something new today, then
give the video a like and share it with a friend! And here are some other cool videos
I think you’ll enjoy. Just click to the left or right, and stay on the Bright Side of life!