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Cars have all shapes and colors, but have you ever wondered why tires are black? I was curious to find out why some vintage cars had white and not black tires.

Surprisingly, the first rubber car tires were invented in 1895 and they were all white. Rubber is naturally milky white and can be changed into any color with the right chemical pigment or dye.

Tires are black because carbon black is a chemical compound that is used as a stabilizing chemical. The compound is combined with other polymers to form the tread compound of a tire, which increases the tire’s durability and strength.

But why did tire manufacturers decide to stick to a black color and not have other color options? Read on to learn more about the history of tires, what made manufacturers stick to the black color and the technology that goes into manufacturing tires.

Having done our thorough research and talked to several tire manufacturers, here’s everything we discovered.

Table of Contents

History of the Tire

Earlier cars consisted of buggies and carriages that used wooden wheels with an iron band around the rim. However, over time, drivers discovered that the metal tire resulted in a jarring ride and poor traction on slippery surfaces. It wasn’t until late 1895 that the rubber tire was invented.

The first car tires were white. Unfortunately, pure rubber was so soft after vulcanization. That made it less resistant to wear, and it also got hot quickly, a factor that made it deform easily.  Back in the day, tire manufacturers use zinc oxide, which also contributed to a bright white color. The zinc oxide was to help improve the tire's ability to handle high temperatures.

Over time, it became apparent that white tires could not grip the road properly and were durable.

In the 20th century, tire manufacturers thought about how they would make their tires better, and this led to the introduction of soot, which was combined into the rubber mixture. They discovered that soot, which made the rubber black made the tire stable, durable, and made it easier for the tire to absorb heat.

Manufacturers started using carbon black in their tires around 1917, when they discovered that tires made with this compound could go up to 50,000 miles or more, compared to cars that were not treated that only lasted 5,000 miles.

Also, World War 1 led to zinc oxide shortage as it was used to make ammunition. The compound, carbon black was first supplied to B.F. Goodrich by Binney & Smith.

Initially, tire makers only applied carbon black to the tire tread, and this left the sidewall white.  That’s why most vintage cars have tires with white sidewalls. With time, manufacturers used carbon black on all tire parts. That made the tires all black. Classic cars still have the two-tone look as they only had carbon black added to the treads.

Why are Tires Black?

Tires are black because of the chemical compound -carbon black that is added to the rubber to give them this color.

Carbon black is mixed with other polymers to create the tire trade compound, which is the upper compound. The soft, fine powder is created when natural gas or crude oil is burned with a limited oxygen supply. That causes incomplete combustion and creates fine soot. ‘

The fine soot is what gives tires the characteristic black color.  Carbon black is not added as a coloring agent, but to improve the vulcanized rubber properties.

What Role Does Carbon Black Play?

Carbon black helps to improve vulcanized rubber properties. That means it acts as a filler by improving the rubber’s resistance to wear, which further increases a tire’s durability and lifespan.

The compound also reduces any tire deformation. A tire gets to retain its shape, something that translates to less rolling resistance and friction.  Carbon black also has dampening qualities, a feature that ensures fewer shock transfers to the vehicle. That improves suspension and driving comfort.

Carbon black also acts as a heat conductor, which allows tires to absorb heat and move it away from the contact patch. That balances the temperature across the tire and provides a smooth driving experience. The compound conducts heat away from tire parts that tend to get hot like belt and tread areas. It protects the tires from ozone and UV light that tend to damage tires.

In addition, carbon black enhances safety. The tread of a tire is what helps it grip the road. Using carbon black reduces the rate at which the tread wears out, and this leads to the improved traction. The addition of black carbon increases the efficiency of tire friction while driving.

With strong tires and improved traction, that guarantees safety while driving on any surface.

Another role of carbon black is to add to the aesthetic of the tires. The black tire color is versatile and matches well with a variety of car colors. Furthermore, the black color adds to the functionality of the car. You can clean black tires easily and add hubcaps and unique rims to make the tires stand out.

Can Regular Tires Be Whitened?

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide can be added to regular tires to whiten them.

Unfortunately, white tires that turn gray quickly are not as durable as black tires. White tires are also difficult to clean and get dirty easily.

What’s the Future of Tires?

Although tires have remained black for decades, this could change in the future thanks to technologies evolving in car and tire manufacturing. You may soon see tires made of different materials and with different colors.

Although black tires won’t completely disappear from the market, you can expect customized tires with unique colors to crop up.

It’s still possible to get colored tires in some markets. While the colors don’t add any value, some people opt for these tires due to their aesthetics. You should note that the tires are painted or dyed after production, which involves the addition of carbon black.

A few tire manufacturers may add colored bands on the external part of the tire.

Why Are Tires Black?

About The Author

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.

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