In the early years of motoring, when automobile enthusiasts were arrested for ``speeding'' over 15 mph, tire men were repairing square woven fabric tires. In those days they used to separate and fold back the tread prior to removing and replacing the injured fabric from outside the tire. The tread was then re-applied and the repair vulcanized in a standard air-bag, matrix-type mold.
We've been driving for 100 years. 1996 is the centennial year of the motor vehicle. Although they weren't the world's first motor vehicles, the centennial counts from the production of 13 cars by the Duryea Motor Wagon Co., of Springfield, Mass., and Henry Ford's first car. They weren't even the first cars built in America. The Duryeas were important because they were the first to build two or more vehicles exactly alike.
Since its invention in 1888, the pneumatic tire has seen only two major structural variants—bias- and radial-ply construction. All the earliest tires were of bias-ply construction with square woven fabric. They were made as totally enclosed toroidal tubes attached to the rim by cement, crude external mechanical lugs, bolts or wrappings and could only be repaired from the outside.
Puncture and structural failures were quite frequent in pneumatic tires. Roadside tire changing was an everyday occurrence and even the best treads wore out at 2,000 miles.
Prior to W.W. II, in fact, nearly every motor vehicle was sold with a repair kit containing tire and tube patches, cement, rasping devices and a tire pump.
Today's tires, on the other hand, are incredibly complex, despite their disarmingly simple appearance. These engineering marvels are made in over 3,500 different sizes and types. They have supported vehicles breaking land speed records in excess of 600 miles per hour, super sonic aircraft and have crawled on the moon at mere feet per minute.
Despite this, we take today's pneumatic tire too much for granted and hardly give it a second thought.
But the only contact your car has with the highway surface is an area of about the same as your own two feet!
Despite numerous educational programs, training seminars and reams of printed instructions available throughout the industry, the surface has barely been scratched where repair training is concerned.
Faulty repair methods die hard. And over the years I have seen some real lulu's: Bias-ply patches installed in radial tires, patches not covering the injury, tubeless liners buffed away, the paint-a-patch method that simply applied a self-curing compound over the injury. (Its biggest problem was 300-percent elongation in service.) Add to this an incredible array of on-the-wheel repairs consisting of just about every possible filler material known to man.
We always seem to forget that the plug is not what holds the air. The plug fills the hole. The patch holds the air!
It's quite possible for a 1/4-inch bolt to penetrate a steel-belted tire and not make anywhere near a 1/4-inch hole. Little damage would show even under X-ray. The tendency is to plug small holes. But in many cases, the tire's steel cords will tear the plug when the tire is in service. A patch is always required.
And if you think repairing punctures is a minor industry problem, guess again.
For every espresso bar and fancy boutique in the more affluent areas of New York and other cities, there is a grimy, greasy storefront operation in a poorer neighborhood soliciting business with a simple sign announcing ``Flats fixed.''
Shops providing quick and cheap flat repair or used tires have multiplied in areas where money is tight, tires are old, roads full of pot-holes and immigrant entrepreneurs abound.
There is a growing trade in $5 tire patches and $12 used tires bought from people who cannibalize abandoned cars and roam the city streets selling tires from the back of trucks. They know enough English to say ``Three dollars for plug. Five dollars for patch.''
There are no statistics on tire shops since no city or state agency specifically regulates these activities.
But both tire dealers and community groups say their numbers have increased significantly. This is your competition—the market targeted by some repair material manufacturers.
Industry standards clearly state that an injury should be filled at the time a patch is applied. While everyone seems to oppose on-the-wheel repairs, most manufacturers produce products specifically designed for on-the-wheel repairs. Considering the shoddy workmanship encouraged by these products, I think the industry has a very long way to go to overcome its poor reputation.
A lot of untrained people are patching tires today and the average motorist has no idea what constitutes a proper repair method. Yet if consumers were made aware of what industry standards call for, they would understand that safety is at stake and demand their tires be repaired properly.