DETROIT (July 10, 2001)—Ford Motor Co.'s team of about 100 engineers plan to certify the safety and durability of tires supplied for its vehicles by conducting a series of tests born out of its research into Firestone tire failures.
The team will subject tires to various new tests, including:
c Measuring wedge thickness. The wedge is the rubber insert between the steel belts that absorbs stress and heat created by the belts as the tire turns. Wedges made too thin could cause trouble as the tire ages. By tearing apart hundreds of tires, Ford has learned that heat will cause a thin wedge to crack and the belts to separate from the tire casing. Ford will look for consistency in the wedges on same-model tires made in different plants.
c Monitoring tread temperature. High heat makes rubber age faster, which leads to cracks and tread separation. Ford will use a non-invasive method of measuring tread temperature to ensure that a tire won´t overheat under load and with varying pressure. Ford engineers feel they have advanced tire safety testing by measuring tire temperature while it is in motion, rather than by stopping it and cutting into the tread to measure heat buildup.
c Determining the amount of force it takes to pull the belts apart. The greater a tire's peel strength, the less chance of tread separation.
Other durability testing Ford will do in-house and with tire companies includes measuring tire performance under extremely stressful conditions, such as at high speed, high load and at high temperatures.
In testimony before Congress last month, Ford CEO Jacques Nasser said the auto maker´s tire team has spent nearly 100,000 hours testing tires. The cost: at least $25 million.
Ford spokesman Jon Harmon said that in addition to stricter in-house tire testing at Ford´s Dearborn, Mich., headquarters, the auto maker also is establishing an early warning system that links Ford to tire suppliers' warranty claims data. Ford's toughened tire tests cover all its vehicles, not just trucks.
Richard Truett writes for Automotive News, a sister publication of Tire Business.