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Robert Toth 
Goodyear Tire Whiz Robert Toth on spare tire disappearance, pressure warning lights, flats and inflation.

imageRobet “Bob” Toth is director of New Products and Innovation for Goodyear Tire’s North American Commercial Tire division. After receiving a B.S. in mechanical engineering, he joined Goodyear’s passenger tire design group in 1976. By 1981, he was the lead engineer as Goodyear introduced its signature brand Eagle performance lines. Toth left the research and development side of Goodyear to become Engineering Manager for replacement high-performance tires sales. That led three years later to the position of Marketing Manager for High-Performance tires. He later was named General Manager for Goodyear brand consumer products. Besides his engineering and high-performance tire background, Toth is an avid auto racing fan and loves cars and winter sports. The Akron, Ohio, native is married and has three children. Dan Jedlicka interviewed Toth after he spoke at a  meeting of the Midwest Automotive Media Association near Chicago.

Q. Except for car buffs, who highly value high-performance tires, it seems that few folks enjoy shopping for tires.

A. Tire shopping for most is second only to visiting a dentist. To most, a tire is just a black round item that holds up their vehicle. They don’t know it’s an extremely complex product in terms of development and production. One survey has rated the tire as the single most important component on a car, beating even its engine and transmission. I’m trying to change consumer attitudes towards tires.  

Q. What single piece of advice would you give general tire buyers?

A. Don/t cut corners to save a few bucks. If you were a sky diver, would you pick a cheap parachute or get a more expensive one you could trust more.  

Q. Do people take tires for granted because they’re so much better than the old ones? Plassenger car tires once were thin and had so-so grip by today’s standards—and flats were more common.

A. Tires from the 1950s or 1960s were OK for their time. But if you put tires from, say, a 1959 Studebaker on a modern Corvette sports car, the Corvette will handle like a 1959 Studebaker.

Q. But didn’t race cars attain high speeds with specialized tires long before the 1960s?

A. Yes, but they were for race cars that mainly just went fast in a straight line. The handling and braking just wasn’t there.

Q. What was the first major breakthrough with tires in America?

A. Introduction of radial tires for most passenger cars after the 1960s, although tires really began improving in the late 1970s.

Q. Many cars now have no spare. They just have an inflation device to get a driver with a flat to the nearest service facility.

A. Spare tires are largely becoming a thing of the past. They take up too much space, cause fuel-robbing waste and must be accompanied, of course, by a wheel and a jack. Still, they remain optional on some cars because a certain number of people want them.

Q. Will there be an increase in the use of “run-flat” tires, such as those on a Corvette?

A. Yes. Such tires have come a long way since the old run-flats, which gave a stiffer ride. 

Q. Should a regular tire that has gone flat and been inflated with an inflator device be replaced?

A. For the most part, yes

Q.  Are all-season tires, put on most cars as original equipment, as good as winter—or “snow”—tires in northern climates?

A. Nothing beats a full-fledged winter tire. All tires are compromises. If you want the best traction, you must give up some tire wear.

Q. Should winter tires be put on the front or rear of a car?

A. Winter tires belong on the rear, even if a car has front-wheel drive, because they have elevated stopping power. If you put them up front, the rear tires have less traction and will tend to slide out when brakes are applied and try to “catch” the front ones. A driver thus may find himself in a skid or spin. Winter tires really should be put on all wheels  to maintain a vehicle’s “balance.”

Q.  Studies show many ignore tire inflation. 

A. Some don’t even think it’s necessary to add air to tires. Inflation affects ride, handling, braking and fuel economy. But it’s estimated that some 44 million people have vehicles with underinflated tires—and that costs 3.5 million gallons of wasted fuel each day! Some 75 percent of people wash their cars once a month, but only 14 percent check their tires pressures. Incredibly, a 1916 tire advertisement recommends properly inflating tires to “cut down the nation’s fuel bill.”

Q. No wonder the government has mandated a low-tire-pressure warning light in vehicles. How effective is such a light? 

A. The problem is that the light in many of them won’t come on unless tires are approximately 20 to 25 percent underinflated. Even a 10-degree temperature drop causes a tire to lose a pound of air pressure. So a person could be driving for a year with underinflated tires before the light goes on—all along getting such things as substandard fuel economy and handling.

Q. So why not set the light to go on when tires are at least five or more pounds underinflated?

A. Set the warning system to activate the underinflation light when tires are a few pounds under manufacturer-specified inflation pressures and it’ll be ignored or taped over because most drivers will just consider it annoying.

Q. Will filling tires with nitrogen instead of air allow them to be properly inflated for longer periods? 

A. Air is mostly nitrogen to begin with. However, pure nitrogen in tires is less sensitive to temperature changes.

Q. How do you convince people to check tire pressures more often?

A. Figure out what’s important to consumers. Appealing to their “green” side should be increasingly effective. Tell them proper inflation saves 2,600 miles worth of gas over the life of a set of four tires without compromising tread life or traction.  

Q.  Automakers want higher fuel economy, if only to meet future government economy mandates. Do you work closely with automakers in developing tires?

A. Certainly. Automakers have specified low-rolling-resistance tires since 1975 when Congress began setting Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. Low rolling resistance means better fuel economy. But tire education is important. For instance,  one fellow said “rolling resistance” meant how easily a tire could roll over him!

Q. What’s ahead for tires?

A. Goodyear is always looking 10 to 15 years ahead. We ask what types of tires will be salable and if we have the technology to make them with features consumers will expect.