The Tweel -- Terrible Name for an Interesting Concept

Dear Car Talk:

What would you recommend for puncture-resistant tires? I keep hoping for something like Tweels to come out.

With a couple of surgeries under my belt and slowly advancing in age, it would be reassuring to be able to worry less about something like changing a tire. Thanks for your time! -- Rob

The Tweel is both a terrible name and an interesting concept. Michelin engineers invented a combination tire and wheel ("Tweel") in which the tire requires no air.

It uses a springy outer band that has the tire tread on the outside of it. In the middle, they put whatever bolt-hole configuration the car takes. And then radiating out from that inner "wheel" are high-strength plastic spokes.

The strength of the outer belt and spokes apparently makes it rigid enough to allow for handling and braking. And the flexibility of the outer band makes it comfortable enough so you don't get welts on your head from bouncing off the headliner.

There are two major advantages of the Tweel. One is that no air is required, so if the structure proves durable, it could make tires much more reliable, reducing or eliminating tire failure as a reason to get stranded. They also apparently weigh less than typical wheel-tire combinations. And weight savings lead to fuel savings (or more range if you're driving an electric vehicle) and better handling.

So far, we've only seen Tweels that are made for small utility vehicles, like mowers and golf carts. But Michelin recently ran a Mini Cooper equipped with Tweels, so maybe they're getting closer to using them on real cars.

Of course, they'll have to persuade car manufacturers to go along, and they'll have to win a knife fight with the wheel manufacturing lobby first.

So, they're not an option right now, Rob, and probably won't be for at least several years. In the meantime, you can use run-flat tires. Those have been around for decades. And they work well. They use air, but they come with a very rigid side wall, so that if there's a puncture, you can keep driving for 50 miles or so -- enough to get to a tire shop, so you don't have to kneel in the mud in your Armani suit and jack up your car.

How do you even know you've punctured a tire with run flats? Your tire pressure monitor light comes on to warn you. Run flats tend to be more expensive, faster to wear out, and a little less comfortable than traditional tires. But if peace of mind is important to you, they're a perfectly good option, Rob.


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