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Breakdown history

How tire technology has reduced the risk of breakdowns

Person changing a tire, black and white image

Breakdowns have been a frustrating but inevitable part of driving since cars first took to the road. A century ago, tire trouble was a common issue that drivers often had to fix themselves. But as technology has improved, tires have become more robust, making driving safer and more enjoyable. In the near future, innovation could improve things further, potentially even preventing issues before they happen. 

Fixing a flat tire in the past

It doesn’t matter where, when or how – a breakdown is never good news. Today, though, a recovery service or garage is rarely far away to help. But this hasn’t always been the case. In the early days of motoring, drivers often had to rely on their own mechanical skills to get back on the road. If that didn’t work, they could flag down another motorist or, if they were lucky, get help from a local garage. With no tow trucks, recovery could literally be reliant on horsepower.  

Punctures were one of the most common forms of breakdown. Road surfaces were often bad and tires nowhere near as robust as they are now. The ability to fix a flat was almost a prerequisite for early 20th-century drivers. And it needn’t take much: a hole less than 5mm in diameter could easily lead to rapid loss of tire pressure.

“Enemies of the pneumatic tire” in the early 20th century. “Enemies of the pneumatic tire” in the early 20th century.

Reducing the need to fix flats

For more than a century, Continental has dedicated itself to making driving safer, easier and more enjoyable. After all, we’re not just a tire manufacturer – we’re a mobility service provider. During motoring’s early decades, we provided our customers with valuable puncture repair materials and instructive literature on how best to maintain their tires. 

Continental factories and workshops would also repair drivers’ tires whenever they suffered a breakdown. Our goal was to make motoring as accessible as possible. Over the years, we’ve developed numerous innovative solutions to minimize punctures. In 1928, for example, we released rubber inserts to protect against damage caused by nails. Three years later, we unveiled a self-vulcanizing rubber plate for motorbik e tires.  

In the 1980s, the new Continental Tire System represented a truly revolutionary step. For the first time, the tire no longer rested on the rim’s outer surfaces but gripped it from the outside. This opened up a range of advantages, including improved ride quality and better handling in wet weather. Perhaps most importantly, though, it meant the car could be driven even with a flat tire.  

Unfortunately, production remained limited at the time due to the high costs. But the groundbreaking creation was a major boost to Continental’s image and served as a valuable foundation for further innovation in the 21st century.     

Old Continental ad promoting a tire repairer Old Continental ad promoting a tire repairer

A puncture shouldn´t prevent progress

The idea we developed in the 1980s can now be found in our self-supporting runflat tires today. And 80 really is the magic number here: a reinforced sidewall enables drivers to travel 80 kilometers at up to 80 km/h with a puncture. What’s more, because there’s no need to carry a spare, it frees up 80 liters of trunk space. Not using runflat tires? No problem. ContiSeal is a sticky, viscous sealant layer that instantly seals 80% of punctures. The technology keeps air trapped inside and the tire inflated, with no impact on the handling of the car under normal circumstances.

Preventative maintenance technology is proving increasingly valuable in mitigating vehicle problems before they become serious – and tires are no exception. Approximately 40% of sudden wheel breakdowns are due to underinflated tires. Our Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) alerts drivers as soon as pressure drops so they can top it up as soon as possible and keep on driving safely. 

Smart tires for safer, more enjoyable journeys

The next generation of tire sensors will do much more than monitor pressure. Continental is currently working on systems that will also register abnormal temperatures, detect changes in tread depth and even repair themselves as you drive.

Continental C.A.R.E. stands for Connected, Autonomous, Reliable and Electrified. Sensors wirelessly communicate vital information on each tire to the car’s main operating system and its driver. Integrated centrifugal pumps automatically add air if required, optimizing the pressure for each driving situation and delivering vital top-ups if air is lost.

Ultimately, increasingly intelligent tire sensors bring a range of benefits, including reduced repair and maintenance costs, maximum fuel efficiency and a safer, more comfortable ride. They might not make breakdowns a thing of the past just yet, but it’s a vital step in the right direction.