In fact, it is a complicated construction designed to absorb the heat of rolling on asphalt, grip the road when stopping and tolerate the cold of winter without snapping.
Buying the right tires for a car or truck is a matter of knowing what you need them for.
Dan Zielinski, vice president of communications for the Rubber Manufacturers of America in Washington, D.C., has some guidance.
Start with the owner's manual or tire information placard usually found on the driver's side door post, he said.
"On that sticker, it will have the recommended tire size for that vehicle. If you have a used car and someone had put a different size tire for whatever reason, you check that placard to buy the right size. It also has the recommended tire inflation pressure," Zielinski said.
Then start shopping at a tire dealer with multiple brands for a wide selection, he said.
Tell the dealer how you drive, whether you drive in the city or on the highway or do any long distance driving, Zielinski said.
Price plays a part in a tire buying decision just like it does for any other product, he said.
"Typically, the more the tire costs, there is more technology in the tire - maybe a smoother ride or it lasts longer," he said. "Not all tires are alike, any more than the way people drive is alike."
Some consumers, about 30 percent, replace old tires with the same make and model installed by the manufacturer.
"The advantage to that is that you've had experience with the tire. You also know the brand and model was built for the car," Zielinski said.
Raw materials used to make tires, including oil, rubber and steel, have risen in price, and that has caused tire prices to rise to the first consumer, usually the wholesaler, he said. The key to long tire life is good maintenance, Zielinski said.