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Diagnosing Car Tire Wear Patterns

Dan Ferrell writes about do-it-yourself car maintenance and repair. He has certifications in automation and control technology.

Check your car tire wear patterns and make any necessary repairs before they end up in the tire graveyard.

Check your car tire wear patterns and make any necessary repairs before they end up in the tire graveyard.

Usually, uneven car tire wear patterns are caused by:

  • improper inflation
  • faulty alignment
  • worn suspension components

Inspecting the wear pattern on your car tires can help you diagnose the problem. The following sections describe common wear patterns to help you pinpoint potential problems you may want to look into. You may be dealing with a problem like tires out of balance, underinflation, a rotation problem, an alignment issue, or a suspension issue.

Index

1. My Tire Has More Wearing on the Outer Treads

2. My Tire is Wearing on the Center

3. My Tire Has More Wear on One Side

4. My Tire Has a Cupping Type of Wear on One Side

5. My Tire Treads Have Uneven Wear

6. My Tire Treads Have Cracks

7. My Tires Have Bald Spots

8. Extend Your Car Tires Service Life

Video: Common Tire Wear Issues That Show Up in a Shop

A tire whit worn outside treads are usually caused by underinflation problems.

A tire whit worn outside treads are usually caused by underinflation problems.

1. My Tire Has More Wearing on the Outer Treads

This is a common problem that can be corrected if caught on time. Underinflation pressure causes the tire to make road contact with both outer treads or tire shoulders, where it'll show more wear compared to the center treads. Sometimes, overloading the vehicle or a problem with a steering arm may lead to this problem as well.

Eventually, underinflation may also damage suspension components on the affected side.

Wait for about an hour or more after having driven your car so the tires are cold. Then measure inflation pressure using a tire air pressure gauge. Compare your readings to specifications. Consult your car owner's manual or check the tire placard on the driver's door jamb.

A car tire with a worn center tread is usually caused by overinflation pressure.

A car tire with a worn center tread is usually caused by overinflation pressure.

2. My Tire is Wearing in the Center

Just like the previous section, an excessive wear around the middle section of the tire points to an improper inflation problem. Most likely, your tire(s) is overinflated.

Overinflation pressure causes the center of the tire to protrude. In this case, the center of the tire is under pressure contact with the road, hence it will wear down much faster since it is carrying the vehicle load, which should be distributed among all the tire treads.

Measure your tires' inflation pressure when cold using a tire air pressure gauge. Compare your reading to specifications. If necessary, consult your car owner's manual or the tire placard on the driver's door jamb, and correct tire pressure.

Excessive camber can cause one side of a tire to wear more.

Excessive camber can cause one side of a tire to wear more.

3. My Tire Has More Wear on One Side

When one or both front tires show an excessive wear on one side, usually it points to an alignment problem.

In this case, there could be an issue with excessive camber. This means the tire or tires are leaning too much toward the vehicle or away from the vehicle, causing extra wear on that side. High speed cornering can also lead to excessive one-side wear.

You can picture camber if you stand in front of your vehicle. Camber is the amount of inward or outward tilt each front tire has with respect to the center line of the tire, top to bottom.

Positive camber (outward tilt) or negative camber (inward tilt): Usually, you want a bit of positive camber to prevent excessive wear because of anticipated suspension wear and extra cargo (passengers or otherwise).

Other potential problems that can lead to one side wear on a tire are problems with steering components.

If necessary, check your vehicle's wheel alignment.

Improper wheel balance may lead to a cupping wear pattern.

Improper wheel balance may lead to a cupping wear pattern.

4. My Tire Has a Cupping Type of Wear on One Side

Inspecting your tires, you may see a series of cupped wearing patterns on one side of the tire.

This type of wear pattern may indicate improper wheel balance, worn ball joints or shock absorbers.

Other problems that may lead to tire cupping:

  • faulty tire pressure
  • worn wheel bearings
  • grabbing brakes

Sometimes, thread cupping may produce a whine noise at high speeds.

Have wheel balance and suspension checked and replace the tire(s) after correcting the problem.

A faulty toe alignment can cause feathering pattern on the treads.

A faulty toe alignment can cause feathering pattern on the treads.

5. My Tire Treads Have Uneven Wear

This is a special type of wear pattern that causes each tread to wear on a gentle slope or diagonally called feathering. One side of the tread will be sharp and higher, while the other edge will be lower and smooth. Run your hand across the treads to feel the uneven wear of each tread.

This type of pattern suggest that the tire is scrubbing or scuffing the road pavement. This is usually caused by improper wheel-toe alignment. Sometimes, high speed cornering and improper tire pressure may cause uneven wear.

Toe is determined by how much distance there is between the front (or rear side) of the left- and right-hand side tires. This is measured between the front or rear wheels, depending on whether the vehicle is front-wheel or rear-wheel drive.

If necessary, have wheel alignment checked.

Underinflation or excessive speed can crack a tire's treads.

Underinflation or excessive speed can crack a tire's treads.

6. My Tire's Treads Have Cracks

Sometimes, driving continually with an underinflated tire will cause cracks to appear on one or more treads. But tread cracks may also show up because of excessive speed.

Each tire has a specific speed rating designated from B [around 30mph (48.28 km/h)] to Z [around 150mph (241.4 km/h)]. If you regularly exceed your tires' speed rating, it may damage the tire.

A tire/wheel in need of balance can cause bald spots if not corrected on time.

A tire/wheel in need of balance can cause bald spots if not corrected on time.

7. My Tires Have Bald Spots

This may not be a common wear pattern, but it may show up. Bald spots appear when a wheel is unbalanced or the tire comes with defects.

You may see bald spots on different treads around the tire. Have the wheel balance checked. If the wheel is properly balanced, replace the tire.

Inspect your car tires for unusual wear to extend their service life.

Inspect your car tires for unusual wear to extend their service life.

8. Extend Your Car Tires Service Life

Proper inflation pressure and alignment are the most common problems leading to premature tire wear. Here are a few simple recommendations that will help you extend your tires' service life:

  • Check tire inflation pressure once a week or twice a month.

    • Do it first thing in the morning before going to work and when the tires are cold. Carry a tire air pressure gauge in your globe box.
  • Check the tires' treads for signs of unusual wear at least once a month. Consult with your car shop whenever you see signs of potential trouble as described in the previous sections.
  • Rotate tires as recommended by your car manufacturer.

    • Tire rotation helps extend tire life. It evens out tire wear and prevents one or more tires from premature failure.
    • Consult your car owner's manual or vehicle repair manual for the recommended rotation order for your particular model and tire types. Usually, you need to keep radial tires on the same side of the vehicle. For example, you can swap left-front tire position with the left-rear tire, and do the same with the right-hand side.
  • Check the suspension alignment once a year or as necessary.

Don't loose tire traction on the road. Your tires can give you important clues about potential problems you may be able to correct on time. Taking care of your tires will help you handle the road better, be safer, and stretch your car maintenance and repair budget.

The following video gives you an overview of some common tire wear problems that come into a shop.

Common Tire Wear Issues That Show Up in a Shop

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Dan Ferrell