Unfortunately, our cars can talk and tell us what is wrong when there is a problem. But different wear patterns on tires is one way that our vehicles can communicate with us. Tire treads can tell car owners and mechanics a lot. They can signify that another part is worn out, misaligned or loose.
Here is some helpful information on how to diagnose a problem with your vehicle based on two types of irregular tire patterns.
Causes of Tire Cupping
If you notice the tires making an unusual noise or see patches where the tread is worn down more than others, you may have a problem known as cupping. Cupped tires have irregular smooth spots along the treads in the center or edge of the tire. Worn patches are usually about 3 inches in diameter. When the car is in motion, the tires also make a bad sound like something is grinding. This noise tends to get louder as the speed of the car increases.
Tire cupping is a sign that the wheel is bouncing or not touching the surface of the road evenly. But it may not be easy to understand what the underlying problem is; there are a number of possible causes for cupped tires.
Bad Wheel Bearings
If the sound changes when the car turns one way or another, this may indicate a problem with the wheel bearings on that side of the car. This should be something that your mechanic verifies when looking to diagnose the cause of tire cupping.
Bad Shocks or Suspension
Shock absorbers and the suspension system are the main parts which are designed to help the vehicle drive smoothly. Shock and struts should be replaced after about 60,000 miles; cupping on the tires could signify that yours are worn out. If a component in the suspension system is worn out, misaligned or loose, this could also cause the wheel to bounce wear unevenly. If you suspect that it’s time to replace the shocks or struts, take your car to a reliable mechanic.
Tires Out of Balance
When weight is unevenly distributed across the circumference of the tire, it can cause cupping. Vibrations and bouncing caused by the imbalance results in irregular wear and a bumpy ride. The good news is that this is an easy problem to fix. Having your tires balanced is usually a quick and inexpensive job that will ultimately extend the life of the tires.
Runout means that the tire is no longer perfectly round. There are two types of tire runout: lateral and radial which cause either wobbling or vibrations. This is most commonly caused by improper tire installation or poor-quality tires and gets progressively worse with time. It can become dangerous for drivers as the tire loses grip with the road or can make the car veer unexpectedly to the side. Prevention is the best medicine for tire runout; simply have your tires inspected and rotated regularly.
There are different forms of wheel misalignment: camber, caster and toe in/out. Each type describes a different orientation of the wheels in relation to each other and the road. Tire cupping is more often a symptom of the rear tires being out of alignment. Having the wheels aligned is the standard way to fix the problem and it’s a relatively inexpensive intervention.
Not all tires are the same. Cheaply made tires have thinner rubber which is less durable when affected by temperature differences and rough conditions. Especially when dealing with another underlying issue like tire runout or imbalance, vibrations and bouncing can quickly result in cupping. The only way to resolve this problem is to replace them with high-quality tires purchased from an authorized dealer.
Causes of Tire Feathering
To understand if feathering is a problem for your tires, it’s easier to feel it than see it. Feathering describes angled wear; the treads that are worn and rounded on one side and sharp on the opposite side. One common cause is bad wheel alignment. For example, feathering often occurs when the front wheels present toe-in alignment. Feathering could also be a sign of a more serious problem with the car’s suspension.
If you see this type of tire wear pattern, it’s best to have your vehicle looked at by an experienced mechanic to find the source of the issue. Resolving the problem may be as simple as realigning the wheels or tightening up parts in the suspension system. It may require replacing the shocks or struts, but doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have to replace the tires. This will depend on the severity of the uneven wear and damage done over time.
Maintaining Your Car’s Tires
Irregular wear patterns and heavily worn treads are never good. This is a clear sign that the wheels are not making solid contact with the road. Proper tire maintenance is key to extending their life and ensuring safe driving conditions.
- Have the tires balanced every 3,000 to 6,000 miles.
- Have the tires rotated every 6 months or 6,000 miles.
- Have the wheel alignment checked annually.
- Check the depth of tire treads seasonally (try the Penny Test).
- Check the tire pressure monthly.
- Replace the tires every 25,000 and 50,000.
Read on to learn more about car care.
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