Everyone knows that tires are wear items and eventually need to be replaced. For the typical driver traveling an average number of miles annually, tires tend to last somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four years before a replacement is in order. Tires also commonly fail simply due to age. A tire that is more than five years old may begin to dry out, rot, and even crack—problems which can lead to a blowout even if your tread depth is good. Both of these replacement conditions are just part of the normal life cycle of any tire, but what if something else is quietly causing your tires to wear away?
What Are Tire Wear Patterns?
When an automotive service technician tells you about your tire or tread wear patterns, they are referring to how evenly the tread on your tires is being worn down. If everything is in order, then the tread on your tires will wear relatively evenly. This means that there will not be any locations on the tire that significantly more worn than any other locations, and there is no indication of a particular pattern of wear. When tread wears unevenly, it is usually a symptom of an underlying suspension or steering issue.
The simplest cases of uneven tread wear are simply caused by tires that are inflated improperly, although you will have to drive a significant amount of time before these patterns will begin to become obvious. If both edges of your tire are worn more evenly than the center, it is likely that you have been driving on an underinflated tire. On the other hand, if the center of the tire is more clearly worn than the edges, it means that you have likely been driving on an overinflated tire.
Although there is nothing you can do to turn back the hands of time and regain that lost tread, inflating your tires to their proper pressure will prevent further uneven wear on the tire.
Incorrect alignment is another common cause of outer tire edges wearing more quickly than the center. In this case, it may appear at first glance as though you have an inflation problem. The key difference is underinflation causes both edges of the tire to wear relatively evenly, while alignment issues will generally manifest as either the inner or outer edge showing more significant wear. Since the effect of alignment on drivability can sometimes be subtle, tire wear may be the first sign that your alignment needs attention.
A wheel that's out of balance will usually produce noticeable vibrations in the car. Depending on which wheel has a balance issue, this vibration is often felt either through the seats or through the steering wheel. Whatever the case, the uneven motion of the tire over the pavement will result in uneven tread wear. This type of tread wear is somewhat less distinctive than wear caused by other issues, but you should suspect a balance problem if your tire has seemingly random patches of greater wear.
Failing Suspension Components
Failing suspension components cause a special type of wear that is commonly known as scalloping or cupping. When your suspension is worn, it no longer applies the proper amount of force to keep your wheels firmly planted on the pavement. This results in your tires bouncing up and down more than they should, which in turn can cause this fairly distinct wear pattern. Look for large (over 2-4" across) sections of the tire that appear to be drastically more worn than the surrounding tread. This pattern almost always means that it is time to have your suspension inspected and refreshed.
While it is important to have your tires replaced as they become worn, it is equally important to check them occasionally for unusual signs of wear. Tread wear patterns can serve as a canary in the coal mine for serious issues, allowing you to address them before they become more costly repairs. Contact a company that offers tire services to learn more.