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By Andrew Biro
Updated on Apr 15, 2022
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff, Staff Editor.
While it is natural for your tires to wear down over time, certain maintenance issues can cause irregular or premature tire wear, recognizable by the wear patterns they leave behind. Failing to recognize these wear patterns and their implications can lead to unexpected tire failure down the line.
Tire wear patterns can tell you a lot about how your vehicle is running, as well as whether or not your tires are properly inflated. Learning to recognize and understand wear patterns is an invaluable skill to have—and may save you money in the long run.
Of course, figuring out what the wear patterns on your tires mean isn’t always an easy task—which is why licensed car insurance super app Jerry has put together this guide detailing everything you need to know about tire wear patterns and what they mean.
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What is tire wear?
Tire wear refers to the process by which your tires and tire treads erode or wear down over time as they perform their intended function.
When your vehicle and its parts are working properly, the wear on your tires should be fairly even—uneven or irregular tire wear patterns usually point to an issue with your vehicle’s alignment, suspension, or tire inflation.
Tire wear patterns and what they mean
Inner or outer shoulder wear
If the inner or outer shoulders of your tire show signs of wearing down faster than the rest of the tire—that is, the treads have worn down or become smooth—you’re likely dealing with a wheel alignment issue.
Inner or outer shoulder wear almost always indicates that your wheels are leaning too far to one side, an issue caused by misalignment, which can also affect your vehicle’s suspension and steering reliability.
If you inspect your tires and notice the center is wearing down more rapidly than everything else, it’s a clear sign you’re driving on consistently over-inflated tires. Over-inflation forces the center tire tread into more intense contact with the road.
Check your owner’s manual for the vehicle’s recommended tire pressure, and make sure you aren’t over-inflating them.
Conversely, edge-of-shoulder wear happens when your tires are consistently under-inflated, putting the edges of your tire into more rigorous contact with the road.
As with center wear, check your owner’s manual to see the recommended tire pressure for proper inflation.
Cupping or dipping
If you notice an odd cupping or dipping wear pattern in your tires, you are most likely dealing with a suspension issue. Suspension components like bushings, shock absorbers, and struts can also wear down over time, meaning the tire no longer rolls down the road as intended but bounces slightly instead.
Bouncing puts uneven pressure on the tire, leading to tire cupping.
Patchy or diagonal wear
Diagonal or patchy wear on your tires is a clear sign your tires are out of balance and need rotation. Having your tires regularly rotated—and aligned—ensures that all tires undergo the same wear conditions, ultimately extending their lifespans.
Key Takeaway Certain wear patterns on your tires often indicate that something is out of sorts with your vehicle and needs to be addressed. Wear on both shoulders or the center of a tire indicate improper tire inflation, but cupping, wear on one shoulder, or diagonal wear point to a suspension, alignment, or balance issue.
How to save money on car insurance
Inspecting your tires for obscure wear patterns can be a bit challenging, but finding affordable insurance doesn’t have to be.
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Can you fix tire wear?
While you can’t exactly add tread where it’s been worn down, you can stop uneven or excessive tire wear from worsening by addressing the cause of abnormal wear. If your tires are worn down more on one side, and your suspension is to blame, you can have it repaired—if your tires are over- or under-inflated and worn in the center or sides, you can fix it by keeping your tire properly inflated.
What is tire depth?
A good way to check for tire wear—be it regular or uneven—is to check the tire’s depth or the depth of the tire’s treads. In the U.S, tires generally have a depth of 10/32’’ or 11/32’’ with a threshold of 2/32’’.
Test tire depth by holding a penny with Lincoln’s head facing down and placing it between the tire ribs—if you can see all of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace the tires as they are below the threshold.
How often should I replace my tires?
In general, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends you replace your tires once every six years, regardless of how much tread is left on them. You may, however, need to replace them sooner depending on your driving habits and normal driving conditions—performance-oriented tires, for example, tend to have a shorter lifespan.