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Tire Wear Patterns: What Can Cause Uneven Tire Wear?

Published: June 2017

Uneven tire wear is usually caused by improper alignment, overinflation, underinflation or a worn out suspension. It can be helpful to know the different uneven tire wear patterns below and what they may suggest about your car.

Tires are an extremely important component of your car, and it’s a good idea to check them periodically to see how they’re faring. Regardless of the season, the effects of winter may linger in your tires: Snow, salt, cold or fluctuating temperatures, and the winter potholes that often afflict roadways, can all cause wear and tear. In fact, your car’s tires often have a story to tell, and if you want to determine how well the tires are doing, then you need to be able to understand what the tire wear patterns mean.

Close-up of a car tires treads, four different patterns.

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Common Tire Wear Patterns and Causes

By closely examining the tires, you may be able to determine if the tire is wearing properly or if replacement should be considered. Here are five common tire wear patterns you need to be aware of:

What Can Cause Excessive Inner or Outer Wear?
Excessive wear on the inner or outer edge of the tire, known as “toe wear” or, in more extreme cases, as “camber wear,” suggests something may be wrong with the wheel alignment, according to Bridgestone. To help fix the problem, you’ll likely need to make an appointment with a mechanic.

What Can Cause Center Wear?
If the center of the tire is quicker to wear than the edges, then the tire is likely overinflated. Find the proper tire pressure for your vehicle by looking at the sticker typically found in the doorjamb on the driver side or in the owner’s manual, according to Edmunds. Adjust the tire pressure accordingly for a smooth, safe ride.

What Can Cause Edge Wear?
If the outer edges of the tire wears faster than the center, the tire is likely underinflated, says Popular Mechanics. Follow the tire pressure recommendation on the side of the tire and add air to the tire as needed.

What Can Cause Cupping Wear?
A diagonal scalloping on the tire, known as “cupping wear,” suggests the suspension may be worn, bent or somehow compromised, says Pep Boys. This is a serious concern, and you’ll probably need to make an appointment with a mechanic immediately.

What Can Cause Patchy Wear?
Patchy wear implies the tire is out of balance. Have a mechanic spin and rotate your tires, as this can help equalize the wear. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests having tires spun and rotated every 5,000 miles, but it’s a good idea to consult your owner’s manual first.

Closer Examination

Wear patterns aren’t the only things you can learn about from a close inspection of a tire. There are also markings and codes on the side of the tire that provide specific information, and this information is there to help you know when it’s time to replace your tires. The molded-in markings on the side of the tire include information about everything from the tire’s size and load rating to its temperature and traction rating.

All tires are also marked with a manufacturer’s date. The expected service life of a tire is between six and 10 years, according to SaferCar.gov. If you’re buying new tires, be sure to check the manufacture’s date, as you never know how long a tire has been sitting in stock.

Whether tire wear patterns suggest something as simple as an overinflated or underinflated tire, or point to a more serious problem with the car’s suspension or alignment, by understanding what the tire wear patterns and molded-in markings mean, you’ll be better able to determine the overall health of your car. After all, your tires are the only thing lying between your vehicle and the road

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