Most motorists cast only an occasional glance at their tires, and then only with one thing in mind — to quickly check visually if they’ve got a flat tire. And those whose car is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system probably don’t do even that. And that’s too bad! Your tread wear can tell you about a lot of things. And your negligence may result in double losses: you will have to pay not only for the repair of the main malfunction, but also for the ruined tires. And the second item of expenditure is likely to become much higher.
Center wear (your tire is worn down only in the middle)
The center wear signals about overinflated tires. Reduce the pressure in your tires down to the one that is recommended by the manufacturer (check the door placard or the owner’s manual), and the problem will go. The tread, of course, will not build up back again, but you will at least put off the moment when you will need a new set of tires.
Outer-edge wear (the inside and outside edges are worn down; the middle is not)
This is a telltale sign of underinflation. This time it’s too low: the center «sinks down», and the tire rests on its edges. The relatively rigid sidewalls of the tire get to carry the load of the vehicle.
In both cases, the handling response and the braking performance are compromised because the tire’s expected contact area is changed. It’s better to use a professional air compressor to check the tire pressure. The pressure gauges on inexpensive compressors often lie.
Single-side wear (one side of your tires wears down faster than the other)
The basic remedy here is to go to a body shop and have your wheels properly aligned. The factory settings may slip not only after you have your suspension repaired, but also with age. A lot depends on your specific car model and the driving conditions. The settings are even more likely to slip on a bumpy road.
This type of wear indicates incorrect toe setting. The car is driving straight but the tires are spinning at an angle. Hence, the tread is being worn in a diagonal pattern. Such wear can be seen over the entire contact area or at the edges only. In the latter case, the camber angle also needs adjustment.
These two types of tire wear can also evidence suspension problems. Everything depends on its architecture and the factory settings. For example, on a pretty ancient Volkswagen Golf Country that I used to drive, the center wear of the inner circumference of the rear wheels was remedied by replacing the tired suspension springs and shock absorbers. Once the car’s «carriage» was corrected, the «strut» followed suit.
Cupping (also called scalloping) — a pattern of alternating hills and valleys
The wheel alignment, the brakes, and the undercarriage need to be checked. Any of the above can be the reason for that. But then again, with such tire defects, it is hard not to notice deviations in the behavior of your car. Specifically, to kill your tread with misaligned wheels, you need to have been driving with the steering wheel beating in your hands for thousands of miles. As a result, some of the suspension components also need to be replaced.
We have prepared for you a quick memo about the different types of tire wear:
Usual premature wear
Oftentimes, the drivers complain that the tread wears evenly, but too fast. This is not a sign of the car malfunction. If it is only the pair of the drive wheels that wears out too fast, perhaps you should reconsider your driving habits. Or reconcile yourself with the fact that «sporty» driving style is more expensive in every respect.
If all the four wheels wear out too quickly, you have probably chosen the wrong tire model. Some tires, which ensure excellent grip and traction, and characterized by short tread life. You just can’t have it all But then again, it often happens that tires that do not provide outstanding handling response or braking performance also wear out too fast.
Cracking and bulging
This is not the fault of the car or the driver. The tire is just telling you that it has run its course. Curiously, sometimes it may still have «fat» tread, but this is the first sign for you; you can still drive on such tires, but you have to start looking for a replacement. Usually, this pops up on tires after 5 or 6 years of operation. A little later on, the thudding of the steering wheel may appear. Balancing the wheels in this case will not help. The reason is that the carcass of the tire has now been deformed: there is bulge or the cord is warped. Now the one option for you is getting a new set of tires. And pretty quickly, too, before the old tires ruin your suspension.