All tires wear down over time. They are designed to wear evenly, with wear-bars built into the surface (1/16th of an inch for passenger tires) to indicate when it is time to replace them. With proper maintenance, tires can last for a long time, providing safe driving and travel.
Basic, routine maintenance starts with a simple inspection. A visual check allows you to see if your tires are wearing down evenly, or if there is uneven wear pattern caused by any number of issues that the driver or vehicle owner can rectify themselves or with a quick visit to their garage.
The most common uneven wear pattern is on the edges of the tire tread. This indicates that the affected tires are underinflated. The solution? Put more air in the tires. The proper inflation (PSI) number is on the side of most tires. If you cannot read the number, it is also in the owner’s manual, or can be found on the manufacturer’s website or with the local dealership.
Improper inflation can also be noticed by too much wear in the middle of the tire tread. This uneven wear pattern indicates that the tire is overinflated. While a pound or two may not seem like much, over time, it can result in tires needing replacement thousands of miles ahead of their normal lifespan.
Wheel alignment is also a key factor when it comes to uneven tire tread wear. Improper alignment can cause tires to cause wear on one edge of the affected tire, leaving the other untouched. When the wear happens on the inside edge of the tire, it often goes unnoticed by the owner except with a careful inspection. The only way to counter this is to have a professional wheel alignment accomplished by a certified technician.
The need for an alignment and also tire rotation shows up when there is uneven tread wear called feathering on the outer edge of the tire. An alignment at the time of installation and then a regular schedule of tire rotation easily prevents this from happening. A different indication of feathering is that as the tires continue to wear, the vehicle vibrates more until it shakes even when driving at lower speeds.
There is also a type of uneven wear that looks nothing like the rest. This is known as ‘cupping’ and its visual indicator is one or more indentations on the tire tread. This happens when parts of a vehicles suspension system (the shocks and springs for example) are damaged or worn from age. Cupping is common on four-wheel, front wheel, and all-wheel drive vehicles. This is because the drive designs require the tires to both steer the vehicle and send it down the road simultaneously.
Except for tire inflation related issues, all other fixes require a professional mechanic to resolve the uneven tread wear. As the owner, you can catch the problem before it requires new tires or a major repair that can cost hundreds of dollars. Before you begin your summer driving, now is the time to grab a tire gauge and a flashlight, and perform about five minutes of maintenance. The bank account you save just might be your own.