As we drive down the road after a long day at work contemplating the intricacies of our lives, I wonder, how many of us actually think about the only connection we have to the road? “Tires are what wins the race!” Whether it’s the race to queue at Timmy’s, the battle we all have with ourselves to eek out the best fuel mileage possible or the lingering thought in the back of our minds, “what is that noise?” Tires are the only contact we have with the road and they are more often than not disregarded as nothing more than our car’s shoes. Little do we know what a major part they play in the performance and safety of our vehicles. Tires that are not properly inflated can cause poor fuel economy, vibration, poor tire-to-road contact, which can result in compromised braking and handling dynamics. Tires themselves are not the only element to blame for excessive tire treadwear; poorly maintained or broken steering and suspension components can also affect tread life and the driving characteristics of a vehicle. Below are four of the most common types of premature tire wear issues and their causes you may find on passenger vehicles.
A clear indicator of an overinflated tire is an excessively worn centre portion of the tread . Wear in this area of the tire is a direct result of the tire riding on the centre portion of the tread making that area support the entire weight of the car and ultimately causing the tire to wear unevenly and prematurely. Many times, this is caused by adding air to a warm tire (one that has been driven on recently). This is not recommended. Tire pressures should always be measured when the tire is cool or hasn’t been driven on for a minimum of 2-3 hours (weather dependant). Always use a reliable tire pressure gauge and check your owner’s manual or vehicle’s door jamb for the correct inflation pressures. Another cause of this type of tire wear is installing a narrow tire on an extremely wide wheel (tire stretching). In this case, the tire has to be over inflated to make sure the tire bead seals on the edge of the wheel. The tire’s profile physically changes as a result of being stretched to fit the wider wheel. There is an on-going argument that overinflating your tires will improve fuel efficiency. While technically true (less of the tire is in contact with the road), it is not recommended as the vehicle’s ability to brake and steer safely is significantly reduced, along with the tire’s lifespan. In racing applications where tire wear is less of an issue, pressures and suspension geometry are often altered to increase traction and grip.
Low tire pressures or consistently under inflated tires are the main cause of this type of treadwear. When the tire is under inflated, the outer edges of the tire are forced to support the entire weight of the vehicle, which causes these areas to wear quickly. Correcting the tire pressure to the recommended inflation pressure will cure this issue. If the tires are excessively worn, they will need to be replaced. However, when this type of wear appears and the tire pressure is correct, a damaged or worn steering component could be the cause. Have the steering and suspension checked, and where necessary, have an alignment performed to correct the issue. In drag racing applications, tire pressures are dropped to make the tire more pliable which allows the sideway to flex and twist on the wheel to get the maximum amount of traction.
Feathering is a treadwear condition in which the edges of the tire tread ribs develop a slightly rounded edge as well as a sharp edge. The most common cause of this type of treadwear is an incorrect toe-in setting (front tires are pointing inwards at the front of the vehicle), which can be corrected with an alignment. If the toe-in setting of the vehicle is correct but the wear condition is still evident, damaged or worn bushings in the suspension might be causing the wheel alignment to shift as the vehicle moves down the road.
One-sided wear occurs when one or more inner or outer ribs wear unevenly or faster than the rest of the tire, which indicates that a wheel alignment is required. This indicates that there is excessive camber in the suspension causing the top of the tire to lean too far inward or outwards putting high load levels on these areas of the tread. A wheel alignment may solve the problem but misalignment could also be due to worn steering and/or suspension components. Depending on the extent of the damage to the tires, they may need to be replaced. Having extreme positive or negative camber settings will directly impact the drivability and handling of the vehicle. Again, in racing applications where tire wear is less of an issue, suspension geometry (camber and toe) are often adjusted to increase traction and grip on a specific track or course.
In the future, when adjusting the tire pressures on your vehicle, be sure to check for the above-mentioned treadwear patterns. Hopefully this general guide will aid in the maintenance of your vehicle. At the very least, after reading this article, you will be able to have an educated conversation with your repair facility or mechanic the next time it is recommended that you need replacements. Knowing what to look for and how to diagnose a potential problem may save you money at the repair shop and in this day and age, at the gas pump.