How To Interpret Tire Wear

Just like a doctor looks at various parts to make a diagnosis on the human body, a mechanic can look at the wear and tear on your tires to make an assessment of the vehicle’s condition.

Tires are supposed to wear evenly. This means that the tires should have wear on the treads at a consistent rate. If you notice marks on a specific portion of the treads, there may be a problem with the alignment of the vehicle. You may also be driving around with the improper tire air pressure.

Here’s a quick guide to help you discern and interpret tire wear.

  • Do a visual inspection. The easiest way to check your tires is to look at them. Do this outdoors where you have good lighting so you can see if there are any marks or worn out areas on your tires. Tires should have equal wear and tear.
  • Use a tread depth gauge. This small handy tool lets you check for the evenness of the wear and tear on your tires. Place the gauge between treads and go around the entire length of the tire. You should have even results at every interval. If you don’t have a tread depth gauge, you may use a penny. Place the coin upside down so that Lincoln’s head is facing you. If you see his head even if you place the coin between the treads, you have excessive tread wear.
  • Over inflation. Driving with too much air in your tires will result in excessive wear on the on the center portion of the tread.
  • Under inflation. If you don’t have enough air in your tires, too much surface of the tire comes in contact with the road. You will notice that the outer treads of the tire are worn out compared to the center or inner tread.
  • Incorrect alignment. There is a problem with the alignment of your vehicle if the wear on the tires are on the inside or outer side of the tires. If there is too much tread wear on the sides of the tire, this means too much weight is bearing down on the tires. If the wear is on the inside, you have too much negative camber alignment. If the wear is on the outside or on the shoulder of the tire, you have too much positive camber alignment. Have the alignment of the vehicle checked. You may also need to check the suspension, arm bushing or ball joints of the vehicle. If you notice feathering on the tire, you need to have the toe-in setting checked. You will know it is feathering is you feel wispy marks in the tire. It will be smooth on one side but pointy on the other.
  • Suspension problem. If you see scallop-shaped wear on the tread of your tires, this is a strong indicator that your car’s suspension needs to be checked. These scallop marked shapes are also called cupping.
  • Improper tire size. If you use radial tires and notice that the ribs on the tires are worn out every second rib, you may be using tires that are too big for the vehicle. This is called second rib wear.

If you suspect that there’s a problem with the wear of your tires, take your vehicle to a mechanic or the auto shop right away. He’ll be able to give you an accurate diagnosis on the condition of your vehicle. Be sure to rotate your tires regularly. Change your tires if you notice any excessive wear on the treads. Otherwise, a safe bet is to change the tires every 50,000 miles or so. Check with the manufacturer to be sure. Make sure you purchase the correct type and size for your vehicle.

Tires are an important safety feature on the vehicle, so be mindful of your use.


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