Car tyre forensics seems like an odd concept. However, in many instances, a ‘dead’ tyre can give you as much information as a corpse in the hands of a police pathologist. Information? Yes, tell-tale signs that can tell you what caused the tyre’s untimely demise. Such information is useful because in indicating possible faults, it can tell you what might require fixing to give your replacement car tyres or tyre the maximum possible life.
Let’s start with the basics. The type of tyre wear pattern that’s to be expected is straightforward, and is characterised by the tread’s having been worn away to the extent that the tyres’ tread wear indicators are at or near level with the surface of the tread. So, the tyre has nearly finished its useful service life. Is this the end of the story? Not necessarily. The suspension geometry on some cars can mean that the tyres’ treads don’t necessarily wear completely evenly.
Other car tyre tread wear patterns tell a different tale. What must be borne in mind is that they don’t necessarily tell it quickly – some wear conditions take a while to show that something is awry. For example, what does feathering on both outer edges of the tyre tread suggest? This pattern is the most likely indicator that the tyre has been consistently run at too low a pressure. Conversely, a strip worn around the centre of the tread indicates a tyre having been run at too high a pressure.
What about feathering on one edge of the car tyre tread? Should such wear be on the outer edge of the tyre, it suggests that the car’s steering is misaligned, having too much toe-in. Similarly, feathering on the tread’s inner edge indicates that there is too much toe-out. This kind of wear usually appears on both front tyres, as the steering will generally attempt to run straight and true. The fact that the steering tries to compensate for misalignment by effectively evening out the wear on each side of the car is no compensation in itself. However, it does advise you to have the wheel alignment checked before your new tyres suffer.
It’s worth noting that feathering on one side of a car tyre tread occurring only on one side of the car indicates something other than misaligned wheels. In this instance, one-sided feathering is more suggestive of wear in the car’s suspension joints, its springs and/or its wheel bearings. This pattern can also occur when the wheel’s camber, its position in relation to the vertical plane, is incorrect. Camber change of this kind can be caused by wear in the aforementioned areas; damage to the suspension can cause the same problem.
‘Cupping’ is also a phenomenon that can show you something is amiss on your car. A tread with cupping (also called ‘dipping’ or ‘scalloping’) has patches of wear across its tread’s surface. This can look almost like the tread surface has softened in places, or has been scooped away. Cupping indicates one of two problems or a combination of them. Wheels significantly out of balance can suffer cupping, as can car tyres under the control of worn shock absorbers. Cupping can affect rear tyres but it’s more commonly seen on a car’s front tyres.
As you can see, car tyre tread wear can be the result of maladjustment but wear and damage can give similar results. In the interests of your wallet, if not your life, pay attention to what your car tyres are telling you.