Tire Cupping: Meaning, Causes, Symptoms, and Preventive Measures

Unless you have a keen interest in tires, you might be unfamiliar with the term tire cupping. Let’s discuss the tire cupping meaning, causes, symptoms, and how to prevent it in the future.

Tire Cupping

Tire cupping is a form of uneven tire wear that may be unsettling, frustrating, and hazardous, especially when it affects a new tire. Uneven tire wear means tires don’t wear out evenly on all parts. This not only makes tires wear out faster but also makes driving risky.

Among the different kinds of uneven tire wear, tire cupping is one of the riskiest. It’s also known as ‘collapsed tires.’ Most drivers don’t know much about this kind of tire wear. Therefore, we will deeply discuss the tire cupping causes, signs, and control measures.

What is Tire Cupping?

Tire cupping is a kind of uneven tire wear where you see worn spots in the tread that are otherwise normal. This happens due to the tires bouncing on the road instead of staying flat on it.

Tire Cupping Causes

Tire cupping is just one type of odd tire wear. It’s also called feathering, centerline wear, shoulder wear, heel-toe wear, choppy wear, diagonal wear, or scalloping of the tires.

The areas that are cupped or collapsed usually measure around 3 to 4 inches across. As you run the vehicle with these cupped tires, you might notice a noise that sounds like tire cupping, which can be confused with a faulty wheel bearing sound.

A cupped tire usually produces a rumbling noise that becomes louder at a higher speed. You might also have a rough driving experience as your car runs slower.

Causes of Tire Cupping 

The misalignment of the wheels or an issue with the suspension system is one of the major causes of tire cupping. Damaged wheels or unbalanced tires may also cause it. Even using low-quality, inexpensive tires can lead to uneven wear.

The following are the most common causes of tire cupping:

1) Misaligned Wheels

Misaligned Wheels, reasons of tire cupping

Regular wheel alignment of your vehicle is important to make sure your tire tread wears evenly. When the wheels are misaligned, various components of the tire wear out at different rates.

Misaligned wheels can result from hitting bumps or objects, and they may also occur gradually if you frequently run the vehicle on a rough road. When you get new tires or change the faulty suspension components, it’s a good idea to ask the mechanic for the alignment.

If you skip wheel alignment after changing suspension components, your wheels will likely become misaligned and cause uneven tire wear.

2) Cheap Tires

Not all tires are created with good materials. Some tire manufacturers use low-quality material to make tires, which offers inadequate assistance to the tires and makes them prone to uneven tread wear. Such tires are particularly vulnerable to cupping, especially on vehicles with substandard suspension parts.

3) Worn Suspension Parts

Suspension Parts

The suspension system of your car contains various components that work together to ensure proper tire contact with the road surface.

The springs, struts, and shocks collaborate to suck up any irregularities on the road’s surface. These elements play a vital role in maintaining your vehicle’s stability, even when encountering bumps and uneven terrain.

As these components start to deteriorate, they lose their ability to properly control the tires. This problem causes a situation where the tires lose their grip on the road, resulting in uneven wear on specific areas.

An issue with the suspension parts (i.e., shock absorbers, struts, and bushings) is one of the major causes of tire cupping. Among these, damaged shock absorbers are the primary contributors, as they cause the wheels to bounce uncontrollably after encountering each bump.

4) Unbalanced Tires

Unbalanced Tires, tire cupping

Unevenly distributed vehicle weight is a key factor in causing tire imbalance. In more serious cases of imbalance, specific sections of your car’s tire might contact the road with greater force than others.

This heightened force contributes significantly to uneven tread wear, leading to noticeable cupping on both the front and rear tires.

To ensure a smooth driving experience, it’s crucial to take good care of the vehicle’s tires. If you have doubt that any of your tires might be imbalanced, it’s wise to contact a professional for inspection and rectification. Proper tire balancing can extend the service life of your tires by up to 20%.

5) Bent Rims

Bent Rims

Driving with damaged or bent rims may result in extreme vibrations. Furthermore, a bent rim may also disrupt proper wheel balancing, causing tire cupping.

The good news is that rectifying a bent rim is often sufficient to address this problem, and it’s usually more cost-effective compared to replacing the entire tire. It’s important to take action as soon as you notice a bent rim.

6) Over-inflated or Under-inflated Tires

Low tire pressure, causes of tire cupping

Maintaining the right tire pressure is crucial for safety. Therefore, it’s essential to inflate your tires according to the vehicle owner’s manual instructions before driving.

Running on over-inflated or under-inflated tires can lead to safety risks. This can cause tires to bounce excessively and result in uneven tread wear, especially if this condition persists over an extended period of time.

Symptoms Of Tire Cupping

The cupped tires produce one or more of the following signs to alert the driver about the issue:

1) Shaking

Car Shaking, signs of tire cupping

When the cupping affects the front tires, you’ll sense a degree of steering wheel vibration. Moreover, vibrations might travel through the seat.

Initially, these vibrations might be bothersome, but it’s more probable that they escalate into a hazard as they obstruct your ability to maintain control of the car. Furthermore, these vibrations can mask other issues that might arise while your tires are already in a state of vibration.

2) Excessive Noise

As tire cupping sets in, you’ll begin to detect excessive noise from the road. This sound might have a rhythm, but it will differ from the usual road sounds. In fact, it can sometimes be mistaken for a problem with wheel bearings due to its similar sound.

You may attempt to crank up the radio to remove the sound. Yet, this won’t address the underlying issue; it merely conceals what’s happening, allowing you to avoid the problem temporarily.

3) Difficult Handling

The shaking and vibration can make it challenging to maintain control of the vehicle, as the tires might have reduced grip on the road. Additionally, there’s the concern of the vehicle veering to one side.

As cupping takes hold, you might find yourself needing to make frequent steering adjustments just to keep the vehicle on its intended path. These problems needlessly place you in a risky situation.

4) Visual Inspection

If you have doubt that something is wrong with the tires, you can observe that the raised areas of the tread have worn down more than the rest of the tread. The depth of the scallops may vary, and they might be more evident on certain parts of the tire.

How To Prevent Tire Cupping

To prevent tire cupping in the future, follow the below-given control measures:

1) Wheel Balancing

For optimal on-road control and extended tread life, regular tire rotation and balancing are essential. In general, it’s advised to rotate the tires every 5,000 to 8,000 miles, potentially aligning this with oil changes.

Furthermore, tire balancing should be carried out every alternate rotation. It’s also crucial to check the balancing of the tires whenever new tires are installed. Neglecting tire balancing can lead to other long-term issues, potentially resulting in costly repairs down the road.

2) Inspect Suspension Parts

By conducting routine inspections, you may ensure the proper functioning of all the components of your car. When checking the suspension system, it’s wise to replace the faulty components before they contribute to undesirable tire tread wear.

However, the upfront cost of new suspension components might not be pleasant; it’s far more unfavorable to pay for both those parts and new tires down the line. Taking care of the other aspects of your car can effectively prevent tire wear.

3) Ensure Regular Alignment

Checking your wheel alignment annually is crucial to maximizing the lifespan of your tread rubber. Wheel alignments are affordable and can save you money in the long run by reducing the need for frequent tire replacements. Achieving precise alignment involves numerous adjustments, all of which are vital.

Professional tire shops use advanced machines to make proper alignment of the wheels. Opting for a combined package deal that includes regular alignment and rotation services can often be a cost-effective choice.

4) Buy Good Quality Tires

When you’re ready to get new tires, you’ll have lots of choices. While it might be tempting to opt for the cheapest choice, this approach might not be beneficial in the long run.

Therefore, it’s advisable to invest in a higher-quality set of tires. You don’t have to go for the most expensive ones if you don’t need to. Rather, a mid-range set of tires should offer sufficient protection for your daily commuting needs.

5) Maintain Proper Tire Pressure

Check Tire Pressure

It’s important to check your tire pressure regularly, ideally once a month. When it gets colder, it’s a good idea to check even more often.

Keeping the right tire pressure helps your tires work their best and last longer. You may check the right pressure listed on the driver’s side door.

Read More: Tire Pressure Light Meaning and Causes

6) Avoid Driving with A Suspension Issue

Undoubtedly, emphasizing a regular maintenance routine is crucial. Consistently inspecting the suspension system will help identify any problematic suspension parts that may lead to tire cupping.

The replacement of the bad suspension parts and ensuring their proper functioning will effectively prevent tire cupping and its associated issues.

FAQ Section

What Do Cupped Tires Sound Like?

Cupped tires often produce a distinct loud droning or humming sound while driving. This noise can be likened to the noise generated by a faulty wheel bearing.
But unlike a bad wheel bearing, the noise from cupped tires doesn’t notably alter when steering in a specific direction. It’s worth mentioning that this noise tends to be more noticeable, especially with cupped all-terrain or mud tires.
When the tire cupping advances, this noise progressively intensifies, eventually becoming quite prominent. Regrettably, the only effective solution to mitigate this noise is to replace the irregularly worn tire on your car.

Can low tire pressure cupping?

Maintaining the correct tire pressure is crucial to prevent ire cupping and accidents. It’s important to drive with the recommended tire pressure. Under-inflated tires hinder proper road contact, which can result in uneven tire wear and cupping.

Can I drive with cupped tires?

Yes, technically, you can drive with cupped tires, but it is not recommended. Avoid driving with cupped tires for a long time. Prolonged driving in this condition can worsen the issue and pose safety risks. Always stay vigilant for signs of tire cupping and address the underlying issue promptly.

Is tire cupping dangerous?

No matter what causes tire cupping, driving with it is risky. Whether it’s due to broken suspension parts, unbalanced wheels, or bad alignment, the risk is the same. Tire cupping badly impacts how well your tires grip the road, which can lead to risky situations while driving.

How much does it cost to fix tire cupping?

If you think you have cupped tires or notice any signs, go to a mechanic for a checkup. Keep in mind that an inspection might cost you between $5 to $90. If fixing the cupping involves things like wheel alignment, wheel balancing, or tire rotation, around $100 should cover it, but prices might vary depending on where you are.

Is tire cupping covered under warranty?

No, the tire manufacturer’s warranty does not cover tire cupping. This is because cupping usually stems from issues like tire imbalance, alignment problems, poor suspension, and other factors unrelated to the tire itself. Therefore, cupped tires are not eligible for the tire wear warranty. 

Can cupping tires be fixed?

While you can address and fix the underlying issue, you can’t reverse the wear itself. If the cupping isn’t too terrible, the tread wear might even out after you rotate the tires. But if the cupping is extensive, you might need to consider replacing the affected tires.

How many years do tires last?

Several tire manufacturers suggest replacing tires every six years. However, with proper care, like maintaining air pressure and ensuring even tread wear, their lifespan can extend beyond that. So, the frequency of needing new tires is influenced by external factors.

How many Kilometers should a tire last?

Certain tires come with warranties for about 100,000 km, while entry-level ones have warranties for around 60,000 km. Winter tires (snow tires) must be changed at 4mm tread depth, and summer tires must be changed when the tread depth reaches 3mm.

How do I stop my tires from cupping?

You can prevent tire cupping by implementing different control measures such as the use of good quality tires, ensuring proper alignment of the wheels, fixing the unbalancing issues, maintaining proper tire pressure, and fixing suspension issues.

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