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What Does It Mean When Tires Cup?


So you’ve likely heard of the newest trend in workout culture of cupping. Unfortunately tire cupping is something entirely different and has no beneficial effects. Tire cupping is where your tires are becoming worn in a quite irregular way. Tire cupping is not something that is widely known by car owners but it happens more than you might think.

The effects of tire cupping can be dangerous for you as well as damaging for your car. Knowing the signs and causes of tire cupping or tire scalloping can help you be prepared to recognize the signs should they arise. 

Did you know that less than 50% of drivers regularly inspect their tires? This is surprising considering just how important the component that gives you traction is, especially when accelerating and braking, which are typically pretty crucial in the driving process. 

It is advisable to check out your tires every week including giving them a once over for foreign objects like nails, checking tire pressure, and checking the tread for uneven wear including cupping. 

Evaluating your tires can be a great way to check the overall health of the vehicle. Spotting irregular wear on your tires can lead to noticing things like unhealthy suspension, bad brake pads, etc. That’s right you can diagnose these issues without ever stepping foot in a mechanic shop simply by checking the tread on your tires!

There are different tread wear patterns for each abnormality. For example an over inflated tire will lead to the center of the tire wearing out more quickly than the outer edges. In contrast weathered edges where the center of the tire is less worn  is a sign that your tires need more air. Patches or wear and tear are due to poorly balanced tires and cupping is usually a sign that your suspension could use a once over from the mechanic. So without further ado.. 

What Is Tire Cupping?

Tire cupping, also known as tire scalloping, is where it looks like someone has taken an ice cream scoop to your tire every three to four inches.  Because of this appearance, which looks like the bottom of a scalloped shirt, people also refer to this as tire scalloping. These scallops are typically on the outer edges of the tire and are two inches wide with several inches between each cup. If your tires are cupping and you also have overinflated tires, you can find the cupping more on the center of your tire instead of on the outer edges. 

Tire cupping can happen when the tire wobbles to one side instead of driving and gripping the road straight on. Because this affects how much traction you are getting when accelerating and braking, it can be a very dangerous issue and should be addressed promptly. 

What Causes Tires To Cup?

There can be a number of reasons why tires experience cupping, here are some of the most common. 

  • Improper Suspension
  • Unbalanced Tires
  • Misaligned Tires
  • Cheap Tires
  • Underinflated tires

It is typically a bad extension that causes tires to scallop. As your car bounces up and down due to bad shocks or struts,  it briefly loses contact with the ground and as your car lands the weight wears the tire in that area. This uneven wear becomes more and more severe as time goes on because the tire being uneven will cause this effect to worsen naturally pushing the car up with each scallop and causing the car to land in the next scallop. 

This will not only make the road noise when driving very loud, it will also prevent your car from smoothly gliding over the road. Especially at slow speeds you will be bouncing around in the cab of the car.
Shock absorbers need to be replaced every 50,000 to 60,000 miles and struts should be replaced every 60,000 to 90,000 miles. Suspension bushings will last a bit longer, every 100,000 to 150,000 miles. To be safe, it is recommended that you have your suspension looked over every year or every 12,000 miles. 

Shocks and parts of the suspension tend to be car maintenance items that are neglected by vehicle owners. Most drivers are under the impression that the suspension is a component of the vehicle meant to solely cater to the comfort of the ride, however this could not be further from the truth. The suspension of  a car plays a huge role in maintaining safe traction while driving. 

This effect is often made worse for vehicle owners who frequently drive on bumpy roads or on roads that have a lot of speed bumps.

 In some cases tire cupping can be a result of poorly crafted tires alone. You want to be sure to outfit your car with high quality rubber, tires are not where you want to be cheap when it comes to safely maintaining your car. In some cases under inflated tires can also cause tire cupping. Be sure to check the tire pressure of all four wheels once a week. If you have driven your car to a vastly different elevation, like if you take a trip to the mountains, your car will need to have the air pressure in its tires tweaked. 

How Do You Know If Your Tires Are Cupped

There are quite a few ways that you can tell if your tires are cupping and they are not hiding from you. It is very easy to identify a car with cupped tires whether just looking at the car, listening to the car drive, or evaluating the smoothness with which the car drives. Here are the best ways to tell if your vehicle is cupping: 

  • Your car is bouncing up and down as you drive. 
  • You are experiencing excessive vibrating and shaking as you ride in your vehicle
  • Your car driving down the road at high speed sounds like a helicopter. Cupped tires can be very noisy! 
  • Your car is veering to one side. This is a sign of poor alignment which can be a cause of tire cupping. 
  • You can physically see the scallops in the sides of your tires. Luckily, tire scalloping is really easy to spot 

Excessive Bouncing: The scoops out of your tire are going to prevent the car from driving smoothly. Especially when you are driving at a slow speed, you will feel the car bouncing up and down. This is also a sign that you may not have cupped tires yet but they could be developing. A car that bounces excessively is usually a sign of an unhealthy suspension which will lead to the car putting more and less pressure on the tires as it bounces and loses contact with the ground. This effect will lead to tire cupping. 

Heavy Vibrations: You will not be experiencing a smooth ride if your tires are scalloping. There will generally be a great deal of shaking and vibrating as you drive down the road. This is because the tire is no longer flat and cannot make constant contact with the pavement. 

Noise: When you drive on cupped tires, you will experience a great deal of noise especially at high speeds. This is because your tires are making contact and then not making contact with the ground. This happens many times per second as you drive and the resulting sound can lead you to believe that you are piloting a helicopter instead of driving your car, truck or SUV. 

Veering to the left or right: While this generally isn’t a sign necessarily linked to tire cupping, it is linked to improper tire alignment which can cause tire cupping. If your alignment is bad your tires are going to wear unevenly and may result in tire cupping. If you are fighting to keep your car driving in a straight trajectory, It’s a good idea to get this checked out as soon as you notice it because even if your tires aren’t cupping, you are prematurely wearing down your tires and they will need to be replaced which is expensive!

You can see the scoops: tire cupping is pretty easy to spot while looking at your tires. Every three to four inches it will look like someone to a spoon to your soft tire and carved away part of it. This will be around the entirety of the tire and is usually on all four tires on your vehicle. In most cases, the cupping will be on the outer edge of the tire along the tread, but if you are driving on tires that have too much air in them, that part of the tire will never make contact with the ground so the cupping will be more in the center of the tread. You should give your tires a once over every week, checking for irregular tread wear, cupping, proper inflation, and foreign objects like nails. 

The Risks Of Tire Cupping

Because it is widely and unheard of issue, many people don’t think that tire cupping is something to be all that concerned about, this could not be further from the truth! When you drive on scalloped tires you vehicle is bouncing around, losing traction with the ground many times per second as you drive. This is where the risk comes into play, you don’t have a stable grip on the road. 

Tire cupping creates risks due to moments of lost traction. Tires are made to have even and consistent traction. This becomes extremely risky at moments where a driver is trying to stop quickly and ends up not having traction because their car is bouncing around. If you make the decision to drive on cup tires, you are putting yourself, your passengers and everyone on the road with you at risk because you are not always able to stop. Stopping is important, don’t drive on cupped tires. 

Can You Fix Cupped Tires?

Now that we know how dangerous tire cupping can be, what do we do if we have cupped tires and want to take care of the issue? Can cupped tires be fixed? Generally the answer here is no, cupped tires cannot be fixed. 

In most cases you can fix the causes of tire cupping, by having your alignment checked or your suspension fixed, but unfortunately you typically cannot fix the uneven wear of tire cupping itself. 

In less severe cases the tire will even itself out once the root of the problem has been fixed and the tires are properly aligned. Some mechanics can also shave down the tire if the cupping is not super severe, especially for relatively new tires, evening them out to a flat surface again. 

In cases of tire cupping where the uneven wear of tread has become severe, you will likely have to completely replace all of the tires on the vehicle which is expensive, but must be done to ensure safety. 

You can diagnose the severity of your issue by following these steps:

  1. Park the vehicle and engage the emergency brake. 
  2. Carefully examine each tire looking for signs of cupping and note the depth at which the tires are cupped.
  3. Push and let go of the top of the vehicle to see how much it moves. If the car is bouncing around a lot, the root of your problems is likely the suspension which is the most common cause of tire cupping. 
  4. Look at the front tires, if the cupping is on the inside of the tread then a bad alignment is likely the cause. 

How To Prevent Tire Cupping

Preventing tire cupping in your vehicle helps make the roads a safer place, not just for you, but for anyone on the road with you!  Among other reasons to prevent tire cupping includes preventing costly repairs for yourself in the future. Replacing your tires is costly but covering the cost of an accident and potential medical injuries you caused someone else due to your negligent maintenance is worse. 

Here are the best ways to prevent tire scalloping:

  1. Pay attention to what your car is telling you when you drive it
  2. Buy quality maintenance parts including suspension and tires
  3. Have your suspension looked at at least once a year. 
  4. Check your tires every week!

One of the ways you can prevent tire scalloping by paying close attention to the way your car is moving when you drive. If you feel like you are bouncing around an awful lot, this could be a sign of poor suspension health.

 When your mechanic advises you to repair or replace parts of your extension, be sure to do so! Shock absorbers need to be replaced every 50,000 to 60,000 miles and struts should be replaced every 60,000 to 90,000 miles. Suspension bushings will last a bit longer, every 100,000 to 150,000 miles. To be safe, it is recommended that you have your suspension looked over every year or every 12,000 miles.

You can evaluate the health of your car based on the noises it is making. If you think your car is making more noise as you are driving this could be due to improper and uneven tread wear. When you get to a safe location give your tires a check to see what the tread looks like. 

If your car is pulling to one side or the other, odds are your alignment is off. You should get this looked at immediately because an improper alignment can lead to costly repairs and bigger issues. 

You can also protect yourself from tire cupping by fitting your vehicle with quality tires. There are so many reasons why you should spend the extra money to get tires. From the dangers of blowouts to making sure you have quality rubber that stops well when it needs to. Cupping is just the tip of the iceberg for a many number of valuable reasons to outfit your car with great rubber. 

Check your tires WEEKLY. You would think that people would check the integrity of their tires more frequently considering this is a major safety point on their car. Alas, tires tend to get neglected. Be safe and check the tire pressure, and tread every week. Don’t forget to look out for foreign objects like nails too!

If you notice that your tires are beginning to cup, bring your car to a mechanic immediately to prevent further damage.

Can Bad Alignment Cause Cupping 

Yes tires that are poorly aligned can cause tire cupping though it is more frequently a symptom of cheap tires or an ineffective suspension. Bad alignment is when your car pulls to one side or the other when you are driving. If you were to take your hands off the steering wheel, your car would not continue to drive straight. This can lead to tire cupping, though it is more likely just going to wear out the tread of your tires unevenly (on the side that your tires are pulling. 

Alignment is the angle at which your tires meet the road. In some cases they are tilted to one side or the other. Over time, your alignment will get knocked out of the proper range. This can happen when you hit a pothole, drive over a curb or just drive on a dirt or bumpy road frequently. When you take your car to the mechanic they can check your alignment to make sure your tires are meeting the road at the angle that they should be. You can also check your alignment at home. 

When you should get your wheels aligned: 

  1. When you get new tires. 
  2. It’s been over a year since you last aligned your tires. 
  3. You’ve driven 6,000 miles 
  4. You’ve been in any sort of accident 
  5. You lifted or lowered your vehicle or you had some sort of work done on your suspension
  6. Any sort of minor collision like hitting road debris or driving through a large pothole or you accidentally drove over a curb 

How To Check Your Own Alignment

Many believe you have to go to a mechanic to get an official diagnosis on your vehicle’s alignment. While this can be true to some extent, it is possible for you to check parts of your alignment at home without the expertise of a mechanic. The toe is relatively simple to self diagnose. Depending on your comfortability, you still may want to go to a professional. Look over this list and see if you want to try this at home:

  1. Park your vehicle on an evenly  paved surface, your garage should work. 
  2. Center your steering wheel. You want your tires to be pointed straight ahead. 
  3. To check the toe of your vehicle you want to jack up the front tires. Make sure you secure the vehicle completely. 
  4. While spinning the tire, use a can of spray paint to make a line around the tire on the tread by holding your hand in one spot, I recommend balancing your elbow to get an accurate result. 
  5. Repeat this on the other front tire and then again on the back tires. 
  6. Take the car off of the jack, then measure from line to line (between the line of the front two tires and then between the back two tires) with the vehicle again on an even surface. 
  7. To determine the toe, compare the measurements between the number you calculated between your front tires and back tires. 
  8. Recenter your steering wheel then adjust the tie rods on each side the same amount.
  9. Remeasure the toe and if needed repeat steps 3-8 until the toe is within spec
  10. Next you’ll want to ensure that the adjuster-sleeve nuts are in factory spec. Adjust these as needed. 
  11. Though camber is part of measuring alignment, it is typically not something that can be fixed. Camber is thrown off due to warping of parts. 

Do Cupped Tires Need To Be Replaced?

In most cases yes, but it does depend on the severity of the cupping. The first thing you’ll want to do is establish why your tires are cupping. Whether you check your own alignment using the process detailed above or take the car into a mechanic to have the alignment and suspension checked is totally up to you. Once you have determined what your issue is, fix that part of your vehicle. 

Some mechanics can shave down a tire that has cupping, but this is only possible when the cupping is not overly severe and if you have tires that have enough tread to be safely worn down and still be safely driven on. 

In some cases where the cupping is really light, you can fix the issue causing the cupping and the cupping will slowly go away as the car is driven and the pavement wears away the unevenness. 

What Is Back Tire Cupping?

Back tire cupping is the act of cupping but on your back tires. It can lead to loud cabin noise when driving as well as an uncomfortable and bumpy ride, especially at slower speeds. Depending on your suspension, back tire cupping can prevent you from accelerating properly. 

What Causes Back Tire Cupping?

Back tire cupping is a symptom of the same causes of front tire cupping. Most of the time, tire scalloping is a result of a bad suspension, specifically the shocks or struts of your vehicle. When your car is not absorbing the impact of driving properly, it will begin to bounce causing the uneven wear of tire cupping. Back tire cupping can also be a symptom of cheaply made tires or bad alignment. If you are noticing cupping on your back tires, you want to have the problem diagnosed immediately. You can do this yourself if you have the expertise or you can take your vehicle into a trusted mechanic. 

Are Cupping Tires Dangerous?

Yes! Cupping tires can be very dangerous. When your tires are cupping, the tire is not making constant contact with the surface of the road due to bouncing. This contact then loss of contact will happen many times per second as the wheel spins. If the moment hits you just right and you need to stop short, you could find yourself slamming into something because you were trying to brake and your tires were not making contact with the ground. Imagine half of your tire isn’t making contact the way that it should be, that gives you half as much traction and grip on the road when you have to lock up your brakes. 

Will A Long Burn Out Fix Cupped Tires?

In theory, yes a burn out can fix uneven wear on tires, but only after the cause of the tire cupping has been identified and fixed. There are usually better ways to solve this issue than burn out. Typically your mechanic will have the tools to cut down your tires and even out wear and tear if you ask them to. If left alone and the cupping is not severe, driving normally will even out the tires. Again this is after the root of the issue has been taken care of. 

Can Cupped Tires Cause Death Wobble 

Jeep people, while tire scalloping can contribute to the dreaded death wobble, it isn’t usually the sole cause. If you are experiencing a wobble, take your car to the shop immediately before you are involved in an accident. 

Can Over Inflated Tires Cause Cupping

Typically no, but over inflated tires will cause the area of cupping tires to shift to the center of the tire. An over inflated tire will wear down more heavily in the center of the tread. If your shocks or struts are also bad and your vehicle is bouncing around then you will see the area where your tires cup shift to the center of the tread. When your tires are properly inflated, but are still cupping, the scallops will be seen on the outer edges of the tire.

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Steps on How to Fix Tire Cupping


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