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Take a close look at your tires. Does the surface appear evenly worn, or do you see indentations that look like scallops or dips in the tread? That type of uneven tire wear may be tire cupping – which can also be referred to as tire scalloping. This type of uneven tire wear is often a symptom of suspension problems on your vehicle. Learn some causes of tire cupping, and possible ways to prevent it.

Tire displaying heel toe wear
The tire in the image is beginning to exhibit signs of heel-toe wear, a wear pattern that falls into a similar family as tire cupping.

What is Tire Cupping?

Tire cupping is a type of uneven tire wear that appears on the tread of the tire as a series of abnormally worn patches among less worn parts of the tread. This is caused by a situation that may at first feel to the driver like a vibration in the steering wheel, but in the most extreme cases, may feel as if the tire is bouncing on the road, rather than maintaining constant contact with the road surface. If the tire experiences changes in force against the surface of the road while rolling, uneven wear patches will often begin to appear between three to four inches across the tire tread.

Tire cupping is one of many types of irregular tire wear patterns which can be described in many ways; scalloping, feathering, heel-toe, choppy, uneven, shoulder, centerline, diagonal (or wipe wear) and more.

What Causes Tire Cupping?

Tire cupping is typically a symptom of different vehicle suspension issues. If your vehicle’s suspension isn’t working properly – whether there are worn or damaged parts, a misalignment, or a combination thereof – your tire may struggle to maintain the intended force against the road surface and lead to this tire condition.

Typical suspension issues which may lead to cupping on the tire include but are not limited to:

  • Misaligned Tires: If the tires have too much misalignment in the wheels compared with the factory alignment specifications, the motion of the vehicle can cause uneven strain on the tire.
  • Worn Suspension and Shocks/Struts: Your shocks/struts and the springs work together to absorb road imperfections by controlling how each wheel reacts to a bump. If this system isn’t working properly, that wheel/tire of the vehicle can bounce more than was designed and can be a cause of the cupping.
  • Unbalanced Tires or Bent Wheels: If your tire is out of balance or a wheel is bent, the centrifugal forces involved in spinning an unbalanced wheel can bounce the tire enough to lead to cupping, over time.

Symptoms of Cupped Tires

Several ways you may be able to tell if you have cupped tires.

  • Tire Noise: You may notice a rhythmic sound, louder than your usual road noise, if your tires are cupped. This is due to those unevenly worn patches of tread rubber causing odd noises while rolling.
  • Vibrating or Shaking: You may feel some excessive vibrations either in the steering wheel or in your seat as you drive.
  • Vehicle Pulling to One Side: As we’ve noted that an improperly aligned vehicle can be a cause of cupping, a vehicle that is poorly aligned will often require steering wheel corrections to keep going straight down the road.
  • Visual Signs on the Tire: See image above for an example of one of many types of irregular tire wear.

Why is Tire Cupping Bad?

Tire cupping is most likely a symptom of additional issues within your vehicle. Once your tire starts to show signs of cupping, it won’t correct itself. Treating the underlying cause of the cupping by fixing related problems you have, must be done. Rotating the tires after fixing the vehicle problems may potentially help even out the tire wear, but once cupping begins to occur, the tire will have reduced tread depth in some spots on the tire surface which may reduce traction available.

If you’ve noticed any signs of cupping, consult your local Goodyear location as a tire replacement may be necessary. Alternatively, if you've already corrected any underlying issues and just need a fresh set of tires, let us help you find the right tires for your vehicle.

Can I Help Prevent Tire Cupping?

Maintaining your tires is a critical component to vehicle safety. A regular tire rotation and balance – Goodyear recommends every 3,000 to 6,000 miles – helps to even out your treadwear among all four tires. Further, it gives you and your trusted Goodyear service technician a good chance to look at all four tires and inspect for all types of uneven wear, including cupping.

In addition, a regular alignment check is a great way to help ensure you get the best life from your tires. Most vehicle manufacturers recommend a yearly alignment check and service. This service looks at the important alignment settings for your vehicle and will help to bring them back into specification. Any wear or damage within these or related vehicle systems can be addressed during this service, which may help keep your tire wear even across each tire. Be sure to check your owner’s manual for your vehicle’s recommendation.

Another important way to help prevent irregular tire wear is to maintain the correct inflation pressure in your tires. It’s an easy check to do – an under- or over-inflated tire may not perform the way it was originally engineered.

As always, if you have any concerns about your tire wear – whether it’s cupping or something else – call your local Goodyear tire shop near you. Your friendly technicians can inspect your tires and make recommendations based on what they see and makes the most sense for you.

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