Case Studies

Tire Wear – Tire Cupping, Causes and Correction

What Does Cupping Look Like?
Tire cupping is an uneven wear pattern, which occurs due to irregular up-and-down motions of a wheel (bouncing). It interferes with the proper contact of the tire with the road, scooping rubber in spots.

When it comes to your tires, cupping is a bad sign and typically means you have other problems with your car that are affecting your tires.

The term “tire cupping” is unfamiliar to many drivers, but it’s a problem that happens more frequently than you’d think. Cupping, also known as tire scalloping, refers to when a car or truck’s tire tread moves from high to low in random spots.

The worn bits are usually 3-4 inches in diameter. The cupped tire may cause a rumbling noise when driving at higher speeds, and is often mistaken for a worn wheel bearing. Your ride may also be quite harsh at slower speeds, due to this issue.

In the image above, which is exaggerated for effect, you can see how a cupped tire might appear when looked at straight on, as well as how the wear appears when looking at a tire from the side, where you can fully see the tread. The orange arrow represents the type of wear you’re probably used to seeing, while the hollow areas represent how cupped tires appear to have holes or dips.

Why Are My Tires Cupping?
It’s most likely due to one of three causes, Tires Out Of Balance, Bent Rims, or Worn Suspension Parts.

Tire Balance – If your car’s steering wheel is shaking, or you feel a vibration through the seat, suspect tire balance. Even if your tires were recently balanced, mud, dirt, snow, and other debris could build up on the inside surface of your wheels, causing an imbalance issue. When we balance tires, we balance down to 1 gram, or about the weight of a paper clip, so you can see it doesn’t take much to cause a balance issue. As small as even a 0.25-ounce imbalance may cause back tire cupping and other problems, so you should check your tire balance every 5,000-7,000 miles. Balancing your tires can improve tire life by as much as 15-20%, by preventing uneven wear.

Bent Rims – These are a common issue here in Maine; all too often, a pothole impact does the trick, and the bent is usually on the inner flange, tough to see from the outside but very visible on the lift. We can usually repair rather than replace bent rims, saving you both money and time!

Suspension Parts – If your car is bouncing up and down excessively because of bad shocks or struts, the tread on your tire will tear out and wear in certain spots faster than others. Your car literally loses contact with the road for short periods, and over time, this action creates noticeable “cups” that look like dips or craters in the rubber. The problem is made worse if you often drive over bumpy roads or speed bumps. In some cases, tire cupping can also be caused by cheap tires that don’t offer as much tread or durability, as well as by damage from underinflated tires.

Is It Possible To Repair Tire Cupping?

You can diagnose and repair the cause, but not the wear itself. If cupping isn’t severe, treadwear will even out after you rotate the tires. However, if the case is severe, you may need to replace the tire.

You can diagnose the tire-wheel assembly yourself by completing these steps:

  1. Park the vehicle and put it on the emergency brake.
  2. Find the cupped tire by looking at the tread of all four tires.
  3. Push on the vehicle and see how much it bounces, and if it does considerably, worn struts or shocker absorbers are most likely the main issue.
  4. Aside from the rear tires, look at the front ones. If there is cupping on the inside of the tread, wheel misalignment may be the cause.

NOTE: It’s best that you go to a qualified service provider to find the exact issue and repair it.

How to Prevent Tire Cupping
Pay attention to your car’s suspension system and have it repaired when recommended by your service provider. If you notice your car bouncing more than usual, have it inspected sooner than later. Also, choose quality tires for your car, truck, or SUV that will hold up throughout the years. Check tire inflation every month, along with checking your tire tread to look for signs of strange wear and tear.

If you notice that your tires are cupping, please call and bring your car to us for service immediately. Also, to learn more about tire care, check out our tire maintenance page, which includes information about signs of tire failure as well as when to align and rotate tires.

How We Can Help You
The Service Team here at Atlantic Motorcar is well experienced in this issue and others; with over 35 years of European auto specialization, serving clients from the areas of New England, we are familiar with the needs of the special service of your car or SUV. Since we have diagnosed and treated this problem many times, we have the experience and qualifications necessary to return your Volvo to its original self.

As Maine’s leading European auto specialists, we provide expert-quality services at a fair rate compared to nearby dealerships and specialty shops. If you’re experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms in your own Volvo, please call us right away; we can usually see your car the same day! At Atlantic Motorcar, we’ve developed some very specific procedures and tooling, combined with our expert technicians, to make this otherwise onerous repair a snap.

Questions, or if we can be of help in any way with service on your Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Infiniti, Lexus, Mini Cooper Nissan, Volvo, and VW, please contact us. Our team of Service Specialists is here to help, for even the newest autos! (207) 882-9969.

Knowing, not just “doing,” that’s the Atlantic Motorcar Center way of life.

The Atlantic Motorcar Center Service Team

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