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Summary
  • Tire cupping refers to a wear pattern that looks like irregular dips or cups on the tire treads.
  • Some issues that can cause tire cupping include misalignment, worn suspension components, and low-quality tires.
  • To prevent tire cupping, rotate and re-balance your tires regularly, have the suspension system inspected yearly, and keep the tires inflated.
  • If you go too long on a front-wheel-drive vehicle without rotating the tires, when you finally get around to it, the tires may be noisy due to the wear pattern naturally created on the rear tires even if the alignment is okay.

The condition of your tires significantly impacts your driving experience. But as much as you’d want your tires to stay in pristine condition, they will always wear out. One example of a common tire wear pattern is tire cupping.

What Is Tire Cupping?

Tire cupping is a wear pattern that looks like irregular dips or cups on the tire treads. It’s also called tire scalloping because the small and concave depressions along the tire tread resemble scallops. The worn parts in a scalloped tire are usually three to four inches in diameter.

Cupped or scalloped dips appearing around the surface of the tread could indicate loose, worn, or sometimes bent suspension parts. Sometimes the cause is as simple as failing to rotate the tires as often as you should. Worn shock absorbers or unbalanced tires, wheels, and brake rotors can also cause cupping, but the cupping would typically be more of a concentric pattern.

, Tire Cupping: Causes, Prevention, and Diagnosis

Pro Tips are nuggets of information direct from ASE-certified automobile technicians working with CarParts.com, which may include unique, personal insights based on their years of experience working in the automotive industry. These can help you make more informed decisions about your car.

Pro Tip: The simple test is to run your hand along the face of the tire, and you can feel it. You may want to make sure you don’t have steel cords showing on the tire first, so you don’t get injured. If the tire is flat, then it’s good; if it has small waves like on the sea, you have cupping.

What Does Driving With Scalloped Tires Feel Like?

Cupped or scalloped tires can cause a rumbling noise, especially when traveling at high speeds.

Some drivers also feel excessive vibrations from the steering wheel, which is why some mistake this issue for a worn wheel bearing.

Your ride will feel less stable and handling will be difficult if you don’t replace cupped tires. If you notice issues like rumbling noise and vibrations, check your tires for signs of wear. Stop by an auto repair shop for a more thorough inspection.

What Causes Cupping of Tires?

Here are some of the common causes of tire cupping:

Misaligned Tires

Misaligned tires don’t roll smoothly. They scrubbed against the pavement, causing irregular wear patterns, like tire cupping.

Unbalanced Tires

A tire is unbalanced when the weight across its circumference is not distributed evenly. The imbalance can cause some areas of the tread to rub against the road surface with more force compared to other areas.

Worn Suspension Parts

As your ride gets older, suspension components like shock absorbers, struts, and bushings wear out. When this happens, your tires will no longer roll smoothly on the road, creating uneven wear patterns like those of cupped tires.

Cheap Tires

When buying tire replacements, make sure to shop from legitimate sources. Some low-quality tires are more prone to cupping tire wear because they have steel belts that don’t provide adequate support for the tread. Low-quality rubber is also more prone to wear.

How to Prevent Tire Cupping

Cupped tires can make driving risky because they can cause handling issues. Luckily, there are ways to prevent this type of wear.

Rotate and Re-balance Your Tires Regularly

Maintaining your tires is critical to your safety, and one way to keep them in good condition is to have them balanced and rotated regularly.

Experts recommend rotating your tires every 5,000 to 8,000 miles. The tires must be rebalanced every other rotation. If you’re not sure about your tires’ maintenance schedule, you can consult a licensed mechanic.

Check Your Ride’s Suspension and Alignment

man doing suspension checks on car
It’s always a good idea to have your car’s suspension checked every year to ensure your tires are rolling as they should.

It’s always a good idea to have your car’s suspension checked every year to ensure your tires are rolling as they should.

Uneven tire wear is not the only problem suspension and alignment issues can cause. They can also cause difficulty steering and poor fuel efficiency. Your vehicle can also dip when braking or pull to one side when turning corners.

Keep the Tires Inflated

Always make sure that your tires have the correct air pressure. Underinflated tires are more prone to wear because they have a larger and softer contact patch with the road. This increases friction, which raises rolling resistance and accelerates tire wear.

In general, it’s recommended to maintain tire pressure between 32 to 36 PSI. This value can vary depending on the vehicle that you own.

How to Fix Cupped Tires

Severely cupped tires are irreparable and need to be replaced. However, if you catch the issue early, you can prevent your tire from wearing out. All you have to do is solve the issue that’s causing uneven tire wear.

Diagnosing a Tire Cupping Issue

If you notice that your tires are wearing out prematurely, don’t think twice about taking your vehicle to an auto repair shop. A mechanic will know how to diagnose the underlying problem that’s causing your tires to wear out abnormally.

But if you’re a seasoned DIYer, you can try and diagnose the issue yourself. Follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Park your vehicle somewhere flat and safe. Make sure to engage the emergency brake.
  • Step 2: Inspect your tires to identify which ones are cupped. If you spot cupping on your front tires’ inner treads, you might be dealing with an alignment issue.
  • Step 3: Conduct a simple bounce test to check if your suspension system is causing the issue. Press down firmly on a vehicle’s corner, then release it. If your ride bounces too much, your suspension system might have issues.

Make safety your priority by making sure that you don’t take the condition of your tires for granted. Have your tires inspected regularly. Take your ride to an auto repair shop once you notice anything wrong with your tires or any other parts of your vehicle.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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