What is Tire Cupping? – Causes, Symptoms, and Pro Fixes

Unless you’re really into tires, you may not have heard of ‘tire cupping.’

This uneven tire wear is dangerous, frustrating, and unnerving, especially on new tires. Why so? Uneven tire wear, either tire wear on the outside or Inside tire wear, causes not only premature tire wear but also poses safety issues. 

Amongst many tire wear, tire cupping is one of the most dangerous. It is also called collapsed tires. Many motorists are not familiar with this type of tire wear, and that’s why the RX Mechanic team wrote this article for better exposure to this crucial issue. 

In the following sections, you’ll learn front and rear tire cupping, causes, symptoms, and tire cupping fixes.

What Does Cupping On Tires Mean?

Tire cupping is an uneven and irregular tire tread wear pattern because of irregular wheel movement [bouncing]. It affects the way the tire hugs the road. 

Rear and front tire cupping pose not only safety issues but show some suspension system components are bad. Diagnose your suspension system and replace faulty components before it escalates to major repairs and drop expensive repairs bills on the table. 

Many motorists are unfamiliar with tire cupping, but it happens more often than one can imagine. Tire cupping means when a vehicle tire tread wears in random patterns. 

The collapsed or cupped areas are usually 3-4 inches in diameter. When driving with collapsed tires, you’ll hear a tire cupping noise, confused as bad wheel bearing noise.

The noise is usually a rumbling sound, obvious at higher speeds. You may have a harsh driving experience when driving at a slower speed.

what is tire cupping caused by

Causes of Tire Cupping 

As explained earlier, tire cupping causes are effects of bad suspension components. Fixing them as soon as possible will save you from expensive repairs. Let’s examine the causes below.

Misaligned Tires

Misaligned tires will prevent the tires from having perfect contact with the road or prevent a straight movement. The effects of the misaligned tires may display on the tires as ‘sawtooth’ tread wear or cupping. Engineers refer to ‘sawtooth wear’ as ‘heel-toe’ wear.

Unbalanced Tires

A major cause of unbalanced tires is when the vehicle weight is not evenly distributed to the wheels. If the unbalanced tire condition is severe, it can cause one part of the tire to hit the road with more force than other parts. This extra force is a significant rear and front tire cupping that causes uneven tread wear.

You need to properly maintain your tires for a seamless driving experience. If you suspect any of your tires are unbalanced, drive to a nearby garage to have them checked and fixed. Having a balanced tire can prolong the tire lifespan by 20%. 

Worn suspension components

Automakers do not produce most suspension components to last the life of the vehicle. Components like shock absorbers, strut mounts, control arms, and others fail with time. It can cause irregular up and down tire movement. This irregular movement can cause slight tire bouncing or cupping. 

Bent or damaged rims

Bent or damaged rims can cause excessive vibration while driving. Again, a bent rim can spoil the wheel balancing, leading to tire cupping.

Luckily, repairing the wheel is all you need to fix this issue, which is more inexpensive than replacing the tire. You need to do this the moment you notice the rim is bent.

Cheap tires

All parts are not made equal. Some tire manufacturers use inferior materials in production. Such materials provide less support to the tires and are prone to irregular tire tread wear. These tires are more susceptible to tire cupping on cars with lousy suspension components.

Under-inflated or over-inflated tires

Under-inflated and over-inflated tires are a safety hazard. Hence, you must properly inflate your tires to the manufacturer’s specifications before driving your car.

Under-inflated tires will bounce off the ground and cause irregular tread wear. This is true if you drive with Under-inflated or over-inflated tires for an extended period.

Sign And Symptoms Of Tire Cupping 

Do not drive with a cupped tire for an extended period. If you continue driving with it, it’ll worsen and lead to other system issues. Therefore, always watch out for these tire cupping symptoms and fix the cause on time.

tire cupping symptoms

Noisy tire

A common sign of a cupped tire is a rhythmic noise louder than the normal road noise coming from the tire. This is because the tires are not perfectly hugging the road, leading to an odd noise. 

Excess vibration and shaking

Cupped tires will cause excess vibration or shaking on the seats or steering wheel. Several parameters such as faulty tie rods and other suspension components can cause cupping.

 Vehicle pulling to one side

As discussed above, misaligned tires can cause tire cupping. Misaligned wheels often need steering correction to keep the car moving straight. Always align your tires.

Visual signs on the tires

Cupped or collapsed tires will have uneven wear on the tread. Look at visual wear on the tires and replace the tire.

How To Prevent Tire Cupping

Preventing tire cupping from occurring on your wheels is simple and requires regularly scheduled wheel maintenance. Here is what you need to do to prevent tire cupping.

Keep your tires properly inflated

Keeping your tires properly inflated will prevent uneven tire wear. Checking your tires before traveling on a long trip or at least once a month will save you from driving with under-inflated tires.

Wheel rotation and balancing

As common as tire rotation may look, it’ll prevent you from uneven tire tread wear. Wheel balancing is another parameter that’ll keep the wheels in check. During wheel balancing, the mechanic may detect other system issues that could cause vibration and tire cupping.

Since unbalanced wheels can cause collapsed tires and vibration on the steering wheel and seats, keeping the wheels in check will prevent cupping.

Therefore, ensure you cultivate a habit of rotating and balancing your wheels at least every 5k to 8k miles. This will save you some bucks on tire replacement.

Do not drive with faulty suspension components

Cultivating a regular maintenance culture cannot be overemphasized. Regular inspection of the suspension system will track faulty suspension components that could cause erratic tire movement. 

Replacing faulty suspension components and ensuring they’re working as they should, will prevent tire cupping.

FAQs

Q: Can you fix tire cupping?

Of course, you can fix tire cupping issues. The best way to fix cupping tires is to inspect the suspension components (since they’re major causes) and track the cause. Consult a certified mechanic to check the wheels, rims, tires, and related suspension components like shocks and struts.

Replace faulty suspension components, if any. This may include tire replacement, tire rotation, and wheel balancing. Tire rotation will help smoothen existing wear issues.

Q: Will an alignment fix tire cupping?

If a tire has cupping on the inner or outside edge, it is likely caused by a misalignment. If that is the cause, drive down to a nearby mechanic’s garage and let the technicians rotate the wheels and carry out wheel alignment.

Also, ask the technician to check and balance the wheels. An imbalanced wheel is also a cause of collapsed tires.

Q: Is tire cupping normal?

Tire cupping isn’t normal. It is a symptom of underlying issues in the suspension system. Fixing the culprit on time will save you from tire replacement and expensive repair costs. It could be a sign of misaligned tires, imbalanced wheels, lousy shocks, and struts.

Q: What does a cupped tire sound like?

The tire cupping sound is quite similar to a bad wheel bearing. It makes a grinding, growling, or rumbling sound. It’s essential to differentiate between sounds in vehicles. Cupping noise will increase as the vehicle speed increases. In the same way, wheel-bearing noise becomes louder as you accelerate the car.

Q: Is tire cupping covered under warranty?

Misalignment and imbalanced tires mostly caused tire cupping. These are not covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. Therefore, tire cupping is not covered under warranty.

However, the manufacturer should offer you a no-charge wheel balancing and alignment. They should rotate and swap the tires as well. Although, if the tires have worn irregularly well before their estimated mileage limit, you may qualify for a tread life warranty.

Q: Can low tire pressure cupping?

Too low tire pressure is a safety hazard. Therefore you need to drive with specified tire pressure. Under-inflated tires will not permit the tires to hug the road perfectly, leading to irregular tire wear or cupping.

Q: Is Tire Cupping Dangerous?

Regardless of the cause of the tire cupping, it is dangerous and unsafe to drive with. Whether the cause is bad alignment, imbalanced wheels, or faulty suspension components, it doesn’t matter. Tire cupping affects the vehicle tire traction control, which can cause dangerous experiences down the road.

How much does the cost to fix tire cupping?

If you have or suspect tire cupping, drive to a nearby garage for inspection. Budget around $0 to $95 for inspection. If what’s needed to fix the cupping is tire rotation, wheel balancing, or alignment, $95 should be enough depending on your location.

Final Words

Every vehicle system component should work properly for the vehicle to function at peak performance. If you have tire cupping, contact your mechanic to diagnose and fix the cause. This is to ensure the safety of you, the passengers, and other road users.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a seasoned automotive technician for the past 9 years, and a technical writer. He loves writing about auto professional repair guides, DIY repair guides, and buyer’s guide. After spending six years in the automotive workshop, he decided to impact his knowledge to people aside his domain, and he has achieved this by centering his Automotive writing skills on REPAIRS.

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