What Does It Mean When Your Tires Are Cupping?

When your tires are cupping, it means the outer edges of the tread of the tire have become more worn than the center. This is different from feathering, which happens when both outside and inside edges of your tire tread are worn down.

What does this mean for you? Typically you will be able to see and feel it as a rough ride. If you look closely at a cupped tire, it will appear to have a smooth cup-like section where the outer edges of each tread meet, while the center remains normal.

The uneven wear that cupping causes is the result of out-of-balance wheels or worn shocks and struts.

  • If your wheels are unbalanced, you may need to have a mechanic rebalance them. You may also need to replace one or more tires if they’re excessively worn.
  • Shocks and struts wear out on most cars after about 50,000 miles. If you notice that your car is bouncing around a lot when driving over potholes or other bumps in the road (and you don’t live in San Francisco, where potholes are a way of life), get new shocks and struts as soon as possible.

If you notice your tires are cupping, it’s time to check for unbalanced wheels or worn shocks and struts.

How to tell if your tires are cupped

Cupping occurs with each tire revolution, so you’ll have to watch for it when your vehicle is moving. Since the wear pattern on the tire can be subtle, you may have to look closely or get down and examine the surface of the tire more closely. If you notice that your tread has a worn, rounded appearance along its edge, then your tires are cupping.

When you know what cupping looks like, check all four of your tires for this unique wear pattern. If each one exhibits a cup-shaped pattern, it’s likely that there’s an underlying problem with their alignment or suspension system.

Wheel balancing involves placing lead weights on your wheel to balance out any imbalance in weight.

Wheel balancing is a maintenance step that should be performed at least once a year, and could pay dividends in the long run by preventing further damage to your tires. If you’re interested in performing wheel balancing on your own, there are several do-it-yourself kits available online (as well as tutorials), but it’s generally recommended that wheel balancing be performed by a mechanic or other trained professional.

Wheel balancing is often confused with wheel alignment (also called front end alignment), which involves adjusting the angle of the wheels so they can make smooth contact with the road. When you drive over rough terrain, or hit potholes or speed bumps, your wheels’ angles can become misaligned—but even if they’re aligned properly, your car may still need to be balanced.

Wheel balancing involves placing lead weights on your wheel to balance out any imbalance in weight (i.e., one area of the tire being heavier than another). An out-of-balance tire can create an uncomfortable vibration while driving—not only is this unpleasant for everyone involved, but it also takes more force from the engine to keep the car moving forward. This results in decreased gas mileage and increased wear and tear on your vehicle’s transmission.

If balancing does not improve the problem, you may need to replace your shocks or struts.

Another potential reason for premature tire wear is that the tires are out of balance. If your vehicle has undergone a tire rotation recently and you notice that the cupping is now occurring on the front tires, it may mean that the wheels are not balanced properly. A mechanic can help you determine this as well as fix it by balancing your wheels appropriately.

If balancing does not improve the problem, though, you may need to replace your shocks or struts. These important units will wear out over time and become less effective at their job of dampening impacts, which causes harsh vibrations when driving and eventually leads to cupping in your tires. Shocks are usually replaced with new ones, but there are shops that offer to rebuild Shock Absorber Struts and replace any seals or rubber bushings (which can also cause cupping). You might be able to replace just the rubber bushings yourself if they look damaged or worn down; otherwise, replacing only one shock or strut on a vehicle may not solve the problem since all four should be replaced at once as part of regular maintenance. If you decide to do this yourself, make sure to have your wheels balanced when you’re done!

At most places, wheel balancing costs about $50 for all four tires, but can get up to $100 or more.

At most places, wheel balancing costs about $50 for all four tires, but can get up to $100 or more. The price will vary depending on the shop and how much you buy into the idea that paying more means getting better service. Many places offer discounts if you get your tires rotated at the same time as having them balanced, while other places offer free wheel balancing with the purchase of new tires. If you’re a DIY person and have all the equipment available, it’s also possible to do it yourself if you have a little bit of mechanical know-how.

Replacing shocks and struts costs a lot more. You can buy rebuild kits for about $30 each, but a full repair goes from about $150-$350 per strut.

Rebuild kits include new rubber and an air chamber; you have to remove the old parts and press these in place, a job that requires specialized tools.

New struts are more expensive, but much more convenient—a drop-in replacement for the old ones. But even with labor included, expect to pay at least $150 each.

If you notice cupping in your tires, check your shocks and struts and have them replaced if needed.

You may notice cupping in your tires when you look at the tread blocks; they’ll appear worn down and uneven. This is often a sign that you need to have your shocks or struts replaced, and it can lead to an uncomfortable ride.

Once you’ve noticed there’s a problem with your tires, it’s important to get your car checked by a mechanic. They will be able to inspect your vehicle further and determine whether or not it’s just a matter of balancing the wheels or if there’s something more serious going on. If the shocks and struts are bad, do not hesitate on getting them fixed as soon as possible—it could save you from having an accident!

Once you’ve determined that cupping is occurring due to worn-out suspension components, be sure to take care of replacing them right away: don’t drive on bad shocks for any longer than absolutely necessary! Then get those wheels balanced up so there won’t be any more tire wear issues down the road either!

Steven Hatman
Steven Hatman

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