What Are Cupped Tires? (Causes, Can You Drive On Them + More)

As one of the most important parts of your vehicle, tires need good care and maintenance since they withstand a lot of pressure and friction regularly.

If you’re noticing irregular patterns of wear on your tires, you may be wondering – are my tires cupped? Here is everything I have found out about cupped tires through my research!

What Are Cupped Tires?

Cupped tires, also called ‘scalloped’ or ‘chopped’ tires, show uneven patterns of wear. They affect the handling and traction of the vehicle and produce vibrations while driving. These are typically caused by worn-out suspensions or misaligned and unbalanced tires. Vehicle owners should avoid driving on cupped tires.

If you want to know more about how to fix cupped tires, if you can drive on cupped tires, and much more, keep on reading!

Tire cupping refers to the uneven wear of a tire’s tread, i.e. ‘patches’ of excessive wear develop on the outer surface of the tire, leading to reduced traction.

These patches develop because some parts of the wheel wear down and get damaged a lot more than others, leading to ‘cupped’ tires, also referred to as ‘scalloped’ or ‘chopped’ tires.

Having cupped tires is a red signal which indicates that there are internal problems in your vehicle which need to be investigated and resolved.

Note that the wavy surface of cupped tires produces a rumbling noise if the vehicle is driven at high speeds.

What Causes Cupped Tires?

Although tire cupping is mostly associated with problems in your car’s suspension, it can have several causes as described below.

Misaligned tires

If your tires are misaligned, they will not roll straight (i.e. in the direction of travel) on the road and so may not make full contact with the road.

Because of this, areas on the surface of the tire that are in contact with the road will wear out faster than those that are not in contact, resulting in tire cupping.

Worn suspension and shock

Shock absorbers, struts, brushings, and other components of your car’s suspension tend to wear out as the vehicle racks up mileage.

This can cause tires to have a bouncy motion instead of rolling smoothly, resulting in uneven wear around the circumference of the tire.

Unbalanced tires

If the weight inside your tires is not distributed uniformly around its circumference, some parts of the tread will strike the ground with a lot more pressure than other parts.

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Because of this, your tire will get excessively worn out from those areas (where more weight is concentrated), leading to tire cupping.

Under-inflated tires

Tires that are not filled to the recommended level of pressure tend to have a lot more contact from the edges than from the middle.

If this condition persists for a long time, the tires may get worn out unevenly and become cupped.

Cheap Tires

Some manufacturers use cheap raw materials in their tires such as steel belts that give poor support to tread or rubber that wears unevenly.

When combined with a weak and worn-out suspension, this can cause a lot of uneven wear on your tires, resulting in tire cupping.

Can Bad Ball Joints Cause Cupping?

Can Bad Ball Joints Cause Cupping?

Ball joints are important components in the steering and suspension mechanisms of vehicles and wear out over a long period of usage.

If your vehicle has bad ball joints, they may be the reason behind the cupping of your tires.

You can check this by investigating the uneven wear pattern by running a hand along the inner or outer edge of the tire.

If these edges are wearing out faster than other areas of the tread, the cupping is likely to have been caused by worn-out ball joints.

Can Over-Inflated Tires Cause Cupping?

Over-inflated tires do not cause cupping, but if your tires are already wearing unevenly or your suspension is faulty, they will make the middle of your tread wear out faster.

This is different from tires that are not over-inflated, which wear out unevenly on the outer edges when cupping.

How Can You Identify Cupped Tires?

Some several signs and behaviors indicate that your tires are cupping:

Vibrations in the steering wheel and/or seats

If you notice that your steering wheel is shaking or vibrating weirdly while driving, this might be a sign that your front tires are cupping.

Similarly, if the vibration is coming from the seats, the most likely explanation is that your rear tires are cupping.

Excessive tire noise

Cupped tires tend to make a lot of sputtering, grinding, or growling noise because of the uneven wear.

Additionally, this noise tends to get louder as you speed up, especially if you are driving on the highway.

Vehicle losing control when turning

If you find your vehicle veering to one side when you are turning, it might mean that tires on that side are getting cupped.

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Along with keeping an eye out for these signs, you can also check if your tires are cupping by investigating them yourself.

Run your hand along the inner and outer edge of your tread. If you notice patches of uneven wear along the surface or a ‘wavy’ pattern, then your tires might be cupped.

Can You Drive On Cupped Tires?

Can You Drive On Cupped Tires?

Although you can drive on cupped tires, you should avoid doing so since it can be dangerous.

This is because your tires will not have full contact with the ground, causing problems in handling such as poor traction and difficulty in stopping and turning.

These can make driving unsafe and increase the risk of getting into accidents.

Keep in mind that if the tread on your tire goes below 2/32 inches in depth where it is worn unevenly, you will be legally bound to replace the tires altogether.

Will A Cupped Tire Blowout?

Cupped tires will not blow out if you continue to drive on them, but the wear will continue to get worse.

This will ultimately make handling the car more difficult, especially at high speeds and during sharp turns.

Do Cupped Tires Fix Themselves?

Cupped tires will not fix themselves if you continue to drive your vehicle with them.

In some cases, continuing to drive on cupped tires may smoothen out the unevenness of the wear, eliminating the ‘bouncing’ and vibration you feel when driving.

However, this cannot be considered as a solution to cupping, since you will have very poor handling and traction.

Additionally, the tread depth will rapidly decrease and fall below 2/32 inches, after which you will be required to replace your tires.

How Do You Fix Cupped Tires?

To fix cupped tires, you have to identify the underlying cause behind it and address that.

For instance, you can check whether the cupping is caused by a worn-out suspension through a simple test.

Head over to each tire and press the fender near the tire down before releasing it so that it bounces up.

If the bouncing continues for a while after you have released it, this means that the suspension of that tire is worn out and is likely causing the cupping.

Similarly, you can identify whether your front tires are cupping due to misalignment by checking the inner and outer edges of the tread for uneven wear.

In any case, you should take your car to a local mechanic or dealership to get these issues fixed, i.e. to replace the suspension parts and re-align the tires.

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Note that if the front tires are cupped due to misalignment, you should have the mechanic re-align the tires and install them in the rear.

As a general rule, you should have your best tires (those with the most even tread) installed in the front for proper traction and handling.

How Can You Prevent Tires From Cupping?

How Can You Prevent Tires From Cupping?

You should make a habit of frequently inspecting the condition of your tires to identify any early signs of cupping so that you can get them fixed immediately.

However, other than that, proper tire maintenance will ensure that you don’t have to face cupping for the lifetime of the tires.

Rotating and balancing

Make sure that you rotate your tires every 5000-8000 miles (8000-13000 kilometers) so that the tread wear is spread out evenly among all the tires.

Alignment and suspension

Having the alignment and suspension checked annually by a professional mechanic will decrease your chances of ending up with cupped tires.

In case there are any problems with your vehicle’s suspension, they can be fixed during those visits before they lead to other issues such as cupping.

Air pressure

Keep a habit of regularly checking the inflation pressure of your tires, and making sure that none of them are under-inflated.

This will help prevent cupping that is caused by under-inflated tires.

Can Cupped Tires Cause Death Wobble?

‘Death wobble’ is the name given to the uncontrollable and violent shaking and vibration of a vehicle (although no one has died from it).

Note that cupped tires do not cause death wobble, however, they do produce extremely high vibrations and shimmies.

If you are looking to learn more about tires, you can also see our posts on how long tires will last with bad alignment, cracks in tires sidewall, and why do tires dry rot.

Conclusion

Cupped tires tend to have uneven patterns of wear, resulting in vibrations and shakiness while driving, along with a reduced lifespan of the tire. In most cases, these are caused by the worn-out suspension or misaligned tires.

Good practices to prevent tires from cupping include getting your tires rotated and aligned regularly, taking the car for an annual inspection to identify and fix any issues with the suspension beforehand, and keeping tires properly inflated at all times.

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