How to Read Tread Wear on Tires

What Tread Wear Tells You About Your Car

Reading the patterns of tread wear on your car tires is like reading palms, only more reliable. The way in which your tires become worn down can tell you a lot about your car's overall health. Here are the most important tread wear patterns to watch out for, and how you can maintain a safe vehicle.


In car tire lingo, feathering is when one side of the tread rib shows more wear than the other. You can feel feathering more easily than you can see it, since it creates a sawtooth texture. Run your hand in one direction over the tire and then in the other direction. If it feels smooth going one way and rough going the other way, your tire tread is feathered.

Feathering is often caused by improper toe alignment. When the car has excessive toe in, the feathers point toward the center of the vehicle. When there is excessive toe out, the feathers point away from the vehicle.

Excessive Inner Tread Wear

When the center of the tire becomes bald, it is a sign of over-inflation. Use an air pressure gauge to see if you are putting too much air into your tires.

Excessive Outer Tread Wear

When the outside edges of tires become bald, it is a sign of under-inflation. Check if you have a leak, or make a mental not to inflate your tires more often.

Tread Wear on One Side

If one side of the tire is worn more than the other, it can be a sign of misaligned wheels. Bad alignment can be caused by too much front suspension camber on one side, improper load, or other worn parts. You can often sense wheel alignment problems while you are driving.


Cupping is when there are dips, or scallop-like depressions on the surface of the tire. This is a sign or worn shock absorbers or suspension parts. Cupping occurs because some parts of the tire are repeatedly exposed to more friction when the tires bounce too much.

What is the solution?

While rotating the tires can help make the tread wear more evenly across every wheel, tire rotation does not fix the underlying causes of uneven tread wear. Take your car in for regularly scheduled maintenance if you have alignment issues, or learn how to properly inflate your tires if you have air pressure issues. Having good tire tread is necessary for safe driving, especially when driving in rain, snow, on ice, or at high speeds when breaking is more dangerous.

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