What Causes Bubbles In A Tire? (And How To Prevent Them)

By
Updated December 2, 2022

Welcome to my guide about bubbles in tires. Learn more about:

  • What exactly are bubbles in tires?
  • What causes them?
  • How to prevent getting bubbles in tires?
  • Can you drive with bubbles in tires?
  • Do car warranties cover tires with bubbles?

What Causes Bubbles In A Tire? (And How To Prevent Them)

Table of Contents

If you’re raising your eyebrows in confusion right now, don’t worry because you’re not the only one. Queue the millions of people putting their hands up in agreement right now.

I can understand why people might panic about tire bubbles. They can force you to stop right in your tracks, or in this case, the road. Maybe you’re on your way to the movies, perhaps you’re driving to work for an important meeting. Or, if you’re luckier than most, maybe you’re even on your way to getting lucky, nudge nudge wink wink.

What Exactly Are Bubbles In Tires?

Okay, let’s start by first putting a common myth about bubbles in tires to bed. If you’re driving down the road with bubbles in your tires, your head will not violently smash the roof of your car every six seconds causing your teeth to jitter uncontrollably as the wheel turns over and over.

Nor will your bum leap out of the driver’s chair, and you won’t be imitating Elon Musk – you won’t be driving hands-free (unless, of course, you are in fact in a Tesla!).

The bubbles I’m referring to are tire sidewall bubbles. Just picture a giant zit on the side of your face. Got it? Good.

Without trying to make you throw up that lovely meal you inevitably just scoffed down, it’s a decent representation of what bubbles in tires look like. You know, we’ve all had them. It’s those zits that start seemingly invisible then progress to something that resembles a molehill and then BANG! before you know it, you’re stuck with a mountain on your face.

Right, now we’ve got that disturbing visual out of the way, let me explain what I said I would! Tire bubbles or bulges, as they’re otherwise known, happen when the tire’s inner lining weakens and causes an air leak.

The leak comes from the inner lining because that’s where the air is contained. And as you drive along there’s pressure from the road that piles up and when it does, it – unfortunately for you – makes its way to that inner lining and gets trapped under the rubber outer layer of the tire. Tell me about it! You must have rotten luck if you’re the poor sod who gets tire bubbles, am I right?

bubbles in a tire

What Causes Bubbles in Tires?

So, now we know what tire bubbles are, let’s spend some time unpacking what causes them. More often than not, bubbles in tires are caused by impact.

Even if you’re driving at a reasonable speed and bump into something, because of the weight of your car (yes, even small cars) you’re likely to cause structural damage to the object you collided with and to your tires.

And it makes sense, right? If I were to run at you head first at 30mph (if only I could run that fast!) I’d expect both of us to have a lump on our heads that looks like something out of Tom & Jerry! And cars are no different.

The result of an impact could lead to the compression of a tire, which kick-starts the air-leaking process that gives you the bubble in the tire.  Damage could extend to the sidewall cords resulting in a much weaker tire.

Oftentimes, impacts can be so subtle and brief that drivers may not even be aware that they’ve caused damage to their vehicle. Grazing a curb is a good example of this. It happens so much that we don’t think twice about it.

Listed below are a few common ways that a bubble forms in your tires:

  • Speed bumps. Although speed bumps have a smooth curved edge so that your wheels can easily mount onto and over them, they contribute to tire bubbles. You should have no problem if you’re sensible and drive slowly over them. I guarantee you that if you drive over speed bumps with care, you’ll never be the recipient of a polka-dot-looking tire.
  • Potholes. Ahhh the dreaded pothole. We see them a mile off but act like they’re not there. And when we drive over them like maniacs cracking the windscreen and bubbling up our tires we wonder why!
  • Railroad crossings. You’d think drivers would be careful going over train tracks but sadly you’d be mistaken. There are a bunch of horror stories online where people were trying to cross a railroad (and did safely) but sped up for some ungodly reason, resulting in bubbles in their tires. It can happen!
  • Debris from construction areas. This one should come as no surprise. If you’re driving in an area that looks like a map from Call of Duty, what do you expect to happen?! Of course, there are going to be ramifications!
  • Tire pressure. Low tire air pressure, combined with loading your vehicle above the maximum recommended threshold can weaken – and even permanently damage – your tire’s internal cords and ply, thus creating a tire bubble.

How Can You Prevent Bubbles in Tires?

Call me crazy here guys, but the first thing you can do to prevent bubbles in tires is to not drive as O.J. did all those years ago. We’ve all seen the footage. But if you haven’t, check it out. The point here is that if you drive sensibly, you’re much less likely to make mistakes.

Not to get philosophical or anything but you’re only in control of your thoughts and actions, right? And hurtling down a highway like a mad person is a choice you can avoid. But you can’t be sure what other people are doing. Therefore, by being sensible you dramatically reduce the likelihood of being involved in an incident that could wreck your tires.

This means that you should prepare for speed bumps and potholes well in advance. They’re not random and they don’t come out of nowhere at the very last second. 

There’s a lot you can do to maximize your chances of keeping your tires intact and preparing your car by slowing down as you approach both a speed bump and pothole will result in no bubbly tires. Go you!

Pro tip: Inspect your tires regularly. Check for tire tread depth every month, and check your car for damaged tires, ensuring there are no tire bulges, cuts or scrapes, beyond just looking for bubbles. The last thing you want is to drive around with tires that aren’t road legal, but if they’re in good condition you’re less likely to damage them.

Let me tell you about that one time (no, not in Bandcamp!) I made a fool of myself. A situation that could’ve been completely avoided. So, there I am driving down the street as a 20-something having just left the gym. I’m on my way home but am famished because of how much effort I put into lifting weights (*pats myself on the back*). Anyway, I come to an intersection where I see a Burger King conveniently located to my right.

I was so hungry that I decided to just go with it and feed my jet-engine-like rumbling belly. However, in doing so, and because I acted on instinct, I completely forgot about the foot-wide pothole that my front tire went crashing into.

I was fine, no big deal. The windscreen was intact. All good. Except when I got back into the car after shoveling down two burgers and a pint of chocolate milkshake, I noticed it. There it was in all its might and glory. Staring me in the face as if it was talking to me, haunting me, I could hear my tire (more like my subconscious) saying “serves you right, told you so!”.

The moral of the story here, kids, is to pay attention! If you can avoid a pothole and speed bumps, just take the action required. It’s not worth the hassle of going through repairs. Trust me, if there’s anyone who would know it’s me!

Is It Safe To Drive On A Tire With A Bubble?

The easiest way to answer this question is by answering this: is it safe to walk on a broken ankle? And there we have it.

Most automotive experts, tire manufacturers and car owners agree that it’s just not safe for you to drive when you have a bubbled tire mainly due to the increased risk of a tire blowout and collisions arising as a result.

If you do find yourself in a situation where your tires have bubbles, follow these steps:

  1. Immediately find the closest place to park your car safely. Don’t drive around aimlessly looking for somewhere. Find the quickest and safest way to park your car
  2. Now you’ve parked your car the next thing you should do is change your tire with a spare tire
  3. After this, you should take your car to an auto repair shop who’ll fit your vehicle with new tires

Do Car Warranties Cover Tires With Bubbles?

If you have a car with bubbles in the tires then that means that somehow, someway air has found itself into the rubber layer of the tire, which means that the actual structure of the wheel will have been compromised. So, if you continue to drive on it, you’ll only compound the problem meaning the size of the bubble will probably get bigger.

You could cause serious damage to yourself, your car, and everyone around you and you don’t want that. If the bubble is caused by a manufacturing issue (i.e., something you’re not responsible for) then you could be in luck as your manufacturing guarantee should over the tire.

You’re likely to get a pro-rated replacement at no extra cost to you. On the other hand, if you’re the cause of the tire bubble (by bad driving for example) then it’s probable that you’ll have to fork out the cost of replacing the tire.  

Final Thoughts

What causes bubbles in tires? Let’s have a recap:

  • Bubbles in tires are those zit-like air bubbles you’ll typically find on the side of your tires (eww!).
  • They’re usually caused by some form of impact damage (collisions, driving too quickly over speed bumps, curbs, etc.) or manufacturing defect.
  • You can prevent bubbles in tires by driving sensibly, keeping your tires healthy by way of an inspection now and then, and preparing for any road hazards by slowing down well in advance and always making sure to drive at the appropriate speed for the road conditions and by practicing proper tire maintenance .
  • If you find your car tire has a bubble, find a safe place to park immediately so you can change the tire. Then go to the nearest mechanic so they can fit your car with a replacement tire.
  • If the bubble in the tire was caused by the manufacturer, then you should be covered and will likely get a proper replacement at no extra cost to you.

Before all you speed-limit-obeying drivers scurry off Fast and Furious style, don’t forget to check out our tire reviews specific to both vehicle make and tire brand. Happy tire buying!

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About The Author

Alexander Monteverde

Alexander Monteverde

A third generation tire salesman, Alexander Monteverde has been surrounded by tires his whole life. When he’s not looking up the specs of the latest tire models or writing his latest article, he can be found playing with his dog Gizmo or on long bike rides.

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