What Is Tire Cupping? (Causes, Prevention, Easy Fixes)

Updated June 14, 2024

Welcome to my guide on tire cupping! You can expect to learn:

  • Diagnosing cupping issues
  • The causes of tire cupping
  • How to fix it
  • And how to prevent it

My experience and knowledge make this the most informing tread wear article out there. Let’s get started!

what is tire cupping (1)

Table of Contents

Tire Cupping is possibly one of the biggest nuisances of all the irregular wear patterns a tire can develop. Cupping is a form of irregular wear that will result in your tire tread wearing in a wave-like manner. Tire cupping happens when parts of the tread wear out faster than another due to uneven displacement on the road’s surface.

Cupping is sometimes referred to as tire scalloping due to how tread blocks look scalloped when cupping is present.

Are you looking to increase your tire knowledge, or are you a consumer who just got told their tires have this nasty wear pattern?

No matter what your reason is for being here today, by the end of this read, you will be able to teach tire technicians a thing or two about tire cupping the next time you are in a tire dealership.

I have nine plus years of experience in the tire industry and have seen all forms of cupping from the early stages to the point of no return.

What Are The Signs Of Cupped Tires?

When trying to figure out whether or not your tires are suffering from cupping, there will be a few tell-tale signs of cupping to look out for. These signs, however, are not specific to only cupping, so keep in mind that there could be another reason, but don’t worry. I will teach you how to tell if it’s cupping causing these signs.

Increased Road Vibrations At Higher Speeds

When driving down the road, you may notice that your steering wheel and seat feel like your phone is on vibrate. While you increase in speed, you feel this vibration getting worse until it seems like the wheels are going to shimmy right of the vehicle.

If you are noticing this, you might have tire cupping.

Another possibility is that your tires could be out of balance, or you have mud/debris stuck inside your wheels. Most retail tire installers offer lifetime balancing on their products, so an easy way to eliminate this possibility is to take them to your tire store and have them check the balance.

The last possibility is you have a mechanical issue. While this is the least likely possibility, there is still a chance that it can cause shaking.

Increased Tire Noise At High Speeds

Tire cupping has a distinct noise that can be described as a whirring noise or sounding like a helicopter inside your car. These are both common ways a cupping tire has been described to sound like by customers.

What’s distinct about cupping noise is that it doesn’t go away but gets louder the faster you drive. Other noises a car can make won’t sound like a whirring that gets worse as you increase speed. For example, if you have worn-out brakes, they will make a metal-on-metal grinding sound that gets louder when you apply them.

How Can You Tell If Your Tires Are Cupped?

Now that you know the signs of tire cupping, it’s time I teach you how to tell if your tires are cupped.

The easiest way to tell if your tires suffer from cupping is by tire wear. Cupping has a distinct wear pattern in the form of your tread blocks resembling a wave-length. If you are not afraid to get your hands dirty, take your hand and run it along your tire tread, from the bottom right side to the bottom left side, working for your hand from the inside out and back in.

While running your hand over the tire, you will notice either your palm or fingers moving up and down. If you can feel this rather than a smooth uniform movement, your tires are cupped.

I have also attached a video of a great example of severe tire cupping to give you a visual.

What Are The Causes Of Tire Cupping?

Tire cupping doesn’t have a singular cause for happening. The overall reason why it happens is the same. Tires are meant to roll with evenly distributed weight forcing the tire to the ground. When something allows the tire to bounce or jump, it will result in uneven tread wear.

Here are the causes of the tire being allowed to do this.

Unbalanced Tires

Balanced tires not only keep your driving experience smooth but also will prevent uneven tire wear. The process of balancing uses wheel weights to counteract heavy spots in the tire.

When not correctly balanced, a tire will either shake from side to side(dynamic imbalance) or jump up and down(static imbalance). The frequent movement will result in your tire not staying flush on the road.

If you just had tires and feel them vibrating, take them back to the tire shop ASAP to avoid irregular wear patterns.

Worn Out Suspension Components

When driving on worn-out suspension parts like struts or shock absorbers, it will allow your tire to have a lot of movement on the road. These suspension components keep your tires planted firmly on the ground as they roll over road imperfections.

I also want to include bushings and wheel bearings since they are a part of the suspension system, but when worn out, they will cause the hub assembly(where your wheels are attached to the vehicle) to move more freely.

Having suspension issues is a fast way to cup a tire.

Wheel Misalignment

Just because your car isn’t pulling to the left or right doesn’t mean it’s not out of alignment. Yes, they will keep your tires straight and prevent your wheels from sitting at an angle(camber), but they will also avoid uneven wear.

Wheel alignments are not an expensive service that is recommended to be performed once a year or when purchasing new tires. It is recommended to be performed every year since hitting a big pothole or curb can severely throw off your alignment, but over time so will all the tiny little bumps.

Here is a perfect example of misaligned tire wear

what is tire cupping example
Front wheel tires or tyres on car badly worn and bald because of poor tracking or alignment of the wheels

Low-Quality Tires

Cheap tires use a lower quality of construction, making them less durable and more prone to blowouts, irregular wear, and shorter life span. Are you the consumer buying the cheapest tire possible and constantly wondering why they are loud and don’t last?

Do expensive tires make a difference?

Tires are like any other product; you get what you pay for. However, just because a tire is expensive doesn’t mean it’s the best option. Check out some of my in-depth tire reviews, and you will see.

Other Causes

While I went over the main reasons tire cupping happens, I also wanted to include these more minor things that, when ignored over time, will lead to tire cupping irregular wear.

Aggressive tread designs tend to cup easily due to their large tread blocks and open tread design. More space between the tread blocks makes it more difficult for the tread blocks to be on the road in a uniform pattern.

Proper tire care includes tire pressure checks once a month and tire rotations every five to eight thousand miles.

When a tire is underinflated, it will wear faster on its shoulders, and when overinflated, it will have excessive wear in the center of the tire.

You will see front-wheel drive cars form cupping on the rear tires and rear-wheel drive vehicles form cupping on the front tires. Rotating your tires will prevent this and increase tire life as you move the back tires to the front and vice versa for the front tires. 

Can Tire Cupping Be Fixed?

Some cases of tire cupping can be fixed, and in the early stages, you will be able to fix the problem causing your tires to cup and go back to normal wear.

The early stages of cupping are when there are less than 2/3nds of an inch difference from tread block to tread block. When trying to figure this out, you can take it to a tire shop and ask them to measure your tread depth or buy a tread gauge and measure them yourself.

 Now, if you have a difference more significant than 2/32nds, you have two options. The first option is to bite the bullet and buy a new set of tires. Your second option is to find a tire service center that offers tire shaving.

Tire shaving is when they literally shave the tread off and can cost you anywhere between $20 to $50 dollars per tire. Most places that offer tire shaving are not local and require shipping the tires.

Depending on how bad the cupping is, it may be more worth it to just buy new tires due to the cost and inconvenience.

Preventing Tire Cupping

Preventing tire cupping is simple. All you need to do is take care of your car and tires. This includes checking your tire pressure once a month, rotating your tires every five to eight thousand miles, and performing annual wheel alignments.

Taking care of your car involves following the maintenance schedule in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. These manuals literally tell you when and what to service. It’s kind of insane that people don’t follow these.

If you take care of your car, it will take care of you by not being surprised with “random” mechanical and tire issues.

Wrap Up

When it comes to tire cupping, it can be highly frustrating and drive some people insane with how loud it is. Now you know how to diagnose it, the causes, how to fix it, and how to prevent it so you can say goodbye to cupped tires and hello to a smooth ride.

In all the content I provide, my goal is to educate and give you the knowledge so that the next time you end up in a tire store, you know what to look for and can combat the “sales tactics” of tire salesmen.

If you enjoyed this read and want to learn more about tires, check out my in-depth tire reviews or other informative articles!

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About The Author

Joe Steffen

Joe Steffen

Joseph Steffen is a trusted expert in the tire industry, with nine-plus years of experience. He has worked as a tire installer, tire salesman, and more recently a writer for various companies, providing honest feedback and advice to those who need it.

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