Understanding Tire Cupping: Identifying Causes, Recognizing Symptoms, and Implementing Preventative Measures

Modern pneumatic tires are an impressive piece of engineering. Think about it – they add comfort to any vehicle while keeping it stable at very high velocities, even if it rains or snows. Not to mention, they also last very long, considering how abrasive is the surface they ride on.

But with all their impressive abilities, tires aren't invincible and will start to wear over time. That's normal and means you will need a new set every few years. However, in some circumstances, tires will wear faster or unevenly, necessitating an earlier change.

One frequent issue that you can see on many tires new tires is cupping. It is a form of uneven wear that develops on the tread of the tires due to various factors, but most often a combination of them. Cupping is characterized by a series of shallow dips or scoops in the tread, which usually appear at regular intervals around the circumference of the tire.

Now, many people would think that cupping does not look that dangerous, but it is a serious issue that needs immediate attention. For that reason, I prepared an in-depth article where I'll talk about the issue, what might cause it, how you can detect the symptoms, and prevent it before it becomes worse.

Buckle up because this will be an article that goes into more detail than you can possibly imagine!

What is Tire Cupping?

What is tire cupping?

What is tire cupping?

Tire cupping, also known as scalloping, is a common issue on tires, yet often overlooked by drivers. But that shouldn't be the case because scalloping can seriously affect the performance, handling, comfort, and safety of the vehicle.

Therefore, understanding the causes and symptoms of tire cupping is crucial for vehicle owners, as it allows them to take proactive measures to prevent and address this issue, ensuring a smoother and safer driving experience. Read on to find out what you need to do if you notice cupping on your tires!

The Science Behind Tire Cupping

Tire cupping is an issue that seems somewhat peculiar. I mean, how can the tread wear periodically, i.e., wear down in some places and not in others? Well, it is all about the interaction between the tires and suspension system, which are there to ensure a smooth, comfortable, and safe driving experience.

If the tires and suspension don't interact properly, the system would be out of balance, which causes uneven wear, or in most cases, tire cupping. But let's get into more detail.

1. Tire construction and materials

Tires have many different layers inside that ensure they roll evenly across the surface, i.e., that they are perfectly round. These include layers of rubber, steel belts, and fabric, which create a flexible yet strong structure that ensures the tire keeps its shape under load.

Still, various issues, like misaligned wheels or bad suspension components, could cause the tire to wear unevenly by changing the load in certain places, causing cupping.

2. Tire contact patch

The area where the tread of the tire touches the road surface is called the contact patch. The size of the contact patch varies according to the size of the tire but also the pressure inside.

But regardless of that, the tire should distribute the weight of the vehicle evenly across the contact patch. If that is compromised in some way, the tread will start to wear unevenly, and cupping might appear.

3. Suspension system

The suspension system in your car is one of the most complex structures. It uses various components, like shock absorbers, struts, springs, control arms, anti-roll bars, bushings, and ball joints, to ensure that the wheel moves freely within previously decided boundaries. In other words, it keeps the wheels straight, the tires glued to the ground, and the passengers comfortable while also providing the wheels with movement. Not an easy task!

But when these components are damaged or worn out, they can cause the tire to bounce or lose contact with the road momentarily, leading to the formation of cupped wear patterns.

4. Wheel alignment and balance

Proper wheel alignment and balance are often overlooked but crucial in the smooth operation of your tires. Misalignment can also lead to uneven wear patterns by keeping the tire tread from maintaining optimal contact patches with the road.

5. Tire pressure

Yup, tire pressure emerges again as an issue that wears tires unevenly or more quickly. Notably, overinflated or underinflated tires can cause the contact patch to become uneven, leading to irregular wear and cupping.

What Causes Tire Cupping?

What Causes Tire Cupping?

What Causes Tire Cupping?

Various factors can lead to tire cupping, but it will either be the tires, wheels, suspension, bad tire maintenance, and tire pressure. But let's have a closer look at each cause so you will get closer to finding the culprit in your vehicle!

1. Improper tire balance

In my experience in the tire shop, this is the leading factor for tire cupping. Tires always need to be properly balanced to ensure they rotate smoothly across the circumference without vibrations and imbalance. Technicians put weights on the rim to counteract any imbalance in the tire and cause it to rotate smoothly.

Naturally, if the weight isn't evenly distributed across the circumference of the tire, parts of the tread will literally jump a bit from the surface, while others will be subjected to a higher weight. In other words, some parts of the tread will experience more stress than others. This is a textbook example of cupping and leads to some parts of the tread wearing faster, often at exact intervals.

Not to mention, imbalanced tires also transmit vibrations into the cabin and through the steering wheel. This behavior is certainly not pleasant, but it could also lead to serious instability and loss of control of your vehicle. Yikes!

2. Damaged suspension components

The suspension components, and especially the shock absorbers, struts, and springs, ensure that the tires always maintain contact with the road. But when one of these parts goes bad, it won't put pressure on the tire, i.e., it won't keep it in contact with the ground.

Since roads are bumpy – even tarmac that seems smooth to us is really filled with imperfections. These bumps cause the tire to bounce slightly from the surface, i.e., lose contact periodically because the suspension components won't be able to keep it glued to the road, which can lead to tire cupping.

In this case, the scalloping will appear more irregularly at the surface, though it will still be visible on many parts across the tread.

3. Overinflated or underinflated tires

Improperly inflated tires can also lose contact with the road due to unevenness of the surface. This is especially true with overinflated tires, which will bounce over the surface and causes cupping. However, the same issue can happen with underinflated tires as well.

4. Misaligned wheels

Misaligned wheels aren't directly correlated to cupping and only to uneven wear on the inside or outside of the tire. However, they can also contribute to tire cupping indirectly. When wheels are misaligned, it can cause uneven stress on the suspension components, which in turn can affect the tire's contact with the road.

Detecting the Signs and Symptoms of Tire Cupping

You can recognize the signs and symptoms of tire cupping even before the issue becomes unrepairable. This is crucial, as it will allow you to address the issue promptly and prevent further damage to the tires or suspension components. Here are some key indicators you should watch for:

1. Unusual Vibrations

If you feel unusual vibrations through the steering wheel or the vehicle body at higher speeds, your vehicle's tires might be imbalanced, or some of the suspension components might be worn out. Both of these issues can lead to tire cupping. Thus, it's crucial that you bring your vehicle to the shop for further inspection, or you risk prematurely wearing and changing your tires.

2. Irregular Tire Wear Patterns


Uneven wear on my tire

It is a good practice to visually inspect your tires at least once every month. That way, you can locate many dangerous issues, like cuts, bulges, and wires visible from the tire, but also see how much tread depth you have left. You can also discover shallow dips or scoops in the tread, appearing at regular intervals around the circumference of the tire, which are an indication of tire cupping.

3. Reduced Traction and Grip

Cupped tires have less tread depth on several areas across the tread, which can significantly decrease traction and grip, particularly on wet and snow-covered roads. But even worse, the cupping can cause instability, as some parts of the tread will grip the road better than others, creating imbalanced handling. This can make your vehicle more prone to skidding or losing control, which poses a safety risk.

4. Increased Road Noise

Cupped tires will be much louder than tires that wear evenly across the tread. The fact that the tire doesn't rotate smoothly will create a thumping or humming sound, which can be tiring on longer journeys. The issue will be even more exacerbated when you accelerate, brake, or corner hard, as the tire will experience more load that way.

5. Poor Steering Response

Cupping directly affects the contact patch of the tire, which impacts steering response. Notably, if the front wheels are cupped, the steering will be slow to react at times, and it won't be very linear.

Moreover, your vehicle might wander between the lanes, and it will make it hard for you to keep it straight, especially at higher speeds. If the rear tires are cupped, the rear end of your vehicle will feel "nervous" and unstable, necessitating constant corrections with the steering wheel.

Preventing Tire Cupping: Proactive Measures

Tire cupping is an issue that mostly arises due to badly maintained tires and suspension components. Thus, taking proactive measures to prevent tire cupping is essential for ensuring a smooth and safe driving experience. Oh, and it will also prolong the life of your tires and save you some cash in the process. Here are some practical steps to help prevent tire cupping:

1. Regular Tire Maintenance

Most people inspect their vehicles for body damage, which is an issue that happens a lot lately, as ever larger vehicles are driving on ever smaller parking lots. But while a damaged body is an issue by itself, a few scratches won't make your vehicle any less safe.

Do you know what will? Improperly maintained tires! Therefore, whenever you are checking your vehicle's body for damage, take a look at the tires and see whether they experience irregular wear or if there is any damage to the casing. Keeping a close eye on the condition of your tires allows you to address potential issues before they worsen.

2. Proper Wheel Alignment

Keeping all your wheels aligned properly is a win-win situation because your vehicle will be more stable and safer, your tires will wear more evenly (no cupping), and the driving experience will be more comfortable. Hence, have your vehicle's alignment checked and adjusted by a professional as per the manufacturer's recommendations, or if you notice signs of uneven wear or steering issues.

3. Timely Suspension Component Repairs

Always repair your suspension components on time, as excessive wear can impact other components and cause irregular wear, including cupping. A well-functioning suspension system helps maintain consistent contact between the tire and the road surface.

4. Optimal Tire Pressure Management

You should always keep your tires inflated to the pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. That way, you will ensure they give you maximum grip, smooth ride, and wear evenly across the tread. Check your tire pressure at least once a month or before long trips, and adjust it according to the manufacturer's specifications.

5. Tire Rotation and Balancing

You should balance your tires after every tire change

You should balance your tires after every tire change

Although tire rotation is a quick and easy way to secure even wear across the tread, most drivers still don't do the procedure. As a result, the tires will wear unevenly, which could cause issues like tire cupping. So, rotate your tires according to the manufacturer's recommendations, typically every 5,000 to 8,000 miles

As for tire balancing, you should do it after every tire replacement (summer to winter tire and vice-versa) or every time you notice vibrations or uneven wear. This will ensure the tires roll smoothly and mitigate cupping.

The Benefits of Addressing Tire Cupping

By addressing tire cupping, you are not only extending the lifespan of your tires but also ensuring optimal vehicle performance and safety.

1. Prolonged Tire Life

Addressing the causes of tire cupping on time will lead to longer treadlife, saving money on replacements and reducing waste associated with discarding worn-out tires.

2. Enhanced Driving Experience

Evenly worn tires will give you much higher traction and grip but also eliminate vibrations and excessive road noise.

3. Improved Fuel Efficiency

Even wear patterns also contribute to optimal vehicle performance, leading to improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions.


Unlike other issues with your tires, like bulges or tread separation, cupping is a problem that you could mitigate if you tackle it on time.

Thus, look at your tires every now and then, and if you notice cupping, bring your vehicle to the shop to find the culprit. Once you do that, repair or replace the part, and that should bring back some life in your tires. Still, in some cases, the cupping could be excessive. In that case, you will need to replace the tire but also fix any other issue with your vehicle to ensure that the new tire wears evenly.

It is important to note that excessive tire cupping can lead to serious issues like tread separation, bulges, and wires visible from tires. All these issues could then lead to a potential blowout or complete air loss, which can be dangerous if it happens at very high speeds.

Leave a Comment