What is Tire Separation: Main Causes and What to do About It

Tires have become much safer in the past few decades, thanks to advancements in rubber compounds and stiffer/lighter materials for construction. As a result, a modern tire will give you much better traction but also lower the fuel economy and increase comfort.

But despite all those developments, tires are still one of the main reasons for road accidents, with around 11,000 annually directly attributed to bad tires. However, that doesn't tell the whole story, as when authorities accuse speeding (like 10 mph over the speed limit) for an accident, it's probably due to the worn tires. So, it's important to keep an eye on your tires and not let them get too "tired" or worn out.

What the number shows is actually serious issues with tires, like tire separation and bulges, which can cause a blowout. And when that happens, even the best drivers in the world won't be able to control the car, which could result in a serious, potentially deadly crash. That's right - tire separation is no joke. It's like playing Russian Roulette with your car. Except, in this case, you can't just spin the wheel and hope for the best.

So, yeah, tires are crucial for your safety, but also the safety of your family and other participants. Hence, it's crucial to be aware of their health, especially for things like tire separation. This is a serious problem that you should not be taken lightly and one that you should immediately act upon.

But what causes tire separation, and what should you do about it? In this article, I'll cover everything there is to know about the issue in detail, including legal stuff (if it happened because of a manufacturing defect).

Before we do that, though, let's have a closer look at what is inside a modern tire, as that is crucial for a better understanding of the issue. Think of it as a behind-the-scenes tour of the tire factory. We'll uncover the mysteries of the rubber compound, the steel belts, and the tread pattern. It'll be like CSI: Tire Edition!

What is A Modern Tire Made From?


Construction of a modern radial tire

The pneumatic tire was developed by John Boyd Dunlop in 1887. The idea behind the design is that pressurized air will carry most of the load while also providing a higher grip (higher road patch) and a smoother ride.

Today, most pneumatic tires feature a radial construction, where the cords or plies, which make up the structure, run radially from the center of the tire outward. This design allows for a more flexible and uniform distribution of forces across the tire, resulting in better handling, improved fuel efficiency, and a smoother ride.

But what are those plies, you'd ask? Well, to increase the structural rigidity of the tire, manufacturers use several layers, each equally important. If the pneumatic tire didn't have all these internal parts, it would've warped during loads, like higher weight, cornering, acceleration, and braking.

So, under the obvious tread of the tire, which is made from a sticky compound to grip the road better, there are the belts. These are usually made from steel, but other materials can also be used. In most passenger car tires, you'll find two belts, but in heavy-duty vehicles (or dragsters, for example), there might be more to account for the added load.

The belts add structural integrity to the tire and help it better cope with the extreme driving forces, but they also serve another important function – keeping your tire from punctures. Sure, tires can still get punctured, but it's a much harder proposition than puncturing a balloon, right?

Under the belts, you'll find the famous radial plies, which are present in every modern radial pneumatic tire. These give the tire stiffness in all directions and help it remain stable under cornering, acceleration, and braking. The plies also give the tire its load rating, as they also run across the sidewalls. Tire plies are typically made from strong and durable materials like polyester, nylon, rayon, or steel.

Important note: in the past, plies ran across the tire at an angle – you probably know them as bias-ply tires. Thanks to this design, bias-ply tires have higher load ratings, making them useful for very heavy-duty vehicles. However, they are less stable at higher speeds, much heavier (slower and less efficient), and have a shorter treadlife.

Today, tire manufacturers use all sorts of other reinforcements, like plies over the belts or just more plies for higher load ratings.

Under the radial plies, you'll find another layer of rubber, which is there to keep the tire from deflating, as belts and plies aren't exactly air-proof.

So, from all of this, it's easy to see that tires are a complex system of layers. All these layers need to be bonded together really well so they don't slip or separate because if that happens, the tire would completely lose its structural rigidity.

What is Tire Separation?

Tire tread separation on my tire

Tire tread separation on my tire

Tire separation is a condition where one of the structural layers slips or separates from the others. As a result, the tire would lose its structural rigidity, and the problem could quickly get worse as all other layers will be subjected to higher loads and forces. Sometimes, tire separation could lead to deflation, but it could also cause a blowout, which usually happens at higher speeds.

And this is no joke – when a tire separates, it can cause a sudden loss of control of the vehicle, which can result in a serious accident or even death. You might first feel vibrations from underneath the car or feel a wobble in the steering wheel (if one of the front tires is separating).

In some cases, you can also hear a loud noise or a sudden change in how your vehicle handles. But unlike other issues, like a bulge, tire separation could also send flying debris in all directions, which could be dangerous to pedestrians, cyclists, and also other vehicles.

Road gators are also caused by tire separation, and they are a very serious safety issue on North American roads; according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 40,000 accidents and 125 fatalities, every year are caused by road gators. See how that number grows when you extrapolate tire separation and its influence on other road safety issues?

You might not have arrived here to read about road accidents and deaths, but that's important for context. Tire separation is a very serious issue, and if you notice such a thing on your vehicle, you should act immediately. Slow down or stop the vehicle safely and immediately call for assistance, or replace your tire with the spare one. Unfortunately, tire repair kits won't work in this case.

Remember, your safety and the safety of others on the road depending on the condition of your tires, so don't take any chances!

Main Causes of Tire Separation

1. Manufacturing Defects (Low-Quality Tires)

The most common culprit of tire separation is manufacturing defects. This happens if one of the layers isn't properly bonded to the others, which leads to separation.

Bonding all those layers together requires expensive machinery and state-of-the-art manufacturing, hence why this issue is mostly present in cheaper tires from manufacturers that just emerged on the scene.

Most of these companies just source various layers from different suppliers, i.e., the plies from one company and the tread from another. They also don't spend a lot of money on R&D and just throw whatever is available (and cheap!) in the tire and then rush it to the market. They also use low-quality machines to produce the tires and don't test them rigorously like premium brands.

So, of course, due to all these cuts in expenses, tires from these companies (like Ironman and Lionhart) can't be constructed, as well as tires from reputable brands like Michelin and Bridgestone.

Now, separation could also happen to premium tires, but much less often. And when it happens, you can sue the company and actually get something out of it. Besides, if there is a problem with the design of the tire, the premium brands will recall the model and possibly withdraw it from the market.

2. Improperly Inflated Tires


Underinflated tires

Keeping your tires isn't only about maximum grip – it's also about making the tire structurally sound. An underinflated tire, for example, will put more stress on the internal components because there won't be enough air to carry the load.

Meanwhile, an overinflated tire would also put more stress on the components, but this time from the inside due to the highly-pressurized air.

As a result of the added strain on the belts and plies, they could start to separate. This will usually happen at higher speeds or when you drive more aggressively because, in those conditions, heat will also be involved, increasing the chances of tire separation.

Tire pressure will change over time due to changes in temperature and simply because air molecules escape the tire. Thus, it's crucial to check the tire pressure before you go on long road trips whenever there is a large temperature change outside, or at least once every month.

3. Overloading the Tires

Overloading your tires can be dangerous, as they tend to fall apart if you put more load than they are intended to handle. So, always respect your vehicle's maximum weight capacity, and make sure that you purchase tires with a high-enough load rating for your needs. In other words, you can go for a higher load rating than the OEM tires, but never lower.

4. Overheating Due to Aggressive Driving

You can easily overheat the tires with very aggressive driving, like high-speed cornering, drifting, burnouts, and repeated panic braking from high speeds. And overheating can lead to tire separation, especially if the tire wasn't intended to work at higher temperatures in the first place.

5. Extreme Temperatures and Other External Factors

Tires seem very resilient on the outside, but they are subjected to constant bombardment from the outside. Extreme temperatures, like -40°F (-40°C) or 113°F (45°C), can make the rubber compound too stiff or too soft, which could result in tire separation. However, other external factors, like humid environments and UV rays, can also cause tire separation, as they weaken the material.

6. Old Tires

Even though your tires might look new, i.e., they have enough tread depth left, they will be unusable after 5-6 years. Not only the rubber compound will become more brittle and lack grip, but tire bulges can also appear on the tread/sidewalls, and the tire's layers could also separate.

Hence, it's crucial to replace your wheels on time, even if you didn't drive them for long. Owners of trailers know this best and replace the tires after 3-4 years, even if they leave the trailer stationary 99% of the time. As a rule of thumb, I won't keep tires for longer than eight years, but only when stored properly (for example, in a garage). If you leave them in the open, it's crucial to change the tires every five or six years.

However, tires with no tread left can also lead to tire separation because the internal components will be subjected to the abrasive tarmac. In this case, you should follow the manufacturer's recommendations and never use tires with less than 2/32-inch (1.6 mm) tread depth left. If you do that, you'll risk severely worsened wet traction, but also tire bulges and tire separation.

7. Road Hazards


Hitting a deep pothole

Sharp potholes, curbs, or other road hazards can cause damage to the tire's structure, which could lead to tire separation. Unfortunately, sometimes you can't avoid these, but you can definitely lower your chances of hitting a pothole if you drive more slowly and keep your eyes glued to the road.

8. Irregular Wear Due to Improper Tire Maintenance

Like your car, tires also require regular maintenance. Apart from keeping them properly inflated, you should also rotate your tires regularly (at each oil change) to minimize irregular wear.

Irregular wear can lead to all sorts of issues, including tire separation, bulges, and chunks of the tread falling off.

Warning Signs That the Tread Might Soon Separate

The warning signs telling you the tire's layers might soon separate fall into two categories. The visible warning signs are any irregularity that appears on the tire, like bulges or bubbles on the sidewall, cracking on the sidewall/tread and uneven wear.

However, there are also those signs you can notice while driving, like excessive vibrations or shaking in the steering wheel. Regardless, each of these could lead to tire separation and a potential blowout.

Can You Fix Tire Separation?

Unfortunately, once the layers of the tire separate, you cannot bond or fix them. Attempting to repair a separate tire is extremely dangerous and can result in a blowout while driving. This can cause loss of control of the vehicle, potentially leading to a serious accident or injury.

Hence, the only solution is to buy a new replacement tire. However, if you notice some warning signs that the three other tires could separate, you should replace all four.

Can Tire Companies be Liable When a Crash Because of Tread Separation Happens?

Yes, tire companies can be held liable if a crash occurs due to tire tread separation. Tiremakers have a legal responsibility to produce safe products that are free from design and manufacturing defects.

If you find yourself in an accident because of tire separation, and you are sure the issue is because of a manufacturing defect, you should seek legal counseling and file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. If the tire manufacturer was found guilty, it should recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses incurred as a result of the crash.

However, proving liability isn't exactly straightforward, as you'll need experts analyzing the tire and proving in front of the court that it was badly manufactured. Still, with a good attorney by your side, you should be able to protect your rights.


As you probably learned by now, tire separation is a hazardous issue that threatens your life but also the life of other traffic participants. Therefore, it's crucial to take every warning sign seriously and act upon it immediately.

So, if you notice any irregularities on your tire, visit the tire shop immediately and ask the technician for an inspection. If necessary, replace the problematic tire, as that's the only way you can be sure your vehicle is safe to operate.

Leave a Comment