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Tire wear patterns and axle alignment

Last Modified: 11/11/2009

Tire wear patterns and Alignment

for the Modern Commercial Vehicle

Tire wear patterns in the lower picture are the most common accepted wear patterns that modern vehicles face today, but there are other factors to consider when evaluating tire wear on your commercial vehicle.

Tire wear chart

  1. Feathered Edges. On Tractors, the feathered edges depicted in the first image does represent a "toe-in/out" problem but depending on the direction of the "feathering", may represent other problems like rear tandem alignment. On trailers, this pattern may represent  severely out of align tandem or a bent axle. Trailer axles my be straightened with special tooling if the bend is in between the axle seats saving the expense of a total teardown and replacement.

  2. Cupping. The second image depicts "splotchy" and irregular wear. This pattern is mostly due to out of balance wheel assembly. Notice I said "wheel assembly" instead of "wheel or tire", because a wheel assembly includes not only the tires, but also the wheel, hub and brake drum. We balance front wheels on the vehicle to account for all of these items. A typical "off the truck" balancing balances only the tire and rim, not taking into account the hub/drum assembly which weighs as much as the tire and rim together resulting in half a wheel balance. When you balance on the vehicle you also see if the tire and/or wheel is out of round and you can hear when bearings are about to fail saving an expensive wrecker bill and repair. Rear wheels are not as susceptible to this type of wear due to the extreme amount of weight on the axle. Although shocks on modern commercial trucks are more important now than in the past, this type of wear from bad shocks is not typical.

  3. Cupped Edges. The third image when a tire is cupped on both the inside and outside is typical wear from improper (too light) tire loading, improper inflation or a tire that is not designed with a small rib that is molded on the very outer edge. Tire surface where it meets the road is not a flat but slightly rounded. Tire wear like this may result from the outer edges turning slightly slower than the center of the tire. You say "how is this, the tire is turning the same speed?" It related to the diameter of the tire measured at several points across its surface, where as I said before, the tire surface in slightly rounded. A circle of 25 inches is going to travel a longer distance than a 24 inches when traveling at the same revolutions per minute. Since there is more weight on the 25 inch part of the tire, the 24 inch part is going to skid on the pavement and wear faster. A tire surface when planted firmly on the road close to its rated capacity will not be as likely to chafe the outer edges. The rib that I am talking about is a 1/4 inch tread molded into the edges of the tire which is the "sacrificial rib" preventing the whole first tread from wearing. It was designed in the 1990's to combat this.
    Cupped edges on drive axles with tall lugs, basically every other lug or every third lug is a type of wear associated with the tire "gripping the road" as it rolls and is considered normal. The only remedy for this is tire rotation.

  4. Excessive Wear One Side. The fourth image is from improper camber. Camber is the angle of the wheel tipping (or leaning) in or out from the centerline of the vehicle. This is remedied by a proper wheel alignment in a facility using the proper tools. Camber correction on commercial heavy trucks is a common practice that involves bending the axle to correct the "lean" of the wheel. Axles are typically made out of a cast type of material. Axles made by forging cannot be bent due to the high strength and therefore brittleness of the steel. Some commercial trucks manufactured today use a fabricated (made of welded steel) axle. Though camber corrections on this type of axle using special tooling is possible, it is not a recommended practice.

  5. Diagonal Wipe. This type of wear in the fifth image is not typical wear on any commercial truck. Where this is seen is on commercial trailers that turn in a very tight radius scuffing the tires in a sideways fashion.

Once tires start wearing in an unusual pattern, the pattern will not disappear. Aligning the vehicle will make the tires last longer though.  On any alignment, the first thing to check for is worn or broken suspension parts because you cannot properly align something that will not hold its position.

When bringing your vehicle to an alignment shop, especially our shop, we prefer that the old tires be left on the vehicle so they can see what the tread wear patterns are. It is not necessary to have new tires when aligning as they can account for this. Once the alignment is completed, get your tires and have them spin balanced on the vehicle for the best results.

Written By
Rich Dickerscheid,
John Dsuban Spring Service Inc.
Cincinnati, Ohio
877-537-8226

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