Skip to main content

How to use tire wear patterns to identify vehicle problems

You don’t have to be a tire whisperer to know what’s wrong with your car

You can learn a lot about your car from looking at your tires. Reading tread depth with a quarter or a penny is helpful for knowing when you have to change your tires. Likewise, learning what the numbers on the sidewall mean is a crucial part of car ownership, but there’s a lot more you can learn from your car’s tires to keep them well maintained.

Instead of looking at the side of your tire, you’ll want to check out the actual tread from the front or top of the tire. Obviously, this is a lot easier when the tire is off the car. Once you take a closer look at the tread wear, you can see if your car is out of balance, if your tire is under- or overinflated, if the suspension is worn out, or if your car is in need of an alignment.

Related Videos

This isn’t black magic, and you don’t have to go to school for it. All you have to do is look at pictures online from BFGoodrich and then match them to your tire. It couldn’t be easier. If you want, you could also visit this YouTube channel that outlines the different types of tire wear patterns and their causes.

Tire Tread Wear graphic displaying major types of tread wear and their causes.
Tire Discounters

Types of wear patterns

There are nine irregular wear patters that you should look out for on your tires: one-sided wear, shoulder step wear, erosion/river wear, depression wear (center, intermediate, and shoulder), diagonal wear, radial feather wear, and multiple flat spotting wear. We’ll cover some of the more common tire pattern wear types below for you to explore.

A lot of these wear patterns are caused by your tire alignment, which is made up of camber, toe, and caster. Camber is the inward or outward tilt of the tires as viewed from the front, which makes them look like leaning buildings. Toe is the side-to-side difference between the front tires, which makes them look like they’re bowed. Caster refers to the slope of the steering axis.

One-sided wear

This one is easy to spot. One side of your tire will be more worn out than the other. Pretty simple, right? If you find that your tire is suffering from one-sided wear on the outer edge, it means that your car’s positive camber, caster, or toe is out of whack. If it’s happening to the inside of the tire, you’ll have to get your car’s negative toe and camber checked.

Depression wear (Center/Intermediate/Shoulder)

Center depression wear refers to circumferential depression wear of the center tread rib on your tire. This can happen to your tires if they’re underinflated or if the car is overloaded. Checking your tire pressure is one way to fix the issue, though it could also be faulty shocks or loose wheel bearings.

Intermediate depression wear is when one or more interior ribs on the tire are lower than adjacent ribs. This can be caused by overinflating your car’s tires.

If you find that your tires have wear on the shoulder rib of the tire, you could be dealing with faulty shocks, loose wheel bearings, a balance issue, or lateral runout.

Tire tread pattern on a car parked on a dirt path with the tire turned to the right.

Diagonal wear

These look like rectangular patches of oblique wear across the tire. You might find them as a singular patch or as a repeating pattern around the tire. This can be caused by a litany of problems, including misalignment, tires that are severely out of balance, loose wheel bearings, or radial and lateral runout.

Radial feather wear

This wear pattern can make the tire look like a chisel with a slant. One end of the tire has a lot more tread left than the other side. This can be caused by excessive toe in or toe out.

Multiple flat spotting wear

If you look at your tire and find that it has multiple flat spots on it, you could be looking at a variety of sources for the problem, including faulty shocks, wheel bearings, balance issues, or mismatched pressures.

Other wear patterns

Other wear patterns like shoulder step wear and erosion/river wear mostly occur on radial tires in slow wearing operations. Erosion/river wear is likely to occur on free-rolling tires like the ones found on trailers.

Editors' Recommendations

Despite its recognizable design, Mercedes’ best-seller has been fully redesigned
Everything new about the 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC SUV
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC front end angle from passenger's side parked in front of mountains during sunset.

It’s no secret that the Mercedes-Benz GLC is the German automaker’s most popular model. Last year, Mercedes sold 342,900 units of the compact SUV globally. A staggering figure. Things, though, don’t slow down in the luxury class and after seven model years on sale, Mercedes believes 2023 is the right time to come out with a fully redesigned GLC and has officially announced pricing for the SUV. The automaker unveiled the redesigned GLC last June, but here's a quick recap if you missed it.
It’s not entirely surprising to see Mercedes roll out a new GLC for the 2023 model year. The GLC shares a platform, tech features, and powertrains with the C-Class. Given that the two models are closely related to one another, it only makes sense to see a new GLC that’s based on the C-Class.


Read more
This is what the fastest motorcycle in the world looks like now
Do you know what the world's fastest bike is?
2021 Kawasaki Ninja H2R

Modern motorcycles have been through several advancements in design, powertrains, and electronics over the past few years. This makes the current crop of bikes some of the fastest machines – even when you include cars – on the planet. Things have been picking up speed since the 1990s and some of the fastest motorcycles of all time are modern sportbikes. A lot of motorcycle manufacturers have been simply estimating the speed of their bikes since they can’t just ask a rider to test drive their bikes at top speed. 

The reason for why motorcycles are much quicker in a straight line than cars comes down to their power-to-weight ratio. A 500-pound motorcycle with 200 horsepower will offer a similar power-to-weight ratio as a supercar with four times the amount of power because there's a good chance that it weighs four times as much. Plus, without any doors, motorcycles have a greater sense of speed than cars, as 25 mph can feel like you're doing 100. 

Read more
The Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia brings haute fashion to cars
Rolls claims that the one-off is the most complex Phantom ever made
Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia side profile in a studio with purple swirling lines in the back.

Amid the electric vehicle revolution and the introduction of more semi-autonomous technology, automakers are eager to change their bios from traditional automakers to tech companies. Rolls-Royce, well, Rolls-Royce is different. While the iconic British marque has introduced its first EV with the Spectre, Rolls-Royce really does expand its reach beyond the world of cars as a luxury marque. Case in point, the latest vehicle from Rolls-Royce is the Phantom Syntopia. It was made in collaboration with Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen and blends the worlds of high fashion and cars.
You may not think that fashion and cars belong together, but the Syntopia certainly makes a case for more collaboration across the two industries. The Syntopia is very purple and is inspired by the concept of “weaving water.” The automaker, which has created some stunning vehicles over its extensive history, calls the Syntopia a “bespoke masterpiece.” Heavy words from a brand that’s known for going above and beyond with some of the most bespoke vehicles on sale. But we believe the company certainly went to great lengths to make the Syntopia, seeing as how it took Rolls-Royce four years to perfect.


Read more