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Cupped tires is a phenomenon that happens to tires for a number of reasons. “Cupped tires” is a phrase that refers to small peaks and valleys in your tires that are noticeable to the human eye.
You may also feel the cupping if you run your hand over the tread of the tire and it feels like grooves as you move your hand along. Having tires that show signs of cupping can be a serious issue, but isn’t necessarily a death sentence for your tires.
If the cupping is rather serious, you may notice other symptoms such as vehicle shaking and strong vibrations. But if your vehicle only has minor cupping issues, you won’t notice anything at all.
Therefore, driving on tires that are cupped is really a decision you have to make for yourself. The best way to make the decision for yourself is to check your tire health before you drive and check the tire’s tread life.
If your tread life is substantial and the cupping is minimal, go for a slow, short, drive and see if you feel safe. If not, have the tires replaced.
What Causes Tires To Become Cupped?
There are a number of things that can cause tire cupping. The first thing that causes tire cupping is loose suspension parts.
Worn suspension parts cause the vehicle wheel to move up and down freely when driving. This can cause cupping.
Another thing that can cause cupping is unbalanced tires, which can cause your tire to hop down the road when you're driving.
Worn struts or shock absorbers can cause wheel hop which can cause a cupping issue. Loose or missing wheel weights might be another reason your tires are cupping.
Excessive wheel imbalance causes hopping at highway speeds which can cause tire cupping.
Misaligned tires can cause tire cupping as well. When your tires have uneven contact with the ground, it can cause tire cupping.
Lastly, cheap tires have a tendency to cup on their own. This is because the materials used to make them tend to fail, and start to cause tire cupping.
Can You Fix Tires That Become Cupped?
No, you cannot repair tires once they are cupped. Once the groove pattern is worn into the tires, that pattern is set into the tires for the life of the tires.
The rubber has permanently mutated when tire cupping has occurred. You cannot unshaped rubber that has been altered without doing some sort of chemical work up on it, which is impractical, and will cost you more than it would to replace the tire.
The only thing you can do to fix tire cupping is to prevent tire cupping from happening in the first place.
To prevent tire cupping, make sure to avoid poor quality tires, align your vehicle’s misaligned tires, keep your suspension intact, and keep your tires balanced.
Do Tires That Are Cupped Cause Vehicle Shaking?
Tire cupping can cause your vehicle to shake. This is because your vehicle is driving on tires that are not perfectly round. The tires essentially have bumps in them when tire cupping occurs.
The bumps will transfer into the steering wheel and rest of the vehicle when you are driving.
But not all tire cupping translates into tire vibrations. Some tire cupping may not be noticeable.
If you do feel vibrations, you have to do a little investigating in order to find out which tires are cupped.
For example, if you feel vibrations in the steering wheel, you can be sure the cupping is occurring on the front tires.
If you feel the vibrations in your seat, you can be sure the cupping is coming from the rear tires.
The front tires are connected to your steering wheel through linkage so that’s why you would feel the vibrations in your steering wheel. And you usually feel things from the rear, in your seat.
If all four tires are cupped, your whole car, steering wheel, and seat would be shaking slightly, so pay attention to which tires are cupped so you can narrow down the issue.
Some tire cupping might be so minor that you may not even be able to feel it unless you run your hand over the tire tread.
This minor tire cupping can be caused by normal wear and tear of the vehicle, or it could just be the beginning of tire cupping that will eventually turn into major tire cupping.
But minor tire cupping, while it wouldn't cause your vehicle to shake, could lead to major tire cupping if not corrected, or at least inspected.
Tires with grooves and bumps in them (cupping) can also cause excessive tire noise and vehicle veering if the condition gets serious enough. The tire noise cupping causes does not sound like anything drastic, just like extra noisy tires.
They can also cause uneven tire wear if one tire is cupped and the rest are not.
Best Course Of Action?
Tire cupping is a sign of a more serious issue, so truly, your best option is to fix the problem that is causing the tire cupping. For example, if your car is misaligned, a wheel alignment would be in order.
And if the tire cupping is really bad, it’s probably best to replace the tire as well. But if you catch the cupping in time and get the vehicle aligned before the tires become totally mutated, you can continue driving on the tire after the vehicle has been aligned.
But if you’re strapped for cash and the cupping isn’t causing many issues, it’s ok to continue driving on them for a certain amount of time.
But after time, most likely sooner rather than later, you will need to correct the issue causing the cupping, and replace the new tires. It’s best to just fix the issue causing the cupping as soon as possible rather than wait for the tires to deteriorate.
Can You Drive On Tires That Are Cupped?
While you can drive on them it’s best not to. It’s best not to drive on tires once they are cupped when the issues they cause start to become noticeable.
When issues like veering and vibration become noticeable, it’s best to bring your vehicle to a mechanic. But if your vehicle has a cupped tire and is not experiencing any symptoms, there’s no reason for you not to drive on it.
Tires that are cupped aren’t inherently dangerous. They are just damaged tires that offer no threat to reliability or safety when the symptoms aren’t noticeable.
But when symptoms are noticeable, safety and reliability is compromised since traction and steering can become lessened. In this mechanic’s final opinion, it’s ok to drive on tires that are cupped as long as you are comfortable with your driving skills and as long as you don’t perform any dangerous cornering or acceleration stunts on a consistent basis.
Tires that become cupped, even when they become symptomatic, are a minor nuisance to the driver. Tires that become cupped are ok to drive on, but the issue that causes the tires to become cupped may or may not be ok to drive on.
It’s best to take your vehicle to a mechanic if your car has tires that have become cupped. It may be a sign of a larger concern.
For example, a vehicle with weak struts or shock absorbers might be dangerous to drive on since the vehicle will have a harder time keeping traction with the road.
But if you fix the issue and can’t afford a set of new tires, keep driving on the tires that have become cupped until the tire tread life wears out if the cupping is minimal.
About The Author
Christopher Sparks has been servicing vehicles since 2012. After completing the automotive studies program at Camden County College, he was awarded an Associates's Degree in Applied Science. His first job was a lube-tech at Jiffy Lube, and is currently an independent B-Technician servicing vehicles for the United States Postal Service. Christopher is ASE certified and loves rebuilding engines.Read more about Christopher Sparks