A tread is the rubber on the outer circumference of a tire that makes contact with the road and provides traction. Tire tread separation occurs when the tread becomes separated from the casing or body of the tire. Most cars, trucks, vans and SUVs on the roads today use steel-belted tire tread technology, which is the way the tread is fused to the steel tire casing. As adhering rubber to steel is difficult, there is a chance for tire tread separation in all tires, especially in hot weather or at high speeds. The bond between the casing and the tread can be compromised and lead to tread separation for a variety of reasons, including manufacturer’s defects, tire abuse, incorrect flat repair, underinflation and excessive tire wear.
When tread separation occurs at high speeds, the driver might first hear a loud thump before the car loses control. When the tread separates from the tire casing, it can cause a friction or braking action as it hits or gets caught in the undercarriage of the vehicle. When the driver tries to correct the braking action of the vehicle, it will typically swerve in the opposite direction.
Tread separation can cause catastrophic accidents and in some cases is impossible to predict. However, there are measures vehicle owners can take to prevent tread separation, such as regular tire checkups and maintenance, as well as responsible driving.
The following are common causes of tread separation:
One of the most common causes of tire tread separation is a manufacturer’s defect, wherein something went wrong in the bonding process of the tread and steel belting section of the tire casing, and the tread did not adhere properly. Signs that your car’s tire has a defect in the tread bonding can often appear within a short period of time after purchasing and using the tire. While driving, you might feel abnormal vibration and a sense that the car is imbalanced. If the tire has a tread defect, a bump will form in the tread area, and will expand until the separation occurs. The driver should be aware that this is the first visual sign that the tread will separate. The driver should inspect their tires by looking for bumps and feeling for any defects or wavy patterns by running their hands along the tread. When defects appear, the driver should replace the tire immediately. Driving on tires with defects can put the driver, passengers and other drivers at risk.
Consumer Reports recommends a driver should look for the following signs to determine whether their tires are at risk for tread separation:
- Cracking or cuts in the tire’s sidewall
- Uneven tread wear
- Bulges or blisters on the sidewall
- Excessively worn tread, which occurs when it has worn past the minimum of 1/16 inch depth.
- Excessive vibration when driving
Overinflation, or excessive tire pressure, of the tire can cause accelerated wear, overheating and reduced ability to absorb road shocks. Be sure to inflate your tires to the appropriate PSI level to protect your car’s tires and driving performance. At least once per month, you should use a tire pressure gauge to check the PSI on all four tires and the spare. The pressure should be within the range recommended by the automaker. The pressure check should be done when the tires are cold, or have not been driven more than one or two miles.
Careless driving habits can also cause damage to tires that can lead to tire tread separation. Potholes can cause particularly dangerous conditions for tire treads. Tires are designed to withstand large potholes at low speeds, and small potholes at higher speeds. But when a car drives over a large pothole at high or near-freeway speeds, it can generate enough force to cause a tread separation.
Incorrect flat repair
The current method for repairing punctured tires is a radial patch and plug technique. If the puncture is not properly prepared before being fixed, the tip of the plug portion can cause tread separation.
Driving on underinflated tires is a very common problem. Surveys have shown that about half of the cars on the road have under-inflated tires. Since tires lose their air through the rubber at a slow rate, drivers often continue driving on them for long periods of time before realizing that their tires are underinflated. Seasonal temperature changes can also cause tire pressure to drop. Even small drops in PSI can affect a car’s handling, making it more difficult to control. Underinflated tires can cause the tires’ sidewalls to flex too much and build up excessive heat, shortening the tires’ lifespan and lead to tread separation.
Excessive tire wear
Tires are designed to withstand a certain number of miles before having to be replaced. Once the mileage limits have been reached, the tire becomes susceptible to blowouts, tread separation and loss of traction. For this reason, drivers should replace their tires once their mileage limits have been reached.
Causes of Manufacturer Design Flaws and Defects
The tire industry has the ability to diminish the chances of tire defects through a variety of measures, including appropriate adhesion, proper manufacturing practices and adequate quality control measures.
The following are some of the processes that can be overlooked or done improperly by the manufacturer, leading to the production of tires with defects:
- Improper curing
- Moisture or foreign matter cured onto tire
- Improper quality control
- Factory or manufacturer’s emphasis on fast production over quality or safety of product
What to Do if Your Tread Separation Was Caused by Manufacturer’s Defects
If your tires show signs of tread separation, you should contact your tires’ manufacturer to report the defect and discuss tire replacement. It is also a good idea to report the defect to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), which keeps track of vehicle safety issues.
If you were in an accident caused by tire tread separation and believe your tread separation was caused by manufacturer’s defects, you should contact an experienced car accident attorney. You may be able to file a claim to recover any damages you have sustained.