Tire Sidewall Damage: What Should You Do?

Have you ever noticed those signs on the highway that say “Do not hit curb with your tires”? There’s a very good reason for that! Hitting curbs or potholes can actually cause significant damage to your tires, especially the more vulnerable sidewalls. When sidewall damage occurs, it puts you and your passengers at serious risk if compromising the integrity of the tire. So what exactly constitutes tire sidewall damage, what dangers does it pose, and what should you do about it if you notice any issues? Let’s take a closer look.

Here’s a quick answer:

If you notice any tire sidewall damage like cuts, bulges or cracks, immediately get it inspected by a certified tire technician. They can assess if hazardous internal damage has occurred and whether repair or replacement is necessary to regain safe functionality. Attempting DIY fixes is never recommended due to risk of blowouts from compromised structure.

Common Causes of Tire Sidewall Damage

Tire sidewalls can become damaged in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most common culprits:

  • Scraping curbs while parking – This sideways scraping motion can gouge and slice the sidewall.
  • Hitting potholes – A nasty pothole impact can create bubbles or bulges in the sidewall.
  • Running over debris – Nails, glass, rocks and other sharp objects on the road can puncture or cut the sidewall.
  • Improper mounting – Errors during tire installation and balancing can damage the sidewall structure.

4 Major Types of Sidewall Damage

There are four primary types of damage you may discover upon inspection of your tires:

  1. Cuts and punctures – This includes anything that has sliced, gouged or otherwise penetrated the sidewall. Punctures through to the carcass ply are extremely severe.
  2. Cracks – Heat, sunlight, chemicals and age will eventually cause surface-level cracking as rubber compounds break down.
  3. Bulges/bubbles – These protruding areas indicate detached plies or crushing damage to sidewall components.
  4. Deformation – While mild deformities are common as components shift, excessive or irregular distortion often signals trouble.

As you’ll see next, each type of damage carries its own safety implications and necessary next steps.

Dangers of Sidewall Damage

So why does the tire sidewall need special care and attention? Consider what lies underneath that thick rubber exterior:

  • Steel belts for structural reinforcement
  • Fabric and wire plies to contain air pressure
  • Beads to seal the rim

When sidewall damage reaches these critical internal components, anything can happen out on the road. Let’s examine the potential risks:

Sudden Tire Failure

A compromised sidewall puts you at much higher risk for a life-threatening blowout event. For example, a gouge deep enough to sever a steel belt or fabric carcass ply destroys the tire’s structural integrity. The next bump you hit could cause it to violently explode and/or peel away from the rim.

Loss of Vehicle Control

Even a small puncture can instantly release all air pressure if it extends through the innerliner to the carcass cavity. Rapid deflation leads to wobbly handling, wheel rim damage and difficulty steering as you slow down. Skidding off the road or into other motorists becomes a real possibility.

Accelerated Wear Issues

Say you keep driving on a mildly damaged tire that hasn’t ruptured yet. All tires rely on uniform pressure and flexibility across the entire surface to grip pavement and maintain balance. Uneven wear in the damaged area degrades traction, steering response, ride quality and tread life over time.

So clearly, damaged sidewalls spell trouble! But what should you actually do when you face this situation on your own vehicle?

Inspecting Your Tires for Damage

First things first: prevention and early detection are key to avoid getting caught off guard by tire hazards.

Conduct routine at-home inspections every couple weeks. Look for these key indications of damage:

  • Cuts, punctures, gouges
  • Cracks/crazing wider than 1/8″
  • Blisters, bubbles, bulges
  • Knots, ripples, deformities
  • Exposed belts/plies

Pay special attention to inner sidewalls since damage often hides out of view. Feel for lumps, ridges and unevenness. This simple exercise only takes a few minutes. Catching problems early allows for repair or replacement before catastrophic failure.

If anything looks or feels suspicious, it’s best to…

Take It to the Professionals

While you have a general sense of diagnosing external sidewall damage, evaluating the full extent requires an expert eye. The underlying carcass structure may be compromised without obvious outward clues.

Visit a tire shop and ask them to demount the suspect tire and perform a thorough internal and external inspection. Describe any incidents plus irregular wear patterns you’ve observed.

  • What type of damage is it exactly?
  • How deep does it penetrate?
  • Which components are involved?
  • Can it be permanently repaired or does the whole tire need replacement?

Let the pros make this judgement call for you. Then follow their repair or replacement guidance to get that tire back in safe functioning order or retire it before problems arise.

BEWARE DIY Fixes

It may be tempting to simply plug sidewall punctures like you would a tread puncture. However, this is extremely dangerous and provides false confidence!

Plug materials cannot reliably seal sidewall flex zones nor restore structural integrity. Performing makeshift repairs yourself also voids any manufacturer defect warranties. Always defer to a tire shop technician for assessment and next steps. They have the know-how and resources to fix them properly or condemn them if unsalvageable.

Preventing Sidewall Damage

While driving habits play a major role in tire damage, you can take strategic prevention measures as well:

  • Maintain recommended air pressure
  • Upgrade wheels with rim guards
  • Install fender flares on trucks/SUVs
  • Choose all-terrain tires for durability
  • Limit/avoid curb contact
  • Reduce speed over rough roads
  • Remove road debris from path
  • Get suspension alignments
  • Rotate tires every 5K miles
  • Replace old/worn tires

Of course you can’t avoid every single road hazard fate throws at you. But equipping both yourself and your vehicle with protection helps minimize risks. Slow down, give debris a wide berth, and take precautions during parking maneuvers. Remaining proactive preserves your tires for the long run.

Here is a quick summary of proper protocol based on various sidewall damage scenarios:

Damage TypeSeverityRisksActions
Punctures & CutsSevered belts/pliesAir loss, failureReplace
Intact belts/pliesPotential air lossRepair if qualified
Bubbles & BulgesDetached pliesImminent failureReplace
Large CracksBelts/plies exposedFurther cracking, failureReplace
Minor CracksSurface-level onlyPotential crackingMonitor & reassess
DeformationsAffects handlingIrregular wear, failureRepair or replace

This covers the basics on the origins, dangers, inspections, and resolutions for tire sidewall damage situations. Being vigilant about prevention while also catching problems early allows you to avoid breakdowns or accidents. If you notice anything suspicious on your tires, have it checked out immediately by a professional. Stay safe out there on the roads!

FAQ

1. My tire sidewall is cracked but the cracks don’t seem very deep. Is it safe to keep driving on?

Minor surface cracks on the tire sidewall are fairly normal as tires naturally age. However, it’s best to closely monitor any cracking and make sure the cracks do not expand in width or depth over time. Deeper sidewall cracks that approach 1/8 inch or wider can allow air leaks and eventually lead to sudden tire failure. Check in with your tire shop for an evaluation.

2. I noticed a small bubble on my tire sidewall last week. I haven’t driven much since. Could it resolve on its own over time?

No, any bubbles or bulges spotted on a tire sidewall indicate serious internal damage involving detached plies and broken steel belts. The tire has been structurally compromised and could burst without warning. This type of damage will certainly not improve – only rapidly worsen over time and miles driven. The affected tire requires immediate replacement.

3. Why does sidewall damage seem to be much more hazardous than cuts and punctures in the tread?

The sidewall rubber bears the grunt of force from inflation pressure, road impacts and load weight. Underneath it lie structural components vital to a tire’s stability and pressure containment. Damage reaching these vulnerable areas destroys critical functionality that tread damage does not impact nearly as much.

4. Can I safely perform a DIY repair if I puncture a tire sidewall on the weekend or while traveling?

No, attempting makeshift repairs on your own carries substantial risks plus voids any tire defect warranties. Tire sidewall damage should always receive professional assessment and service due to the risk of hidden internal complications an untrained eye would not recognize. Trust only certified tire technicians to make well-informed fix vs. replace decisions.

5. Are my tires’ sidewalls covered under my vehicle insurance policy if I hit a pothole that bubbles them?

Unfortunately tire and wheel standard auto insurance policies do not provide coverage for damage incurred from road hazards and driving incidents like potholes. Special add-on coverage is required to mitigate out-of-pocket costs for replacements. Since sidewall damage totalling a tire is common after severe impacts, this add-on is worth considering if offered by your provider. Check policy terms for limitations and exclusions.

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