A tire can tell you a lot about a suspension. Most specifically, it can tell you if the angles, inflation and components are within specification. Here are the most common wear patterns and what causes them.
Cupped or scalloped dips appearing around the surface of the tread could indicate loose, worn or bent suspension parts. Worn shock absorbers or unbalanced tires can also cause cupping, but the cupping would typically be more indicative of a concentric pattern. Shocks and struts are the most likely culprit because they provide damping force to control tire movement. When the tires move excessively, the scalloped pattern can appear. A lack of rotation can cause this condition.
Wear on the outer edge of a tire is rare these days, but it does happen. Positive camber, caster and toe can lead to wear on the outer edge. If you see edge wear on one side, check the thrust and setback. But, it should be noted, the leading cause of outer edge wear on modern vehicles is over-enthusiastic cornering.
Inner Edge Wear
Inner edge wear on tires is the most common problem most technicians see. The angles causing this type of wear are typically negative toe and camber. For parts, there are three component sources of the inner edge wear: bushings, springs and loads.
Ozone, extreme temperatures and other atmospheric issues tend to destroy rubber bushings and cause the alignment angles to change. Some vehicles have hydraulic bushings on the rear lower control arms. Some bushings will leak when they fail. When a bushing in the rear fails, the extra movement causes the wheels to toe out and the camber to go negative.
As a suspension compresses and rebounds, the alignment angles change. Engineers tune alignment angles for a specific ride height to maximize handling and tire wear. If a spring can no longer support the vehicle, the alignment angles will suffer. Most engineers tune the suspension to toe out when the rear suspension compresses. This increases vehicle stability. But, it also causes the inner edge of the tire to wear. Springs are made of metal that is heat-treated, but can still fatigue. This includes leaf, coil and torsion bar springs. If you see a vehicle that needs considerable adjustments for camber on both wheels of the same axle, inspect the springs.
Loads in the rear of the vehicle will cause changes to toe, caster and camber in the front (and possibly the rear). The camber and caster will become positive in the front, and if the vehicle has an independent rear suspension, the camber will become negative and it will be toed out. This could lead to outside edge wear in the front and inside edge wear in the rear.
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