Hoping someone can help me here (really miss Car Talk, BTW).

I have tires that are about 5 years old with only 30k miles on them. I never balanced them during their lifetime nor did an alignment other than when they were installed.

When I recently brought my car (Honda Accord '05, 85k miles) in for a recall fix, they told me I had significant cupping on all my tires. They checked my alignment and said it was bad, so they did an alignment and I got new tires. They took a look at my shocks/struts while on the lift and didn’t see any leaking or bad bolts. I told my dad who is an engineer and is very knowledgable about cars, and he didn’t think a bad alignment could have caused the cupping. He suspects I need new shocks and struts. Unfortunately, when I call around, the local shops all quote me around $1k to replace them, which I’d really like to avoid paying. On the other hand, I don’t want to end up having to replace these new tires in a few years if they start cupping.

So here is my question: Could my car’s bad alignment and my failure to regularly rotate my tires have been the sole cause for the cupping? I’ve done some research online, but the answers are all over the place. I haven’t had any accidents. The only other fact that might be relevant is that I left my car sitting for a year in New England while I got settled on the West Coast and then drive it out here. When I asked, the dealership said the cupping was all over the place, not on one side/area in particular (though I’m not sure if they really checked to confirm that).

That, plus tires out of balance. Worn shocks/struts can also contribute. Have you done a ‘bounce test’ at each corner to see if they’re worn? At 85k, they could be.

Poor alignment shouldn’t cause cupping of the tread, but bad balance and/or badly-worn suspension components can easily lead to cupping.

If you want to “preserve” your investment in those new tires, I don’t think that you have any alternative to replacing the struts. Get a few estimates on strut replacement, but don’t be too surprised if everyone quotes you something in the neighborhood of $1k.

Without seeing the actual wear patterns I cannot tell you what is going on. Cupping is caused by out of balance tires or weak/failed shocks or struts. The fact that a strut or shock shows no leakage does not mean anything as they can be bone dry and totally bad.

Sometimes severe feather edging is mistakenly called cupping and that type of problem is due to alignment; generally the toe.

If all 4 tires were equally worn in a cupped fashion I wonder what type of roads were driven over in those 30,000 miles. There is a significant difference in the geometry of the front and rear suspension. What could affect front and rear tires similarly other than road conditions?

I’ll defer to the experts but I had one that was strictly due to alignment. My new 86 Park Ave developed a rear tire that was cupped so bad that it was near octagon shape. I don’t remember how many miles I had on it at the time but maybe 30-50K. It might have been still under warranty, just don’t remember any more. The tire shop talked me into doing a four wheel alignment where they had to add shims to the back and I put new tires on. They said sometimes the cars get out of alignment from the transport trucks and being chained down. At any rate, I never had a problem after that.

It is pretty common for the term “cupping” to cover a wide variety of tire wear conditions, some of which are indeed caused by misalignment. While technically incorrect, it is common usage by the less knowledgeable. Plus it is a bit difficult to tell the difference.

Of course, CapriRacer is correct.
The wear on the OP’s tires could have been “feathering”–which is caused by bad alignment.
However, some people incorrectly refer to feathering as…cupping.

From a distance, none of knows whether these tires had cupping damage or feathering damage.

Tire cupping is usually caused by worn struts or shocks.

You say they inspected the struts/shocks and found no leaking. But what can’t be seen is if the struts/shocks have lost their gas charge. Once the gas charge is lost from the strut/shock, the hydraulic fluid in the strut/shock can start to foam as the strut/shock goes thru it’s motion. And once the hydraulic fluid starts foaming, you get no dampening effect from the strut/shock.


""I have tires that are about 5 years old with only 30k miles on them. I never balanced them during their lifetime “”

Simple Cause and Effect. You need to balance tires about 2 or 3 times withing their lifetimes. Its not a myth.


Simple Cause and Effect. You need to balance tires about 2 or 3 times withing their lifetimes. Its not a myth.

I’ve never had to re-balance tires on any vehicle I’ve owned in the past 40+ years. 99% of my tires lasted longer then their rating…and never had a problem.

"I've never had to re-balance tires on any vehicle I've owned in the past 40+ years."

I never did either, until I wound up with an OEM set of Continental tires.
For reasons that I could never figure out, those Contis wouldn’t “hold” their balance for more than 8k or 9k miles. That even included Road Force Balancing.

I wonder if the tires in question were made by Continental…

Thanks folks for all your responses.

I should add that before I brought my car in, I never heard any that something was wrong. No noise at all. And to my knowledge, there hasn’t been any undue nose diving or rear bouncing. In terms of road conditions, I will say that for the first half of the car’s life, I lived in Boston where the roads get messy during the winters… And for the past 20k, I’ve been driving in the Bay Area (Oakland mostly).

If you balance a tire when new…the wheel weights will offset the natural discrepancies in the tire manufacturing process. As the tire wears, the tread surface loses material and the weights that used to balance or offset the tire irregularities when the tire had a ton of tread, are no longer the proper weight anymore at some point since the tire has lost material.

I have gotten by with balancing only one time in the past but I noticed tire wear problems by the time the tire was getting lower on tread which I used to ignore till they were worn out. A re-balance would have prevented this. Its not as tho I am trying to sell some new concept here. Nowadays I guess my balance max is at 2 times during the tires life.

This OP stated that they never balanced their tires, ever. This is what caused the Cupping problem. Not sure why anyone here is focusing on my tire balance practices since I don’t have tire wear problems in any way and never have since I began balancing them during their useful lifetimes. The subject of this thread is the OP’s issue of Cupping on their tires…which was caused by zero balance time on the machine.


Here’s an example of tire bounce caused by a worn out strut causing cupping.

As the tire starts to bounce it starts out subtly. Then as rubber is removed from the tire it throws the balance off. The worn struts can’t control the tire bounce so the bounce gets worse and the cupping gets worse.

Every vehicle that I have had come into the shop with cupped tires was due to worn struts/shocks.


I agree about the worn struts for sure, it will definitely allow a tire to continue to bounce. Combine this with a tire that has never been balanced and the entire situation gets worse. Also an out of balance tire can cause the premature failure of struts easily. I’ve seen this same condition driving down the road myself. I always said to myself that they need a new strut “now” and need to have their tires balanced. If a tire is so out of balance from the get go…it will eventually fatigue a strut into this obvious failure.

Cant recall how many times I’ve removed a strut from a vehicle and after I get the spring separated from the strut body…the damping rod literally falls down into the strut body…Zero damping ability and or gas retention remain.

Both of these things work together as we all know. If the tire was balanced in the beginning and ran “true” without wanting to jump up and down, the strut can then focus on damping out the imperfections in the road only…and not have to try and keep an unbalanced wheel on the road and deal with road imperfections at the same time…a sure fire way to kill a strut early.


We still don’t know if the OP truly has cupping, or some other irregular wear, so this is all speculation.

I’ve never had to rebalance a wheel unless it wasn’t done well in the first place… and I generally sense that and have it rebalanced immediately. About eight years ago I tried some cheap Chinese tires (I think they were made of rice) that didn’t wear well, but once I got rid of them I was fine. And I do routinely monitor my tire wear, and if there’s any sign of a possible problem I address it immediately. I’ve gotten in the habit of looking at my tires almost every time I get in and out of the car, often even doing a “walk around”, so I tend to catch anything unusual very early. Actually, I’m pretty paranoid, so I change things like struts and do things like alignments if I have any question whatsoever.

I’m not suggesting that my behaviors should be normal. Or are even healthy. But hey, it makes me feel useful.

Circuit is right. Unless we see a photo from the OP, we’re all just guessing in the dark.

I knew my Riviera was not long for this world and I needed tires. I put on some cheap no names that still came in a white wall at the Goodyear shop. I didn’t expect much but they were among the better tires I ever had. Good traction in wet and snow and quiet. Never could figure out who made them or where they were made but I was surprised. Maybe they were only going to last 25,000, don’t know. What this has to do with cupping I don’t know but I’m hard to shut up.

They weren’t really made of rice… they just rode and wore as if they were.
We might be surprised, though. Rice fibers might be stronger than we think. {:smiley: