My 2011 Subaru has bald front tires - why?

I love the CarTalk show and recently discovered this website and forum. I have a question about my Subaru, so if anyone can give me some feedback and/or advice, I’d greatly appreciate it! (By the way, I have 3 dogs and work as a pet sitter part-time. There’s always a dog in my Subie, thus the name for my corny screen name.)

I own a 2011 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport, and I have mostly loved the car. However, there’s a problem with the rotors (I assume) because the steering wheel jiggles every time I’m stopping from high speed. It goes to the dealership tomorrow for that.

I have another problem that has me really worried, financially speaking. This car only has 14,000 miles on it, and I only use it to drive around town to get to my jobs. Just a few days ago, I was washing the car when I noticed that the front passenger tire is completely bald. I was shocked and looked at the other front tire. There’s a tiny amount of tread on that front tire, but it’s mostly bald too. The back tires look fine though. Right now, I don’t have the money to replace 4 tires, as I know that you have to replace all four tires in a Subaru when you get new ones. I’m concerned though because I know the factory tires come with no warranty. When I called the Subaru dealership, they said they’d look at the car to see what caused the tires to wear down. They also said that if the problem is with the car, then perhaps Subaru will pay for the tires. I don’t know anything about cars, so does anyone have any insight into what could have caused this? The tires have been rotated on schedule, etc. I’m worried that Subaru will blame the problem on something else, leaving me to pay for the new tires - and I don’t have that extra money now. (Plus it has a July inspection, and it will never pass the inspection with these tires.)

I need to drive to a big city in a week, so it will be driving at a high speed for a long distance in the heat. I assume that it’s not a good idea to drive on bald tires? I’m just so frustrated. I got this car new. And then the tires are completely bald at 14,000 miles.

Thanks in advance for any feedback.

It’s fairly easy to find nice used tires online. Try Craigslist. Buying 2 used tires that have the same tread depth as your rear tires might save you some money vs buying 4 new tires. Heck, I assume your rear tires are almost perfect with only 14k miles.

Potentially your alignment is off. Subaru has a very comprehensive warranty for 3yrs/36k and you may get them to cover off paying for an alignment which you need checked before purchasing 4 new tires. Maybe Subaru will help you partially on tire cost which is likely 50% since OEM tires typically last at least 30k miles if they are rotated?

Have you ever rotated these tires? They will wear fast if never done especially with in town driving as turning wears tires much faster than driving straight.

First, you don’t have to replace all 4 tires in a Subaru, but you do have to replace them all if it’s AWD–otherwise your diffs will wear out.

How much are your rear tires worn? You stated you could see tread, but that doesn’t mean it’s a lot of tread. Also, are you front tires bald on the edges or all the way across? If you haven’t rotated your tires for 14k miles the front pair will certainly be more worn out as turning makes the front pair wear out faster (which is why we rotate them.)

Here is the important question: Is the center tread on the front a lot lower than the center tread on the back? Measure the tread depth, or at least look at the wear indicators on the tires and see how much more the fronts are worn. If the back pair is close to the front pair, like 1/8 maybe, then it’s only because you didn’t rotate them (though 14k miles is not much for tires) and it’s time to replace all 4. If the rear tires are not worn much then perhaps there is some problem.

My guess is that you drive the SIOS pretty hard due to the fact that the rotors are warped at 14k miles. That comes from heat, which comes from hard braking. Do you live in a mountainous area? (It’s possible the rotors were bad from the start and thus warped, but much more likely that you heated them.)

Depending upon the wear pattern this could be an alignment issue and any warranty on tires is provided by the people who manufacture the tires; not Subaru.
Worn tires due to an alignment issue then gets into the murky area of whether Subaru would step in and cover any alignment fault or tire issue due to that fault.

You state the tires were rotated on schedule and this means the bulk of the wear could have been while they were on the rear of the car. This will then get into the area of why someone would rotate worn tires and not notify the car owner.
You make several references to high speed driving so there could be an assumption, right or wrong, that the worn tires that came from the rear were worn due to aggressive driving habits.

In regards to the jiggling steering wheel, that could very well be caused by the worn tires and not the brakes even though the brakes are in use when this occurs.

If you were rotating your tires as stated, it’s hard to see how this could happen without being noticed…

It will be interesting to see what kind of shape your front brakes are in…If the pads are worn out at 14,000 miles then your driving habits becomes the prime suspect for these problems and you will get no help from Subaru…

Unless you really abuse your car something has to be radically wrong with it for that much wear to occur on the tires in only 14k miles. You are going to have to replace all of the tires with new ones after the problem with the drive system is found and fixed. You should normally be able to get more than double the amount of life on the tires you got on this set.

Do you go fast around corners? I know for a fact its not hard to wear tires quickly with aggressive driving. If its a bad alignment it ought to be easy to find.

Another version of theft? Is it possible that someone traded tires with you?

While I’m sure the rear tires look a lot better than the bald front ones, please check and tell us how much tread they have. Try the ‘quarter test’, insert a quarter in the tread, with the top of Washington’s head towards the tire. Does the tread obscure the top of his head? If not, they’re all pretty worn out.

Good thing you’re bringing the car in. You may have a serious problem that can be easily fixed.

If you have two bald tires and two tires that are fine, then you’ve probably been damaging your AWD system by driving this way, as your tire circumferences probably differ by more than the amount allowed in your owner’s manual. That could be an expensive problem, so let’s hope you lucked out here.

In the future, I’d suggest checking your tire tread quickly each time you check your tire pressure. It doesn’t take more than a second to feel for the wear bars while you’re doing that.

You’re correct that it’s a bad idea to drive on bald tires. You can hydroplane on the smallest amount of water and crash, not to mention that it’s illegal.

“you don’t have to replace all 4 tires in a Subaru, but you do have to replace them all if it’s AWD”

Well since all Subarus sold in the US for the past 2 decades have been equipped with AWD, then–yes–it is necessary to replace all 4 tires at the same time on a Subaru, unless it is a very old model.

As to the OP’s problem, it is likely to be a combination of several factors from this list:

Failure to maintain correct air pressure (How often do you check it, and correct, as necessary?)
Failure to rotate tires every 7,500 miles (You may have been charged for tire rotation, but perhaps it was not done.)
Bad alignment (When, if ever, was the alignment checked?)
Local driving, with lots of turns (This is much harder on tires than highway driving.)

However, no tire goes from having a decent amount of tread to being bald in a short period of time, so the drastic difference in tread depth between the front & the rear tires makes it obvious that nobody (both the OP and the folks at the service facility) has looked at these tires (and their pressure, and their alignment) for quite a while.

Unfortunately, I don’t see any solution other than the OP buying a set of 4 new tires.
Hopefully there will be frequent pressure checks and visual inspections of those new tires, lest history repeat itself.

I hate to say this but did you possibly buy a bit to much car? If you cant afford tires for it maybe you should look at a cheaper car. I know its not common to need tires at 14k miles, but I have seen oem tires needing replacement at 20k miles.

WheresRick wrote:
I hate to say this but did you possibly buy a bit to much car? If you cant afford tires for it maybe you should look at a cheaper car.

Don’t feel bad about saying this. It’s true that the OP should have bought an older car, although switching at this point is perhaps a different argument because of the money lost on depreciation.

Note if your brakes are worn or worn out Subaru covers them for 3yrs/36k miles if warranty is same as our 2005 Legacy GT was. Wife wore her first set out in 35k :slight_smile: and Subaru footed the bill including new rotors!

First, short trips are tough on tires. Freeway miles are practically free. That’s because in order to turn a vehicle, the tire has to develop a slip angle - and that slip angle causes wear.

So if you spend most of your drive doing short hops, your tires are going to wear quickly no matter what you do.

Your Subie is basically a front wheel drive car that makes the front wheels drive, steer and carry the most weight. If you don’t rotate the tires, the fronts will wear out much faster than the rears. That said, 14k is pretty fast. If you buy the same tire size, and better still - brand and tire model, as the rear, you should be OK to buy only 2 tires.

I agree with several posters here, check the alignment, if it is off, that could explain the tire wear. Is the steering wheel pointed straight ahead when you are in the middle lane of 3 lanes of traffic (flattest part of the road)? If not, you’ve likely bent something and thrown off the alignment.

Another thought, since you have a shimmy AND the passenger front is worn more than the drivers side, check for a bent wheel. The bent wheel will cause a shimmy and it will also wear the tire faster since it “wiggles” back and forth. I had this problem on my wife’s car and whatever she hit, it didn’t affect the alignment but it bent the wheel.

Bald tires don’t grip in the rain, if it rains when you take your trip, you could hydroplane off the road…not good.

“Well since all Subarus sold in the US for the past 2 decades have been equipped with AWD, then–yes–it is necessary to replace all 4 tires at the same time on a Subaru, unless it is a very old model.” — Because it’s AWD, not because it’s a Subaru.

“Your Subie is basically a front wheel drive car that makes the front wheels drive, steer and carry the most weight.”

That is true for many of the Honda & Toyota AWD systems, but it is not true for the full-time AWD systems on Subarus.

The AWD system on this car normally has a 50/50 torque split, and when wheel-slip is detected, the torque split can change to 60/40 or 40/60.