Tire Sidewall Damage: Causes, Risks, and Repair Options

Published: 05/16/24 •  6 min read

Auto tires are unsung heroes that offer traction. The sidewall of even the hardest tires can be damaged. Sidewall damage can impact vehicle performance and safety. Drivers can learn about sidewall damage causes, risks, and repairs here. 

Causes of Sidewall Damage

Sidewall damage on tires can result from many sources, reducing their structural integrity and endangering road safety. Some main sidewall damage causes:

Road debris, potholes

Road debris and potholes damage tires. Potholes and shattered glass, rocks, and metal fragments can shred or bulge the sidewall. These damages impair the tire’s structure, increasing the chance of blowouts or air pressure loss while driving.

Overloading

Tire tread and sidewalls are stressed by exceeding the recommended load capability. Sidewalls support vehicle and cargo weight. Overloading causes sidewalls to bend beyond their intended limitations, accelerating wear and damage. The sidewall may break, bulge, or separate from the tire carcass.

Underinflation

Fuel economy, tread degradation, and sidewall damage are frequent problems with low tire pressure. Underinflated tires flex greatly during cornering, braking, and rapid moves. Repetitive flexing can wear and break the sidewall, making it more vulnerable to road hazards and accidents.

Overinflation

Underinflation is awful, but overinflation destroys sidewalls. Curbs are more likely to hit overinflated tires due to reduced sidewall flexibility. More internal pressure can aggravate collisions, causing sidewall cuts, bulges, and tire blowouts.

Age and Wear

Rubber compounds in tire sidewalls degrade naturally with age. UV light, severe temperatures, and environmental toxins exacerbate this process, making sidewalls brittle and less durable. Aging sidewalls are more likely to break or split due to road dangers including sharp objects or debris.

Poor Tire Installation

Incorrect tire mounting or installation can damage sidewalls during fitting or driving. Sidewall bulges or separation can result from improper tire bead-wheel rim alignment. Using excessive force or incorrect tools during installation can cause sidewall damage, such as tears or deformation, which may not be visible but can cause early tire failure.

Exposure to chemicals

Sidewall rubber compounds can be damaged by oil, solvents, and aggressive cleaners. Industrial and agricultural vehicles, which are chemically exposed, suffer most. Chemical exposure can cause sidewall deterioration, cracking, splitting, and elasticity loss, increasing damage and failure risk. 

Curb or obstacle impact damage

Accidental contact with curbs, road dividers, or parking obstructions can damage sidewalls. Scuffs, cuts, and abrasions on the sidewall can happen from low-speed impacts. These may appear small, but repeated impacts or collisions can degrade the sidewall structure, affecting tire safety. Regular visual inspections and cautious driving can reduce sidewall damage from such accidents.

Risks of Sidewall Damage

Vehicle safety and performance might be compromised by tire sidewall damage. Sidewall degradation poses three main risks:

Air Pressure Loss

Tire airtightness is compromised by sidewall damage, causing progressive air loss or sudden blowouts. Gradual air loss can lower tire performance, fuel efficiency, and wear. Unexpected blowouts can cause loss of control and risky driving, especially at high speeds or on busy highways. A sudden air pressure decrease can also cause the vehicle to lose direction or become difficult to operate, increasing the risk of accidents.

Lower Stability and Handling

A damaged sidewall reduces tire stability and handling. The sidewall supports vehicle weight and maintains tire shape, especially during cornering, braking, and rapid maneuvers. Damaged sidewalls may deform or flex unexpectedly, diminishing stability and increase accident risk, especially during emergency movements. In inclement weather or on ice roads, drivers may lose control, increasing accident risk.

Tire Failure

Extreme sidewall damage may cause tire failure, requiring replacement. Deterioration of the sidewall can cause tire blowouts, tread separation, and failure. A quick tire breakdown at high speeds can cause rollovers, collisions, and control issues. Tire failure can result in injuries, deaths, and property damage. Sidewall damage and tire replacement must be addressed immediately to avert catastrophic traffic accidents.

Uneven Tire Wear

Sidewall damage unevenly wears tires, reducing performance and durability. A weak sidewall can induce tread cupping, feathering, or scalloping. Tire wear unevenly lowers vehi

cle stability, traction, and fuel efficiency. Early tire replacement due to uneven wear costs automobile owners.

Higher hydroplaning risk

Hydroplaning worsens with damaged sidewalls in rain. Hydroplaning between tire tread and road surface reduces traction and control. Tire water evacuation channels can be blocked by damaged sidewalls, diminishing road contact. High-speed hydroplaning can cause accidents or loss of control.

Low Off-Road Performance

Rough terrain vehicles can lose performance and durability from sidewall damage. Rocks, roots, and rocky terrain can cut, puncture, and abrade off-road tires. Off-roading can damage tire sidewalls, causing tire failure and stranding vehicles in remote areas. 

Possible Legal Effects

Sidewall damage can cause legal and safety difficulties for vehicle owners. Visibly damaged tires may breach road safety or vehicle inspection requirements, resulting in fines, penalties, or legal liability in an accident. Owners must maintain their cars and meet safety standards, including tire condition. Car owners can face legal and financial consequences for not repairing sidewall damage. 

Repair Options

Drivers can repair tire sidewall damage in many ways. The main repair options and their concerns are:

To patch and plug

Patch and plug repairs may work for minor sidewall damage like punctures or cuts. Professionals patch and plug the puncture from the inside and outside of the tire. Sidewall repairs are less reliable than tread repairs, although they can temporarily restore tire functionality. Due to safety and damage risks, some tire manufacturers and repair shops may not advocate sidewall repairs.

Replace Sidewalls

Sidewall replacement may be needed for major cuts, tears, or bulges. Due to its complexity and hazards, sidewall replacement is rarely recommended as a sole repair option. Sidewall replacement involves specific equipment and experience, thus not all tire shops offer it. Sidewall replacement can cost as much as a new tire, making it less practical.

Replace Tires

Tire replacement is the safest sidewall damage repair. To ensure vehicle safety and performance, replace sidewall-damaged tires promptly. Though expensive, tire replacement ensures the tire is in good condition and can endure daily driving. Replace damaged tires to prevent sidewall failure, blowouts, and other tire concerns, improving road safety.    

Conclusion

Sidewall damage can compromise vehicle safety and performance, so drivers must grasp its origins, hazards, and repair choices. Minor sidewall damage can be patched and plugged, but major damage usually requires tire replacement for road safety. Regular inspection, tire care, and cautious driving can reduce sidewall damage and make driving safer for everyone.