Tire Knowledge: What Causes a Tire to Shred?

A tire-shredding when driving always happens when it’s dark and rainy on the road, miles from anywhere. But in some scenarios, it can be avoided. If you know what causes a tire to shred or at least what you can do as preventative maintenance (check your tire pressure regularly by stating the obvious), you will have done everything you can to avoid a problem.

Unfortunately, once a tire has started to shred, there isn’t much you can do but try and guess what caused the problem. Almost impossible to say for sure without much of the tire left on the rim. However, cars give much feedback through the steering wheel and how the car drives. If you experience unusual vibrations or the vehicle pulls to one side, pull over when safe and have a quick check around the tires before continuing your journey. It may just stop a tire shredding as you drive.

What Causes a Tire to Shred?

All of the below causes are the start of a problem before the tire starts to shred. The reason a tire shreds is the weight of the rim; driving on a tire with little or no air usually causes a blowout. The tire’s sidewall gets caught on the rim’s bead as it rotates, cutting the tire. As a result, the tire shreds.

Slow puncture

A slow puncture from debris like a screw or a cracked rim will cause the tire to deflate; it may happen too quickly for you to realize you have a puncture before the tire gets so low on the pressure that it starts to shred. If you notice the car has a slow puncture or the tire looks partially deflated before you attempt to drive it if you have the facilities check the pressure on the tire or switch over to the spare tire to avoid further problems. You are also more likely to be able to salvage the tire and have a repair carried out if you do not drive on the problematic tire.

Low pressure

Driving just a few psi on pressure down won’t cause any significant problems to the tire. Although, it will contribute to the overall weakness of the tire if driving low on pressure is prolonged. Driving with a tire dangerously low on the air in the region of 10-12 PSI will cause the heat in the tire to rise dramatically; when the tire sidewall gets too extreme heat temperatures, it becomes weak, and any small impact may cause a puncture and the tire to shred quickly.

With low pressure and extra heat, the inside of the tire can start to shred as the weight of the car snags on the tire when it rotates. You might spot some marks on the tire sidewall, but they are not always apparent until the tire is removed from the rim.

Most cars now have TPMS fitted as standard, and a low tire pressure warnings light will appear on the dashboard to tell you to rectify the tire pressure immediately. You may also start to spot uneven tire wear occurring on both shoulders of the tire, which signifies low tire pressure.

Faulty valve

A faulty tire valve will be similar to a slow puncture in that, if left, it will cause the tire to shred if you continue to drive. Unless they face an impact, tire valves can develop slow leaks from the core. The valve core can be replaced or tightened with a valve core screwdriver to reseal the valve and stop the air leaking.

spare tire fitted

Blow out

A sudden impact to the tire usually causes a blowout, debris in the road, broken coil spring or a weakened sidewall from something like a bulge exploding or the tire rubbing is very common. The sudden loss of all pressure when driving causes the rim to dig into the tire and shred it to pieces. Even going as much as a few yards can cause a tire to shred when traveling at speed.

Bead leak

A bead or rim leak is known when the tire’s bead doesn’t get a good seal between the tire and the edge of the wheel. There are no tubes inside modern tires, so they rely on pressure to get a good seal. If the wheel corrodes or the paint on the rim deteriorates, the missing bits of paint or corrosion can cause a slow leak that is not always noticeable to the driver. Usually, the pressure will drop to 10 – 15 PSI over a couple of months, where a blowout from the weakened tire can occur.

Old tires

Tire manufacturers recommend tires are replaced between 5 and 8 years; each manufacturer recommends something slightly different. One thing that happens with the older tire is the surface starts to crack, causing air leaks.

Another is when air can get to the steel bands running through the tire. The tire belts start to rust and weaken, they can snap, and you end up with an egg-shaped tire that will blow out and shred quickly.

There is a DOT code (date of transportation) stamped on the sidewall of each tire to give you an idea of the tire’s age. Shown as the week number and year like this: 4721, the tire was made on the 47th week of 2021.

Wheels out of alignment

You may have seen tire wear on the outer or inner shoulder, but the tread on the tire is fine. If both shoulders are worn, the tire is being run under-inflated. However, if one shoulder is worn, usually the inner shoulder, because it’s rarely at full lock when parked, it is a sign of a wheel alignment problem. As is the car pulling to one side. When left out of alignment, the inner shoulder wears through to the internal chords and deflates.

Rectifying the wheel alignment, or front toe, as it’s known, is pretty straightforward to check and adjust with tracking gauges; most tire garages have them.

Can You Drive on a Shredded Tire?

A car can usually move a few yards with a shredded tire, but driving is impossible. The tire will shred to the point it is no longer there, and you will be driving on the rim. Driving on the rim will cause damage to the road surface. It’s also dangerous because the car will not steer or grip the road as required.

I’m sure you will have seen police chases on the TV, sparks are flying from the car driving on the rim with no tire, and the car spins out; this is precisely what happens when you try to drive with a flat tire.

Changing the shredded tire for the spare or having a roadside recovery company assist you is the only option.

How Do You Fix a Ripped Tire?

Little can be done to salvage a ripped tire; 99% of the time, it will require a replacement. A small tear to the tread may accommodate a tire repair/vulcanization. Take the tire to your local tire specialist, who can assess any damage and advise on the fix, but be prepared that the tire will probably need replacing.

Final Thoughts

The causes of tire shredding usually start with some form of a slow puncture. Occasionally impacts or a tire blowout can happen, and you can do nothing to stop or prevent it; it’s just bad luck.

But if you regularly check your tires for condition, age, pressure and get the wheel’s alignment checked, you will have done everything possible to limit the possibility of a blowout and the tire shredding.

My name is Tom although my friends call me Tommy. Messing around with cars and bikes has always been a hobby of mine even from a young age. So I made it my day job 17 years ago. I am a fully qualified mechanic as you would expect. I've worked in all different areas of the motor trade, valeting, panel beating, engine repairs, I'm sure you get the idea. I enjoy sharing my wealth of knowledge and experience with others, which is the reason I spend a lot of time here writing for this website.

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