What Does Tire Separation Look Like? – (Pictures & Video Included)

If you own an SUV, mini-van, or light track, there’s a good chance that your auto is fitted with steel belted radial tires. One of the most common defects associated with these types of tires is tread separation. 

Now, you’re probably wondering, “just what does tire separation look like?” Well, this simply means that the top tread layer along with the steel belt has detached either partially or completely from the tire casing

Tire separation is a very risky phenomenon because it alters the driving dynamics of a vehicle.

It’s particularly dangerous if it occurs when you’re driving at highway speeds. It puts you in an uncomfortable situation of handling a car that’s behaving erratically. 

In the following post, I’ll shed more light on this concept and provide a few tips on how to prevent tire tread separation.

What does it mean when a tire is separating?

To understand tire separation, you should first familiarize yourself with a tire’s anatomy. In particular, you should learn what steel belted radial tires are.

Steel belted radial tires are those designed with steel wires in between the treads and body ply

Oftentimes, such tires have multiple layers of steel belts. The idea behind incorporating steel wires is reinforcement. 

In fact, tires manufactured with a steel belting section can be driven over longer distances without wearing out prematurely. 

Nonetheless, tire manufacturers should be very careful when making steel-belted radial tires.

Specifically, they should ensure that the bond between the tire’s specialized rubber compounds, steel wires, and fabric cords is solid. If these components aren’t properly bonded, this can lead to tread separations. 

A tire tread separation occurs when the tread begins to peel away from the tire casing. Keep in mind that this tread is the part responsible for maintaining a firm grip on the road. So when it starts to separate, the outcome can be fatal. 

For one, it can lead to tire blowouts that can easily cause accidents.

Even if there’s no loss of tire pressure, tread separation can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. This can then lead to a rollover accident and subsequently, severe injuries for the parties involved. 

How can you tell if a tire is separating?

Tread separations are among the easiest tire defects to identify. This is because they exhibit certain signs that signal the resulting tire failure. 

One of the first warning signs you’ll experience is an abnormal vibration when you drive at a certain speed. If you’ve felt any unusual car vibrations, especially when you drive at high speeds, you should definitely have your tires inspected.

What does tire separation look like?

Two different type of separated tires

In terms of visual cues, the main thing you should watch out for is a bubble or bulge on the tread area. If you notice one, chances are one of the steel belts is broken leading to a separated tire. 

Oftentimes, you’ll also notice cracks or cuts on the sidewall. If this damage isn’t caused by impact, then it’s likely that the tread is about to separate.

A wavy pattern may also appear on the tread lines when a tire separates. 

How can I avoid tire tread separation?

Tread separation is one area where you’ll want to apply the mantra of prevention being better than the cure. 

In other words, familiarize yourself with the things that cause treads to separate so you can avoid them at all costs. Here’s a list of the most common causes:

Incorrect flat repair 

Nowadays, the most preferred technique for repairing tires is a radial patch and plug.

A radial patch is a rubber piece inserted from the inside of the tire then pushed through to the outside. Meanwhile, a tire plug is inserted directly into the tire puncture to act as a seal.

Whether you choose a patch or plug, it’s crucial that the repair is done correctly. If it’s not, you’ll find the tip of the plug portion causing the tread to separate. 

Careless driving habits 

If you have a tendency to drive recklessly, you face a higher risk of experiencing tire tread separation. 

In particular, you should pay attention to your braking action when you encounter potholes. Tires are designed to go over big potholes at slow speed and small potholes at an average speed. 

Unfortunately, only a handful of drivers bother to slow down when they encounter potholes. Most drive over them at highway speeds, generating enough force that causes the treads to start separating. 

Excessive tire wear

Like any other part of a car, tires also have an expiration date. Experts recommend that you replace tires after six years of use

Sadly, most drivers don’t bother to replace or even have their tires inspected at the 6-year mark.

They fail to realize that surpassing this mileage heightens the risk of tire defects; from blowouts to tread separation and traction loss. If you haven’t replaced or examined the treadwear on your tires for the past couple of years, ensure you do before the treads start separating. 

Manufacturing defects 

The tire industry has made strides in construction and development. As such, it can easily mitigate the chances of tire defects happening. 

One way to achieve this is to ensure tire manufacturers use appropriate adhesion and that they adhere to proper manufacturing practices. For the same reason, there should be adequate quality control measures put in place. 

Here’s a list of things that manufacturers do wrong, increasing the risk of tread separation:

  • Curing the tire incorrectly
  • Moisture or foreign matter cured into the tire during the production process
  • Prioritizing quick production over the quality and safety of the end products

Tire abuse

Another factor that leads to tire tread separation is tire abuse, especially with regard to inflation. Ideally, you should inflate your tires to the recommended PSI level. 

However, some drivers like to over-inflate their tires.

They fail to realize that overinflating tires can lead to accelerated wear but also overheating. Both of these effects then reduce the tire’s capability to absorb road shocks effectively

To err on the side of safety, be sure to check the pressure on your tires on a monthly basis. Invest in a tire pressure gauge to help you check the PSI on each tire and the spare. 

What is the most common cause of tire tread separation?

Interestingly, the number one cause of tire tread separation is the manufacturer’s defect. This means that something went wrong during the production process. As a result, the tread and steel belts didn’t adhere properly to the tire casing. 

Over time – which is usually a short period – such a tire starts showcasing signs of tread separation.

The good thing about a tread separation caused by a manufacturing defect is that you can contact the tire manufacturer for a free replacement. 

What other tire defects should I watch out for?

Although tread separation is pretty common, it’s not the only defect that you should watch out for. Other popular tire defects include:

  • Over-inflation – though it can be tempting to overinflate tires, you should avoid it. Filling the tires with excessive pressure makes it difficult to maintain contact with the road. Worse even, it strains the structural integrity of the tire; hence, compromising its durability. 
  • Under-inflation – another common tire defect is underinflation. This can lead to a wide range of other problems, such as premature wear and tear, increased risk of punctures, and poor handling. 
  • Misalignment – ideally, a tire’s tread should wear out evenly. However, if it starts to wear out more on one side, this can lead to misalignment. If you have a misaligned tire on your hands, ensure you have it retrofitted or replaced to avoid loss of traction and grip.
  • Wear and tear – all tires experience wear and tear as they are used over time. However, it’s good to check the tread depth occasionally to ensure that they aren’t too worn out.

Depending on where you come from, it’s illegal to drive on roads if the tread depth is below a certain point. For most states in the U.S., the required tread depth is 2/32 inches. 

Can you fix a separating tire? 

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to fix tire tread separation.

This is because this defect affects the core foundation of the tire. So the only remedy available is a tire replacement. 


If you’ve always wondered what tire separation looks like, the first visual cue is usually a bubble or bulge along the tread. Other warning signs entail abnormal vibrations – especially when you’re driving at high speeds –  and wavy patterns on the tread lines. 

If you notice any of these abnormalities, there’s a high probability of the tire separating.

Before it gets to that, you’ll want to have the tire inspected and replaced if necessary.

Tread separation indicates a problem with the interior structure of the tire so it can’t be fixed. The only solution is to replace the separating tire with a new one.


Dean Alvarez, TireForge Head Author

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