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What Causes Tires to Feather?

Brad Tucker

If you have ever driven a car or truck down the road and heard a “wah-wah-wah-wah” noise that gets faster as the vehicle’s speed increases, then you have probably driven a vehicle with feathered tires. Feathering is the tendency of tires, especially the front tires, to wear unevenly on the edges so that tire tread blocks that are next to each other are not the same height. Not only are feathered tires a noisy annoyance, they also reduce the car’s cornering and steering ability. Once your tires are feathered, you cannot fix them and unless the underlying cause is addressed, the feathering will continue to worsen. Ultimately, the tires will become so noisy and the vehicle’s ride will be harsh enough that you will want to replace them, even if they still have plenty of good tread left. So, what causes tires to feather?

Some Kinds of Vehicles Are More Likely to Feather Tires

Just like most people, tires are better at doing one thing at a time. On rear wheel drive vehicles, all the front tires do is steer the car. On front wheel, four wheel, and all wheel drive vehicles, the front wheels both steer and pull the car forward. Since steering is turning and pulling is straight, the combination of forces moving the tires in two directions at once can cause feathering. Off road tires are more likely to feather than regular street tires, because of their more aggressive tread patterns with bigger tread blocks and more space in between each tread block. The combination of four wheel drive and aggressive off road tires can quickly lead to feathering.

The Butler (Wheel Alignment) Did It!

Just like the butler in old murder mysteries, it seems like people always want to blame tire problems on bad wheel alignment. Well, in this case, wheel alignment IS often the culprit in what causes tires to feather. Improper wheel alignment can cause the tires to want to go straight and turn at the same time, which causes the tires to feather.

How Can I Keep My Tires From Feathering?

In a word, maintenance. By doing these simple things, you can greatly reduce the risk of feathering your tires:

  • Maintain correct tire pressures – under-inflated tires will feather more easily.
  • Rotate your tires regularly (every 5000 miles) – rear tires aren’t subject to turning forces like the front tires, so regular rotation gives all of your tires a chance to wear more evenly.
  • Be aware of possible changes in alignment – If your vehicle starts pulling to one side, it will increase the possibility of feathered tires.
  • Inspect your tires regularly – you can see feathering on the tires by looking at the edge of the tires and comparing tread blocks next to each other. You can also run your hand along the tread on the edge of the tire to feel for uneven wear.

Feathers Are For Birds, Not Tires

Your friends at Georgia Square Collision offer a full range of tires and tire services, including wheel alignments and tire rotations. We also perform a no charge Multi-Point Inspection with all routine maintenance services that includes checking your tires for abnormal wear. If you buy a set of tires from us, we will even rotate your tires for you for free for 3 years or 36,000 miles! Our technicians will be happy to help you keep your car and its tires happy, safe, and quiet. We hope this article helps take away some of the confusion behind what causes tires to feather.