Enemies of the Road: A Look at the Various Causes of Tire Damage

Aug. 8, 2019

We recently surveyed our readers to find out what you’ve seen with regard to tire wear and damage. While the leading causes you mentioned came as no surprise, some things will surely raise eyebrows, and provide a chuckle at the same time.

Tire damage survey

We all know that tires are one of the vehicle’s most important components. They provide the vital contact between the vehicle and the road. Without them, a vehicle is simply a multi-thousand-pound metal and plastic paperweight.

Cooper Tire recently commissioned Auto Service Professional to survey our readers to learn what you thought were the “enemies of the road” in terms of hazards that damage tires. Thank you! You came through with flying colors.

As noted by Jess Egerton, Cooper’s director of brand development, “The four tires on your vehicle are the only parts to come into contact with and keep you connected to the road. That’s why, for safety and performance reasons, you have to properly care for, maintain and inspect them.”

While the study is rather lengthy, the highlights of the findings are as follows:

  • The most common causes for tire damage involve running over a foreign object, such as a nail or another metal object dropped from other vehicles. Naturally, bashing the tires over nasty potholes was reported as a leading cause as well.
  • During summer months, tire damage caused by under-inflation and/or exceeding the tire weight limits were also high on the list.
  • During winter months in snow-belt areas, hitting potholes and other unseen objects hidden by snow were understandably mentioned.

The term “road debris” encompasses a much broader category beyond what we would normally associate with the phrase, such as a piece of steel rebar, a tree branch that fell during a windstorm or a chunk of concrete that bounced off of a construction crew truck. You noted an assortment of puncture-causing and/or tire destruction items that will make you laugh, cry or ponder in total disbelief.

These include an encounter with a Barbie doll (not kidding), porcupine quills (either due to an unfortunate critter’s decision to cross a busy road, or perhaps because of a deliberate attack by an enraged porcupine that held a nasty grudge against a tire);  a pair of pliers that completely entered  the tire (how does this even happen?); deer antlers; kitchen utensils; a live, unfired .243 caliber rifle round;  a bolt that managed to puncture a tire head first (now, that had to be a hard hit!); etc. The near-incredulous list goes on.

While running over a nail or other metal object is certainly something that can happen to even the most astute driver, some causes of damage are absolutely avoidable, if the customer would simply exercise a bit of common sense. Under-inflation (which accounted for 44% of damage causes) not only accelerates tire shoulder wear, but increases the operating heat within the tire, which can lead to a blow-out.  Low pressure can also lead to unstable handling and braking. We all know this. What’s difficult to understand is how some vehicle owners address, or should we say ignore, this concern.

While we can’t expect all customers to be knowledgeable in terms of automotive systems, they are surely capable of checking their tire pressures with a simple pressure gauge.  To make matters even worse, all light-duty vehicles built starting with the 2008 model year feature TPMS (tire pressure monitoring systems), which alert the driver of improper tire pressure.

If the TPMS warning light illuminates, isn’t that a clue that they should check tire pressure? Sadly, some ignore the light completely or continue to drive for hundreds of miles before taking the time to visit a repair shop to find out what that “little light” is all about. Sad, but true. Really, how hard is it to check your tire inflation once in a while? And if the TPMS light comes on, the system is telling you that you have an inflation problem.

While on the subject of TPMS systems, a good friend who works for a TPMS sensor company read our report about this study online. He offered some advice to technicians to pay close attention to the TPMS sensors and/or replace them or their assembly to make absolutely certain that air is not leaking from the sensor and creating a low-pressure problem for the customer.  Good advice. 

Top 10 weird damage

As reported in the survey, and as noted previously, a very strange assortment of “how did this happen?” objects resulted in tire punctures. Following are my top 10 picks on the scale of absurdity involving objects driven over on roads or tire “attacks”:

1. Porcupine quills

2. A pair of pliers (which made full entrance into the tire)

3. Railroad spike

4. Deer antler pieces

5. Barbie doll (again, we’re not kidding)

6. Dog bites (evidence of teeth left in sidewall)

7. Bullet holes (now, that’s a bad neighborhood)

8. Live .243 rifle round

9. Wrench (probably someone’s missing 10 mm combo wrench... it’s always the 10 mm that goes missing for some reason)

10. A bolt that entered head-first

Strange but true – items found inside tires

The “unusual” causes of tire damage, or should we say the most unusual discoveries made by technicians, included a bizarre range of items found inside of tires during demounting. These include tools, nails, screws/bolts, utensils (a spoon was found in one tire), pieces of wood, food remnants and other chunks of debris.

We’re pleased to have been asked to do the research and did find out very interesting and usable information, while at the same time having some fun. 

Next time, I think I’ll send out a survey asking you about the strangest thing you ever found next to the air filter!     ■

About the Author

Mike Mavrigian | Editor

Mike received a BA degree from Youngstown State University in English Literature with a minor in Journalism in 1975.