Inspecting your car before getting on the road is one of the most important safety checks you could perform as a driver. This involves, among others, checking the condition of your tires.
In some of your regular checks, you may notice bulges on the tire sidewalls. They arise from stress caused in the tire layer structure in the sidewall. These bulges are what are commonly referred to as bubbles. They are more common in low profile tires due to the nature of their design.
Common Causes of Tire Bubbles
Tire bubbles occur on the sidewall of a tire due to its thinness and construction. It only consists of rubber fabric and steel cord, making it susceptible to protrusion of air when under stress.
There are several causes of bubbles. The most common are:
1. A defect in the manufacturing of the tire. Though relatively atypical, the tire could form bubbles as a result of a fault in the tire’s construction.
2. Using a worn out tire. Once the tire crosses its recommended wear limit, it becomes weaker, making it prone to formation of bulges.
3. Overburdening the tire. Tires have a limit on how much weight they can comfortably bear, and too much stress on them may result in the protrusion of bubbles.
4. Driving over uneven roads on high impact. Rough roads, bumps, and roads with potholes may require extra force to navigate. The high impact caused between the road surface and the tires significantly increase the likelihood of bubbles forming on the tire sidewalls.
5. Underinflating the tires. Observing the recommended pressure levels on your tires is one of the most essential elements of good tire maintenance. An underinflated tire provides room for air to heat up in hot weather, causing bubbles to protrude on the sidewall.
6. Driving on uneven/misaligned tires. A misaligned tire is often the result of the wheels encountering obstacles on the road surface, lifting of the car beyond its optimal height, or poor suspension. A poorly aligned tire causes it to wear out disproportionately and this increases the tire’s tendency to form bubbles on the side.
Are Special Tires Equipped to Deal with Tire Bubbles?
You may think that tires with the ability to handle tough challenges on the road, particularly all-terrain and run-flat wheels, are also able to safely deal with tire bubbles. But, are they?
While you can drive on an underinflated or completely deflated run-flat tire for a relatively short distance, we highly advise that you do not take the risk when you have a bulge on your tire. Driving with a bubble on the tire only further compounds stress on the wheel, and this could potentially cause it to blow out.
Immediate Actions to Take If You Notice a Bubble in Your Tire
Regardless of the cause, a tire with a bulge must not be used on the road. And given that tire bubbles may not always form immediately after exposure to some of the causes we’ve highlighted in this article, frequent tire checks are what will enable you spot the issue with your tires’ sidewalls at the earliest opportunity.
There are several actions you could take in the event that you find a bulge on your tire.
If your tire is still under warranty, return it to the retailer for assessment. Like with other products, if your claim is warranted, your retailer should cover the cost of replacement. Most manufacturers guarantee their tires for 50% of the expected life of the wheels, on average.
It is not safe to drive on a tire with a visible bulge. Even if it may appear small and insignificant, you do not want to risk it enlarging as you drive on the road, as bubbles are some of the leading causes of blowouts in tires.
You should always have a spare tire in your car for such times. When you notice a bulge on your tire’s sidewall, immediately replace the tire with a spare one. You should, by no means, attempt to repair the bulge.
A vehicle or tire inspection report by your mechanic or repair service may come in handy if your tire suffers a bulge. Depending on the assessment of the bulge after inspection, your mechanic may advise you on the likely cause of the bulge on the wheel, whether natural, as a result of a fault on the part of the manufacturer, or artificial, as a consequence of your driving or lack of proper maintenance.
Some tire dealers may accept a tire inspection report when you seek a replacement for your defective tire. You should check with your tire dealer if they accept external assessment reports from authorized tire repair services if they have road hazard guarantee for their tires.
Cost Implication of a Tire Bubble
It may be sapping to find out that nothing much can be done to salvage a tire with a bulge, especially if the tire costs a premium and it is not guaranteed by warranty. If the defect is not covered by warranty, you will have to purchase a replacement wheel out-of-pocket.
To avoid paying out-of-pocket, consider getting a road hazard protection for your car’s wheels.
If you have a manufacturer’s guarantee or a road hazard guarantee, the coverage will cater for the replacement of your tire, provided the claim falls within the criteria stipulated in the warranty.
Tips to Reduce the Likelihood of Bubbles Forming in Your Tires
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are several proactive steps you could take to reduce the susceptibility of your tires forming bubbles.
The most important are adhering to comprehensive maintenance of your vehicle, inspecting your tires regularly, and driving carefully.
Sam is Automole’s editor-in-chief and classic car enthusiast. Sam is studying mechanical engineering at Cockrell School of Engineering, Austin. He also writes for many top automotive publications and appears on the Collecting Cars Podcast.