Tire Sidewall Damage: How Much Damage Is Too Much?

Is it still safe to drive when there's a gash, tear, or cut on your tire sidewall? Is it time to get new tires? Here's a guide on tire sidewall damage.

A tire is a relatively simple rubber component – in theory, at least.

The tire sidewall is the side of the tire – the circle-shaped bit you can see when looking at the side of your car.

There’s no tread on the sidewall. Why would there be? It isn’t there to maintain any contact with the road at any time.

Rather, the tire sidewall’s main job is to provide structural integrity. Its reinforced sides are much stronger than the tread.

Tire sidewall damage is simply a reference to any damage caused to this area.

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How Much Damage Is Too Much?

car tire details

You might have noticed a gash, tear, or cut on your tire sidewall. Perhaps you can even peel the rubber back to see underneath.

It’s sensible to check how much damage is terminal and how much is safe to drive on.

In general, tire sidewall damage should be immediately repaired.

However, if the cut is relatively shallow, it should be fine.

Use a flashlight to examine the exposed area if you can pull it back. You can use any blunt instrument to help with this.

Do you see a glimpse of metal wires? If so, the tire is compromised.

You’ll need to put the spare wheel on and go to a tire shop.

Even if you’re unsure about the tire damage (for example, if you can’t see), it’s still best to follow this procedure. A technician might conclude that the tire’s fine – but it’s better to be safe than sorry!

In all circumstances, bulges or punctures in the tire wall mean you need a new tire.

Can You Repair A Damaged Tire Sidewall?

You can’t repair a damaged tire sidewall. If the structural integrity has been compromised, there’s no way to fix it.

The force and pressure endured by the tire sidewall are immense. You might not think about it often, but those four pieces of rubber handle the weight of your car, the force of driving, torque differences across differentials, and the lateral forces involved with turning.

That’s not even including road conditions, weather, speed bumps, accidental skids, and general damage (such as hitting a curb).

Because of this, there’s no way you can safely repair a tire sidewall. Don’t listen to anyone who says you can! They’re wrong.

Different Types Of Tire Sidewall Damage And Causes

Any serious damage to a tire’s sidewall means the tire is a hazard. It’s likely to blow out while driving.

As mentioned above, put the spare wheel on and go to a mechanic if you’re unsure.

Here are the most common types of tire sidewall damage and what might cause them.

Cut/Gash/Tear

Cut on tire

Many tires have some kind of cut, gash, or tear in the sidewall. Many of these aren’t deep enough to be of any concern. They’re just surface lacerations.

When a technician inspects your tire, they’ll let you know if there’s nothing to worry about and send you on your way. Of course, it’s essential to use a local shop you trust. Some might try to sell you tires anyway.

Sometimes, the cut/gash/tear could slice deeply into the tire sidewall. The tire is no longer good if this laceration reaches or passes the metal wires.

You’ll need a new tire.

Puncture

Auto 5754 Punctured tire

Punctures usually affect the tire’s tread – but not always.

A puncture is any sharp object penetrating through the rubber surface. The most common examples are screws, nails, glass shards, and razor-like rock fragments.

A puncture could impact the tire sidewall in rarer (but still possible and not uncommon) cases.

For instance, a screw might penetrate through the tread near the edge. It might then poke through the sidewall, too.

If any tread punctures are too near the sidewall, they can’t be patched anyway.

Whether the foreign body stays in your tire or not, puncture damage to the sidewall is terminal. You’ll need a new tire in all circumstances.

Deterioration

Close up on Flat Car Tire on Gravel Road

Checking your tires is a vital part of car ownership, yet most completely neglect it.

A flat tire could be caused by many things. But, all the same, you should never drive on a flat tire! The entire corner of the car would be supported solely by the tire sidewall due to the lack of air pressure.

As strong as tire sidewalls are, they aren’t designed for this. They’ll start to break down almost immediately.

A deteriorating flat tire is an uncomfortable feeling. The ride will become very bumpy, and you could suddenly lose control of the vehicle.

Extremely poor alignment (toe) could also lead to a worn-down sidewall.

In summary, the rubber and the entire structure deteriorate to the point of being utterly useless.

If you find you’ve accidentally driven on a flat tire, pull over in a safe location. Remove the wheel, put the spare on, and then go straight to your local tire shop.

You’ll need a replacement tire.

Bulge

a bump on the tire, damage on the wheel

All tire sidewall damage has the potential to be deadly but bulges most of all.

If you see a bulge in your tire wall, do not drive your car before swapping it for the spare wheel.

A tire bulge is an air bubble. It means the sidewall structure has broken down and can no longer contain the air pressure.

They’re most commonly caused by damage (hitting a curb or pothole), underinflation, age, or poor-quality tires/manufacturer defects.

In short, it will blow out, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Driving on this tire will only multiply the forces acting on it, making the situation worse.

You should put the spare wheel on and head to a tire shop. You need a new tire.

The Best Way To Get A New Tire If You Have Sidewall Damage

You could put the spare wheel on (safely) and drive to a nearby tire shop, as detailed in the above examples. This is an excellent option.

You could also opt for a mobile tire changer. Look for local businesses or national chains that come to your home (or anywhere) and change your tire on the spot.

This means you won’t have to drive anywhere and is arguably the best option. The main disadvantage is that you might have to wait a day or two before getting a new tire.

The technician will recommend changing both tires across the axle. This is important for several reasons, such as:

  • Both wheels ride at the same height, putting less strain on the steering and drivetrain.
  • You’ll have a reference point for tire wear.

Although this is recommended, it’s up to you and isn’t enforced.

Conclusion: Tire Sidewall Damage

In summary, damage to a tire sidewall can be catastrophic. Don’t take any unnecessary risks!

Shallow cuts and gashes are often harmless, but it never hurts to make sure! All other tire damage is terminal and will lead to (at least) one new tire.

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Benjamin Kitchen

Ben is an automotive author from England. With experience in a fast-fit garage, he's an IMI-qualified light vehicle technician. He aims to help drivers worldwide with common automotive problems. You’ll often find him working with his 1.2 Vauxhall Corsa – it may have a tiny engine, but in eight years it's never once let him down!