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A few days after Xmas weekend I noticed a bubble in the sidewall of the front right tire. It was large enough that I called ahead at the local tire shop and drove — carefully — down to get it replaced, since there’s really not much you can do with a sidewall bubble, and once formed, they’re rather like a ticking bomb.

Luckily for me Discount Tire stood behind their replacement certificate, no questions asked, and popped a new one on for free as advertised. The funny part is, during the hour I was there getting the rest of the rubber rotated and the new one swapped out, about five other people came in with the same issue.

Idle chat with an on-break tire guy revealed that they had extra staff on call that day to handle just that sort of thing. It seems that when folks are out in ice and badness and then the temperature snaps back up forty degrees, as it tends to do in Texas, a tire that had hit a small pot hole and happens to have a weak spot in the sidewall will pop a bubble in no time, well, flat.

The bubbles herald the substantial shortening of your tires’ road life. They can burst at almost any time and most often do it while driving, so it’s a good idea to get the weakened tire off the car as soon as you can. There are, of course, any number of ways a tire gets a weakened sidewall but it’s interesting that it happens enough that they prepare for it when crazy weather happens. You learn something new every day.

What’s the lesson here? Get the warranty on your tires; you never know when you might need it.

Discount Tire [Website]


21 Responses to Bubble Bubble Drive And Trouble

  1. fred says:

    In over 40 years of driving, I had this happen only once (this year) with a a premium tire on a Honda Accord with less than 10,000 miles on it. Replacement cost me over $200.
    I’m hoping that this is not a new trend emerging

  2. Old Coot says:

    I assume this can occur on either side of the tire; wonder if anyone regularly checks the inboard sides and curious how they do it. In my case, there’s not much room in the rear wheel-wells to get my hand back there to feel a problem. Maybe use a mirror and flashlight? Get on a creeper and go under?

  3. Old Coot says:

    Addendum: Tell wifey to get under there and look?

  4. Brice says:

    Don’t worry, a bulge on the inside probably won’t last more than a week….

    I’ve done this twice to work my work trucks. Both times it was my fault. If the truck pushes in the corner, you’re going to hit the curb.

  5. Chris says:

    Old Coot: I just so happened to find one on the inside of a front tire on our Dodge Caravan when I was about 15 or so. I forget why I had my hand back there, but getting stabbed by one of the broken, protruding steel belts was my first clue something was amiss.

    We changed the tire and drove home on the space-saver spare. I think the factory tires were still on there at the time, and that’s probably how we ended up with the Firestone Nightmare, as it’s known in our family.


  6. jason says:

    In the last 4 years I’ve had 6 tires replaced under warranty! I drive about 2500 miles a year!

  7. In the above photo, it appears that this tire has had all its tread worn off.
    This is a “Baldie” if ever there was one !!!

  8. russ says:

    Wow, learn something new everyday. Thanks for the tip. The only problem I really had one time was with one of my wife’s Toyo tires – belt was slipping – the retailer replaced it and didn’t charge me a thing (at over 10k miles).

  9. george says:

    several other reasons. one is that folks tend to run tires into curbs thus damaging the sidewall. second is that most tires are low profile now so are getting damaged from holes and stuff that wouldn’t bother the older higher profile tires. running on low tire pressures doesn’t help either.

  10. johnnyp says:

    Almost the same story with the same car. Wifey hit a pot hole in downtown Boston in September !!!!! Tore a large gash in the sidewall . Tire junk. The vendor was straight forward “there is no warranty or road hazard guarantee on Michelins”.
    That’s a first , for what those tires cost not much could be done. These people are reputable and I don’t believe I was fed a line. My solution don’t buy the aforementioned. These were stock tires on this car when new. Live learn I guess . Still

  11. Chris says:

    Robert: I respectfully disagree; it looks like it’s been run at a lower-than-recommended pressure for a while, but what you can see of the center tread blocks looks like there’s still plenty of tread left. The shoulders are a little worn, yes, but I’ve seen far worse on otherwise good tires. That sort of wear pattern is usually a result of running tires below their recommended pressure, which causes “cupping” of the tire carcass and excessive wear on the shoulders.

    I suppose it could also be a result of poor front-end alignment, but either way I’d guess these tires had no more than 40,000 miles on them, and probably not even that. Perhaps Sean can clarify for us. 🙂


  12. browndog77 says:

    The tire in the pic has some wear, for sure, but even more of a concern (to me, if it was on my ride) is the apparent dry-rot starting to show. Those small stress cracks are a sure sign of old age, and not necessarily on the car. Some tires are literally past their prime before they are ever mounted. There was a lot of noise about this a few years back when the firestone debacle came about.

  13. Coach James says:

    browndog, I remember reading in one of the trade journals I get that tires have a shelf life. I also read in a different journal that tires do NOT have a shelf life. I think the Firestone business was when these discussions started popping up.

  14. Fabian says:

    @johnnyp: You should be able to bring your car into an Americastire and they will get you a new tire [for free or for a small replacement fee depending on the tire wear] even if you did not buy the tire from them.. [and get free rotations]


  15. ambush says:

    @johnnyp, as of 2005 no major tire manufacturers offer a roadhazard warranty. Tire Warranty is offered through the tire retailer. For what its worth tires do have a shelf life, rubber, even synthetic rubber degrades with exposure to air, UV radiation and even tire black. Tires have a date code molded in, tires newer than around 2000 have a 4 digit code, the first two digits are the week and the last two are the year. Six years is a good rule of thumb but YMMV.
    The problem with Firestone tires on the Ford Explorer, was not due to any defect of the tires or the vehicle, but rather underinflation, overloading and excessive speed. Fords recommended tire pressure was 26 psi, however lack of maintenance caused many people to have tires that were dangerously underinflated. This excessive flexing of the sidewall and overheating caused eventual catastrophic failure of the tire, AKA a blowout. Later Ford increased their recommended tire pressure to 32 psi.

  16. Coach James says:

    Ambush, 26 psi sounds like a really low pressure. I’m not doubting what you wrote, but wouldn’t 26psi give poor handling and reduced mileage. All three of my vehicles have recommended pressure of 36psi.

  17. mr. man says:

    ambush: agreed on all points.. An SUV or minivan with 5-10 psi holding up the right rear tire is common place. I see at least one a day.

  18. ambush says:

    Coach James, that was Fords original recommendation. They later revised it to 32 psi. Seems like a good idea, in hindsight.

  19. spazzikarp says:

    I drive 400 miles a week, and have for the better part of a year now. I go through a tire about every 2 – 3 months. On the last go around, I started getting tires with warranties. Sucks to pay more, as oppose to going to a used tire place, but it pays off in the end. I’ve had tread completely separate from the tire at 90MPH. If you notice your car kinda bouncing up and down at slow speeds, or a lot of vibration at high speeds, it’s time to check them!

  20. BOB says:

    fred im in the exact the same situation, 2005 honda accord, bought 4 new tires in late 2008, went to get an oil change and they found a bubble on my tire. i also have the premium tires and they told me i need to buy a new one and it would cost around 235. hearing that you had the same problem i wonder if it could be a possible defect. those premium tires are mad expensive and they fed me the same bs about how the bubble is caused by wear and tear and no warranty will cover it

  21. Larry says:

    Spazzikarp, If you still drive that much and regularly drive at those speeds. Well, I hope you survive long enough to realize the danger of that combination! A front tire failure on a curve even at legal speeds could cause total loss of controll giving not even enough time to brake to a safer speed.

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