Cracked tire behind text that says Preventing Tire Damage

Cracks in tires should be considered red flags and taken seriously.

Photo: Work Truck

Identifying a defective tire is a concern for any truck driver. Fortunately, there are a few proactive steps you can take to reduce your likelihood of being stranded. A tire may need to be removed from service for several reasons, including tread depth, flat spotting, cuts, cap and casing delamination, improper weight rating, and more.

In this article, we will focus on cracking, often called weather checking, weather cracking, or ozone cracking. 

Tire cracks typically start small and develop in the sidewalls or at the base of the tread grooves. These cracks can be red flags that the rubber is breaking down.

Why Does Sidewall Cracking Happen?

There are many reasons for tire cracking, with a few common causes being:

  • Sun degradation
  • Running the tire on low pressure
  • Dry rot
  • Tire age
  • Overloading

If left unresolved, these cracks can continue to deepen and eventually lead to blowouts or other failures. 

It's important to take these cracks seriously as they may be a sign your tire is going to fail, which can damage your equipment and leave you in a compromised situation on the roadside.

How You Can Help Prevent or Identify Cracked Tires 

Knowing the problem is occuring is the first step to prevention. Check out these three tips to prevent and identify when a problem is occuring: 

1. Perform regular inspections. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) offers a resource on tire safety that recommends daily pre- and post-trip inspections for irregularities. Finding minor issues early can help reduce the likelihood that they will become bigger and worse.

2. Maintain proper tire pressure. 

Finding the correct tire pressure can be complex but worthwhile for both safety and cost. Deviating from tire pressure guidelines can increase your risk of cracked tires, and running on either over- or underinflated tires can reduce fuel efficiency. 

Recommended tire pressure is measured in pounds per square inch (psi) and will depend on the vehicle, the tire weight rating, and the weight of the gross load you are hauling. 

9 Retread Tire FAQs

Do you know the answers to the top nine most frequently asked questions about retread tires?

For lighter vehicles, usually under 10,000 pounds, your vehicle's recommended tire pressure can typically be found on a sticker inside the driver's door or in the owner's manual. Depending upon the tire, its sidewall may list a minimum and maximum psi air tire pressure. 

For larger, heavier commercial motor vehicles, air pressure will increase dramatically over that of a passenger vehicle. If you're still having trouble finding the right psi, your tire dealer should be able to answer your questions.

3. Cover your tires. 

You've probably seen covers on RV tires. The same logic applies to seasonally used work trucks and trailers. If your vehicle will be parked for an extended period, consider covering your wheels to avoid sun damage and mitigate the risk of premature tire cracking.

Cracked tires behind a chart that lists common causes of tire cracking.

If left unresolved, tire cracks can continue to deepen and eventually lead to blowouts or other tire failures. 

Photo: Work Truck

How to Manage Cracked Tires

A tire with cracks is most likely unable to provide the safety and reliability it once afforded and should be replaced. That can mean either replacing the tire or recapping it. 

Department of Transportation (DOT) tire identification numbers are standardized and provide valuable information when deciding whether to recap or replace the tire. 

You can find this information on one sidewall of a tire. When a tire is manufactured, it is given a DOT code. Each code starts with "DOT" and is followed by a string of characters. 

The first two characters are the plant code for the manufacturer, the next are the tire's size and brand characteristics, and the last four indicate when the tire was manufactured. When a tire is capped, a new number is added. Using this information, you can understand the state of your tire, choose whether a tire is too old to recap, and make the best choice for how to proceed.

No one wants to deal with the hazards of a blowout, potential vehicle damage, or being stranded in a compromised situation roadside. Cracks in tires should be considered red flags and taken seriously. Having a tire maintenance program and working with your tire dealer to provide routine and preventive maintenance can help you avoid the worst consequences of cracked, marginal, or defective tires.

All About Truck Tires: Load Ratings, Sizes & More

About the Author: Cliff Johnson has more than 35 years of experience in the trucking industry as a driver and owner and is now the trucking business segment consultant at Acuity Insurance. This article was authored and edited according to WT editorial standards and style. Opinions expressed may not reflect that of WT.