Common Causes of Tire Noise and How to Fix Them

Car tire forest road
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Automobiles—driven by exploding fuel, pushing through the air at upwards of 100 mph—are noisy. No doubt you enjoy a quiet ride, and automakers and tire manufacturers spend millions trying to reduce noise. As you become accustomed to your own vehicle's "soundtrack," you'll likely notice when something doesn't sound right, such as belt noise, wind noise, or tire noise.

There are a few reasons tire noise might occur. Some tire noise, of course, is perfectly normal, the result of the tire material interacting with the pavement. Depending on what kind of tire you buy, it will generate more or less noise but also more or less traction, wear resistance, and so forth. Tire noise can also be the result of something faulty, such as abnormal tire wear or a broken belt. Fortunately, there are simple ways to identify these problems and correct them.

Normal Tire Noise 

Tire engineers and designers go through many iterations to develop tires that generate the right balance of traction, drag, shock absorption and wear resistance. From touring tires to aggressive off-road tires, each tire generates a specific tone. Some tires are designed for a certain vehicle or vehicle type, to harmonize with the rest of the machine. Changing tire brands, sizes, or types could very well change the noise that you experience.

Low-profile tires typically generate more noise because there is less rubber sidewall to absorb it. This noise gets transmitted through the chassis and the rest of the vehicle. While these tires offer improved traction, they can sometimes generate excessive noise.

Wide tires generate more noise than narrow tires because there is more rubber in contact with the road. More rubber provides more traction at the expense of more noise.

Each tire type has a unique sound profile. Touring tires and low-rolling-resistance (LRR) tires are typically the quietest, while snow tires and off-road tires are the noisiest (studded snow tires are even louder). Performance tires and all-season tires fall somewhere in between. Because of their stiff sidewalls, run-flat tires (RFT) are usually noisier than non-RFT tires.

Abnormal Tire Noise

Once tires are installed on a vehicle, there is much that can go wrong, leading to excessive noise.

Abnormal tire wear, such as feathering or cupping, can be caused by alignment or suspension problems. Once the tread surface is no longer smooth, the tires will generate more noise. Tire replacement is necessary, but suspension repair and realignment will prevent the problem from resurfacing. Regular tire rotations—every 5,000 to 8,000 miles—will prevent excessive wear from causing tire noise.

Tire damage and flat spots can also cause tire noise. Tread separation and shifted belts are common results of defective construction, overinflation, and curb or pothole hits, leading to out-of-round or out-of-balance tires. Tire slapping and tramping can be disconcerting and damaged tires should be replaced immediately. Flat spots are often caused by a vehicle sitting too long in one position, sometimes even a single winter night, but are resolved as soon as the tire warms. Increasing cold tire pressure can reduce these flat spots from occurring in certain circumstances.

Alignment problems can also produce noise by causing tire scuffing. When the wheels are not aligned during a turn, a tire can shift sideways instead of rolling forward. Normal tire wear, when tire tread depth is very low, can lead to the same noise. Combined with excessive speed, this can cause tire squealing and possibly a loss of traction. To prevent excessive noise, ensure that tires are properly inflated, slow down during turns, and have your suspension checked for damage and proper alignment. Replace tires before they get to 2/32” tread depth.

Tires are just four of the many moving parts on your vehicle, but they are important for utility, comfort, and safety. If you experience excessive tire noise after a tire upgrade, it could be related to your choice of tires. If you experience a sudden or gradual increase in tire noise, you may need to have a professional inspect and repair your vehicle. Always address tire noise as soon as possible to ensure that it is not a safety concern or an indication of a larger problem.