There are three main causes of tire failure: a manufacturer defect, damage due to overloading/underinflation or a road hazard occurrence (punctures, potholes, etc.). Tire technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last several decades, so it comes with no surprise that the latter two causes account for the vast majority of tire failure incidents. And while some road hazard symptoms are more obviously detectable than others, one that seems to confound motorists the most is the development of sidewall bubbles.
Most instances of sidewall bubbles and separation are due to an injury impact caused by running a blunt object or pothole. In a short period of time, the sidewall is folded in half and pinched together, injuring the inner carcass of the tire. As time goes by and the injury goes undetected, air and humidity begin to infiltrate the small gap created by the impact, thus creating sidewall separation. There is no fix for this as rubber cannot 'heal' itself after such an injury. Eventually, the bulge will either grow larger and burst or pop when you run over another pothole.
We get calls often from folks claiming that the sidewall bubbles are due to a tire defect, and when we explain the causes, they're quick to state that they don't remember running over a pothole - which is understandable. There are, however, telltale signs inside the tire that point to impact injury as being the cause for the sidewall bubble. For instance, in the instant the tire hits the blunt object or pothole and deflects, the rim of the wheel makes contact with the inner liner of the tire and scrapes it. This will leave rubber shavings inside the tire which serve as a clue for tire shops to detect failure due to road hazard.
While it's virtually impossible to avoid every single encounter with a large rock or pothole on the road, there are a few things you can do to avoid being left stranded:
- Inspect your tires visually for small lumps and by running your fingers on the sidewall. Also, make sure the tires are properly inflated.
- Once you find a bubble, you should not drive on the tire(s) anymore. Remember that rubber does not heal itself and the problem will only get worse. It's one thing to have the tire fail at 25 mph driving in your neighborhood, but if it happens at 65 mph on the highway it will be something completely different.
- Take the vehicle to a tire shop or mechanic to have it diagnosed. Rubber shavings inside the inner liner may indicate the tire failed because of an impact. You'll want to replace the tire immediately.
The good news is Tire Rack offers a two-year Road Hazard Program with the majority of the tires we sell, and it covers the tires in the event of a puncture or sidewall injury. It's a reimbursement program, which makes it easier to have the tires fixed or replaced. You can take the tires to any shop of your choice, too. After the work is done, all you have to do is call us back and we can start a claim for you so you can get reimbursed. And if you buy the replacement tire(s) from us, you get reimbursed for the shipping as well.