Tire maintenance & safety

Cracked tires: Causes, prevention, and how to handle it

Are your tires beginning to crack? Is it something you need to take seriously? Here’s your introductory guide to understanding cracked tires.

Cracked and Dangerous Tire Sidewall
Last updated 10/09/2023 - Originally published 9/18/2020
Written by SimpleTire, Expertly reviewed by Brett Antosh


  • Inspect tire tread to determine if it's time to replace a tire
  • Tires can crack over time, but not always a cause for concern
  • Tires have a shelf life of 5-7 years
  • Cracks can appear as tires age and dry rot
  • Shallow and limited cracks are cosmetic, not a major concern
  • Deep and widespread cracks indicate a need for replacement

How do you determine if it's time to replace a tire? Inspecting tire tread, of course. When the tread runs out, you know it's time to replace them. However, a low tread is not the only way to monitor the life of your tire.

Just like anything else that's made of rubber, tires will begin to crack over time. That's natural, but is it a call for concern? Not always. In fact, cracks can exist in something of a grey area that makes it hard to determine if tires need replacing or not.

Don't worry. We're going to clear it all up for you today. This way, you'll know whether or not the cracks in your tire are something to worry about.

What causes cracks in tires?

A key thing to understand is that tires do have a shelf life. In other words, they're only good for a set period of time until the compounds break down to the point where they fail to function properly. The good news is that tires should last around 5-7 years under normal circumstances.

As tires age, they will begin to dry rot, and cracks will appear across the surface. It's only a matter of time before they begin to appear on your tires. Whether or not you should be concerned depends on the severity of the cracks.

If the tires are relatively young and the cracks are shallow and fairly limited on the surface of the tire, there really isn't much call for alarm. However, this does tell us that the tires are aging, but it's still more cosmetic than anything.

If, however, the cracks are deep and widespread, you’ll want to replace the tires as it means the entirety of the tire has become brittle. A tell-tale sign that aging is of concern is also when tread blocks begin breaking apart as well.

Dry rot isn't the only cause of cracks in your tire, nor are the elements the only threat. Chemicals are equally as harmful as they too can begin to break down the tire's compound. That's why regular cleanings are so important and why you need to be careful of what you use to clean your tires.

Abusing and neglecting tires can also cause cracking to occur. Improper inflation, overloading the tires, and hard-driving can also lead to cracking in the tire’s tread area. All are signs that you need to adjust the pressure and driving habits before serious damage can occur.

Are small cracks in tires dangerous?

For the most part, you only need to be concerned when cracks are deep or widespread. While small cracks can mean your tires are aging or you have an issue with your habits and routines, they don't necessarily mean it's time to replace the tires.

However, you do need to take cracking seriously, no matter how small. That's because it can be linked to improper care for the tire, and you can take steps to slow the cracking down.

Cracked and New Farm Tire Sidewall

Should cracked tires be replaced?

You should replace tires when cracking is serious. If it's found throughout the tire’s surface and extends deep into the surface, it's a sign that the compound isn't functioning as it should, and replacing them is necessary for your safety. You don't need to replace tires if the cracks are small, but it's probably a good time to start considering a replacement set as the tires are reaching the end of their shelf life.

Can cracked tires be repaired?

Yes, cracked tires can be repaired, but primarily for appearance. The issue can be masked but not repaired. There are fillers on the market that make it easy to fill the cracks in a tire's sidewall on your own. It is something to consider if you deem the cracks unsightly and they are only harming cosmetics.

However, it's essential to understand that this is only an aesthetic fix, and it will not reverse the impacts of dry rot. This method also should not be used for tires with severe cracking because it essentially hides the tire's dangerous state, which can lead to severe issues while driving.

Preventing cracks in tires

Tires will crack with age. Even if you take exceptionally good care of them, it's only a matter of time until the compounds begin to break down. If, however, you do take good care of your tires, you may be able to prevent cracks from beginning to form before the tread wears away.

The first line of defense is proper care. Regularly cleaning your tires and using proper tire formulas for shine and protection will prevent cracks from forming on the surface. It's important that you don't neglect the part facing the inside of the vehicle either, as cracks will begin to form here as well.

Storing the tires properly is another major concern. Spare sets should be stored in clean, dry tire bags and either stacked upright if they're unmounted or flat on their sides if they are mounted. Keeping a vehicle in a climate-controlled garage when the vehicle isn't in use is also important.

Proper maintenance is also key. By making sure the tire pressure is to spec, you essentially keep excessive stress from tearing the surface apart. Also, driving within the tire's speed rating and not overloading the tires will keep excessive force from causing cracking as well.

What to do about cracked tires

So, what should you do if your tires are cracked?

Again, it all depends on how serious the cracking is. If you can determine that the cracks are superficial, you should be fine to drive on them. However, you must continue to care for the tires, as doing so will slow the cracking down. Regularly cleaning the tires and using proper tire treatments is how you do that. It should go without saying that staying up to date with your tire pressure is also important.

If the cracks are serious, you should replace the tires as soon as possible. Even if they are holding air and seem to be in relatively good condition, otherwise, the cracks tell us the compound is ready to be repurposed. The lack of flexibility will lead to issues with traction and excessive wear. In fact, you'll probably notice that the tires just don't perform as well as they used to when the cracks appear to be rather serious.

It can be hard to tell whether the cracks are negligible or severe, though. So, it's wise to get a second opinion when they appear, and we recommend visiting a shop that can assess your situation.

Who do you call for a second opinion on cracked tires? SimpleTire. Our reps are trained to give some verbal aid on the matter and help you better understand why your tires are starting to crack in the first place.

Already know if your tires need to be replaced? Call us anyway. We'll help you pick out the best replacement set and set you up with an installer that can get you back up and running in no time!

Frequently Asked Questions

Tire cracking is often caused by age, exposure to harsh weather conditions, or improper maintenance. Over time, the rubber in the tires tends to deteriorate, leading to cracks.

Not all tire cracks are dangerous, but it is important to have them evaluated by a professional. Superficial hairline cracks may not pose an immediate threat, but deeper and more severe cracks compromise the structural integrity of the tire.

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