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First off, it’s important to know that car tires do not get dry rot.

Rubber trees can – as can all other trees, but rubber does not. A car tire can appear to be rotting when it is aging and drying out – this gives it a rotting appearance. 

Anyway, for the rest of this article, we’ll use the term dry rot as it is commonly used to explain the problem of tires failing early.

If you notice any dry rot, also known as sidewall cracking, it’s time to replace your tires. The older the tire gets, the more likely it will get dry rot. Tires over five years old are more susceptible.

It can be tempting to delay replacing the tires but what you see on the surface of your tire is only a small snippet of what is happening inside the tire. The tire is weakening and has an increased chance of failing at speed. 

Advanced dry rot in tires is dangerous because it weakens the rubber and allows air to escape. 

Even in tires with minor dry rot maintaining correct tire pressure becomes a real struggle.

The worst-case scenario is that tires with dry rot can explode at high speed.

Below, we’ll add some flesh to the bones and examine what dry rot is, what it looks like on tires, and ways to prevent it in the future.

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What Does Tire Dry Rot Look Like?

It looks like thin veins over the wall of your tires. In advanced cases, these veins – which are, in fact, cracks – become wider and more noticeable.

The usual black tire color is often replaced with a faded greyish tinge as the rubber starts to succumb to rot.

A brown coloration on a tire is not dry rot but a natural occurrence and is nothing to worry about.

What Causes Tires To Be Affected By Dry Rot?

Dry rot occurs when tires become dry and brittle. This results from ultraviolet ray exposure, weather cracking due to extreme heat and extreme cold temperatures, underinflation, inactivity, and some car wash chemical makeup.

When this happens, the rubber loses flexibility and structural integrity and becomes brittle.

Dry rot can’t transfer between different rubber objects but can be between trees and substances in construction, for example. That being said, if all tires have been subjected to the same maintenance, cleaning, and exposure to the elements, all are likely to fail if one has.

What Causes Dry Rot in Tires?

Harsh Chemicals

Some harsh chemicals will strip your tires of natural oils and dry them out well before the tread has worn away. These chemicals are often found in cheaper car wash detergents. How much exposure your tires get to these harsher chemicals depends on how often you wash your car.

Wrong Tire Pressure

Overinflation will put extra strain on the tires and stretch them slightly. This overtime will allow any smaller veins to widen and allow any lubrication within the rubber to escape. Underinflation can cause the tire wall to crease slightly and, although not noticeable to the human eye, will start the process of drying out.

Extended Hot and Dry Weather and UV Rays

Hotter, drier weather will cause tires to lose their oils more quicker. Also, UV rays will damage the tires too. If possible, park your car out of the sun, especially if you live in states with high annual sun hours.

Lack of Driving

Driving your car will keep the tires more supple. Any supple compound that isn’t used will fail earlier. Driving to the bottom of the road and back is good, although getting the tires up to road temperature is even better. This may require a longer drive.

Bad Storage Conditions

If you store your winter or summer tires in the garage, keep them out of sunlight and away from generators and welding equipment. These produce ozone which can also damage the rubber. If you’re only using these tools occasionally, that’s fine, but extended use will damage your tires.

What Does Dry Rot In Tires Look Like?

Veins on the Sidewalls

Dry rot normally shows itself as veins in the tire quite early on. These veins aren’t veins at all. They are very small cracks. Once you have these on your tire, there is no way back. 

Paving cracks on a badly rotted tire.
Paving cracks on a badly rotted tire.

The Color Has Faded Away.

A very early sign that your tires may have dry rot is they change color from jet black to a gray color. This often happens before the veins or cracks are seen.

Cracks On the Tread.

When you see cracks on your tire’s tread, it is time to take action – if you haven’t already.

The tread can be the last to exhibit veins or cracks – it’s normally the sidewall first.

When you see them here, it’s bad news and indicates your tires have extreme rot. It doesn’t matter how much tread is left on the affected tire. 

Dry rot can still split them regardless.

Brittleness.

Your tires become dry and less supple as a result of dry rot. They start losing the oils embedded within them during the manufacturing process.

How to Prevent Tire Dry Rot

As most car tires need replacing after 30,000 miles, as long as you can prevent your tires from getting dry rot until your car reaches this milestone, you’ve saved yourself a few hundred dollars. Here we’ll look at what you can do to ensure they last until the tread wears away.

Use A Less Harsh Chemical Cleaner 

Look for non-petroleum-based cleaners and washing solutions for your tires.

It’s not essential to keep your tires clean, but it looks good when they are clean. However, if you haven’t got a gentle cleaning product, you’re best leaving them dirty.

Harsh chemicals will sap away the oils that make the tires supple. Don’t use them. Most well-known brands do not have harsh chemicals in their solution but tread carefully with imported cheaper ones. It’s a false economy to use these on your tires.

Basic Tire Maintenance

Keep your tires inflated at the correct pressure. Overinflation will stretch the tires slightly, while underinflation can cause minute folds on the tire wall. Both lead to cracking.

Regular tire care reduces the risk of dry rot. Get your tires rotated and balanced when needed. If you live in a state with very cold winters, don’t forget to increase the tire pressure accordingly. You don’t want to be driving around all winter with underinflated tires and have to buy new tires.

Driving close to the tire’s speed rating can also cause the tires to fail sooner than they should.

Properly Store Tires In the Garage.

Many drivers swap over their winter to summer tires and vice versa and keep the ones they’re not using until the season’s change in the garage. It’s the natural place for them. 

Just be aware that some tools, such as welders and electric motors, produce Ozone. A little is fine for your tires, but a machine running a lot  – maybe as part of a business – will produce enough ozone to damage the tires.

Direct sunlight is also a tire killer. If your garage has a window, try and store the tires away from it.

Drive Your Car

Like our bodies – inactivity makes us less supple. It’s the same with tires. Take your car out once a week for a short drive, preferably long enough to get some heat in them.

Park Out Of The Sun 

You can alternate what side of your car is parked towards the sun. If one side of your drive or street gets more sun than another, occasionally reverse into the drive or park your car facing in the opposite direction.

This will distribute the UV rays more evenly and stop one side of your car’s tires from drying out too quickly.

Is It Safe To Drive On Tires That Have Dry Rot?

In short, no, it’s not. You can never truly know what state the tires are in. Although it is reasonable to say that most of the damage would be visible, some damage can occur under the surface and not be easy to see. There is always a risk in driving a car with even slightly rotted tires. 

That being said, not everyone can afford to get their tires replaced instantly and may need to wait until payday to afford it.

If you have just noticed the tires have veins in them – and you check their condition regularly, it would be reasonable to assume the tires have only recently started to dry out. You’ll probably be okay driving for a short while at a reduced speed until you can afford to replace the tire(s).

In conclusion

It’s time to replace your tires if you see any indications of dry rot, often known as sidewall cracking—the likelihood of dry rot increases as the tire ages. Tires older than five years are more prone.

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