By on November 21, 2011

Matt writes:


I own an 06′ Hyundai Elantra GLS hatchback and tire wear on the front left tire has been much worse than the other three, despite rotating the tires. The outside of the front left tire is worn down so that it is smooth and now I can see a secondary layer of rubber being exposed. At first I thought maybe there was something wrong with the alignment but I took it to three places, one wanted to charge me a $90 “diagnostic” fee so I walked and the other two couldn’t find anything wrong. One place mentioned that since I had directional tires I couldn’t really get a proper rotation and thats probably what’s causing the wear.

My best guess is between the directional design of the tire tread and the nature of my driving it has caused extreme wear on the outside of my front left tire. The other three tires look fine and seem like I could get at least another year out of them. Anyway, my question is should I just replace the front left with an inexpensive replacement and get the remaining life out of the other three or should I just replace all four with an asymetric set? Factors to consider are that I live in the Northeast so I do get snow but it is not a requirement that I be out on the roads when it is falling so snow tires are not important, just a decent set of all seasons. Also I am a student right now so the cheaper option is more appealing to me but not if it is a minimal one. I have about 35k on the tires right now and they are General Altimax HP’s.

Sajeev Answers

It has nothing to do with the tread pattern of your tires. Damn son, you don’t need to pass everyone around EVERY corner!

I’m serious! But it’s all good. Before balancing things out with proper rear anti-roll bars, my rear-wheel drive cars normally had more wear on the front than the rear. It magnified my desire to push my vehicles hard, but not hard enough to induce oversteer and raise the ire of my neighbors…and the local law enforcement. So perhaps I shouldn’t cast stones from within my glass house.

Front wheel drive vehicles are prone to extra front tire wear because those doughnuts have to both accelerate and steer the vehicle. It’ll abnormally wear out the best of rubber. Combined with your obvious lead foot and the Hyundai’s lack of a limited slip differential, the left front wheel takes more than its fair share of tire wear.

What to do? I would recommend more handbrake turns or lift-off oversteer, but that’s pretty terrible advice for a hoon like yourself. The short-term answer is to get one tire to replace the worn out one, as this isn’t an AWD vehicle that demands equal tire circumferences. That’s the easy part.

The hard part? Getting you to chill out when you’re behind the wheel.

Send your queries to [email protected] . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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16 Comments on “Piston Slap: It Ain’t Easy Being on the Front Left!...”

  • avatar

    One wheel peel FTW!

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    How often are the tires rotated? For FWD vehicles I’ve usually had to rotate every 9000 miles to get even wear.

  • avatar

    Slow down aroung right hand turns.

    Oh, and if it’s the Altimax UHP, good luck finding 1. They have been discontinued. Because of that I have 3 UHPs on my car and one cheap W rated tire after my wife got a flat and thought it was ok to drive 2 miles home on it.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s the Eclaim UHP that has been discontinued. Which is a shame because that was a fantastic tire at a very good price. The Altimax HPs are still around. TireRack lists a full load of Altimax HPs.

  • avatar

    Here is a situation where downfalls of strut front suspension design cause some problems. You are driving a relatively vanilla commuter appliance in an admittedly spirited fashion. Worse, you have a base-model with extra-vanilla.

    Being in the Northeast you probably deal with many cloverleaf interchanges which cause more undue wear on the left front due to continual unidirectional turning, or perhaps worse you reside in the bizarre bastion of “turn right thrice to turn left” that is New Jersey. This lopsided loading pattern combined with a spirited (let’s call it for what it is-aggressive) driving style with a vanilla marshmallow suspension causes all kinds of positive cambering which is what is wearing out the outside edge of your tire.

    You can have your alignment set with increasing amounts of static negative camber. Lowering your car will do this, as a shorter spring/strut forces more negative camber. Sajeev hinted at antisway bars which could possibly knock this problem out of the park; prevent the body roll and you prevent the cornering-induced positive camber. You would need both front and rear, or upgrades to the existing ones, to help out.

    Stiffer springs won’t help and might actually hurt. You want a high roll stiffness to reduce body roll but a compliant suspension to allow jounce under cornering load. Maintaining high jounce travel will counteract the roll-induced cambering. Without jounce travel body roll angle equals camber change angle.

    Another area that may or may not help your specific problem is an increased tire diameter. Ignoring the attendant problems this creates, a larger diameter tire on the same width & offset wheel causes the point at which the kingpin axis intersects the ground to move outward from the vehicle’s centerline. This in effect will reduce the scrub radius at the outside edge of the tire at the expense of increasing the scrub radius on the inside edge of the tire assuming that your car’s suspension is designed with this virtual point located inside of the outer sidewall already. Given you’re experiencing outside edge wear on the left and not inside edge wear on the right this is an acceptable tradeoff if you can deal with the ways it will affect ride height, gearing, and speedometer calibration. The effect of this will probably be small, especially compared to potential improvement from a swaybar package and/or increased static negative camber.

  • avatar

    Student or no–proceed with haste to your favourite tire store and replace the TWO front tires with same size rubber–no need to get the same brand as your other tires. Put the best 2 of your remaining 3 on the rear, and you are set. Just rotate the fronts side to side every 10K or so and my guess is all the tires front and rear will wear out about the same time so in a couple of years you can get a new matched set of 4.
    IMHO don’t waste your time and money trying to re-engineer the suspension. This is a 6 year old Elantra. Keep good tires on it so you don’t die and save your money for a newer car.

    • 0 avatar

      Why are the best tires going on the rear?

      • 0 avatar
        TwoTone Loser

        Its a safety thing. It was always thought to be more economical to put the best in the front and let them wear, but in a skid or slip, having the worse tires on the front lets the driver know when they are pushing the limit of what the tread can handle.

        If the worse tires are on the rear, often the driver won’t know when the rear tires let go and they are facing the wrong way coming out of a turn.

      • 0 avatar

        Interesting way of looking at it.

        I always thought you would put the better tires on the drive wheels to maximize traction. I thought that was especially important on a FWD car, with the front wheels responsible for acceleration, the bulk of the braking, and steering.

        I definitely see the safety argument though.

      • 0 avatar

        Realistically there is no good place for a bad tire. You need good tires at all 4s. Having bad tires on the front of a FWD car negates most functions of the wheels since they provide all of the traction, steering, and most of the braking. Bad tires on the rear cause poor stability as you said.

  • avatar

    The odds are very good that you have an alignment problem. What you are describing is usually the result of one tire not pointing in the same direction as the other three; friction and tire wear are the result.

    The only way to find out for sure (and fix it) is to put your car on an alignment rack and have the lasers and computers make an accurate diagnosis. The actual work of fixing the problem is relatively easy and cheap, but you cannot find out what needs to be done without doing the diagnostic, and that will not (nor should it) be free. The cost is in paying for the alignment machine, trained technician, and shop overhead; the labor to make the adjustments is relatively minor.

    You should be able to find a chain repair shop offering a $59 – $79 alignment special. If you don’t make this relatively simple repair you will replace tire after tire. Good luck.

    • 0 avatar

      Here in Michigan, Belle Tire does free alignment checks. They put the car on the rack and get a reading. It makes them money because it only takes a couple minutes to set the car up on the rack, and since most cars have at least front toe of, it becomes an easy sell for the alignment at that point. Maybe there is a place in your area that does the same.

  • avatar

    It’s probably alignment or front end/ suspension related. Determining the exact cause is going to be difficult for someone on the internet who hasn’t seen exactly what is happening or how bad it is (or isn’t).

    Have the front end looked at, including components such as the tie rod ends. If there is a problem with the suspension, then the front end is going to need to be realigned, anyway, so don’t get an alignment prior to confirming that there aren’t any other issues. This is probably not that big of a deal.

  • avatar

    I don’t understand “wear on the front left tire has been much worse than the other three, despite rotating the tires.”

    If the LF corner of the vehicle has a problem (such as excess positive camber) and rotation is done frequently enough then the wear pattern should appear on multiple tires.

    If however the tire which is currently LF is the only one with a bad wear pattern despite being rotated then it may be a defective tire. I had three tires on a trailer once which all wore on the inside edge. Coopers IIRC. The replacement tires wore evenly.

    My suggestion is to replace the LF tire (it sounds like it’s worn enough to be dangerous) and then monitor the wear of the new one. If it’s the same pattern then you likely have an alignment problem.

  • avatar

    It is going to be an alignment issue. That is the only way you are getting uneven wear on just one tire. It is probably a camber issue since toe would wear the same on both front tires. This could be caused by bad ball joints, wheel bearings, or struts. Struts would be my first guess, especially since the two shops didn’t find anything. Your burn outs could wear one tire more than the other, however it should still wear evenly.

  • avatar

    Hey guys,
    This is the original poster, thanks for all the advice. First thing I did was to get a cheap used tire put on to buy me some time to shop around. Then I ended up taking it to a reputable shop and it turned out that an alignment was exactly what was wrong. Also after I took a second look at the other three tires they were pretty much gone too but they still looked pretty good compared to the front left. I figured I might as well replace all four with winter coming up so I got a set of kumho ecsta lx platinums. This made a huge difference, no squibbing to left on onramps and lane changes are much more predictable. Plus the car is rock solid on the parkways. I do a lot of onramp/offramp driving so yeah this probably has something to do with it. Sajeev, I can’t believe you figured me to be a hoon just from me describing tire wear. I guess I do drive my car close to its limits and I know backing off would go a long way towards tire longevity but where is the fun in that. In my defense once there is a lot of traffic on the road, the weather gets bad, or I enter a residential area I do slow down and drive with caution. Its too bad this car doesnt at least handle a little better but I am hoping to have it paid off by february and then possibly sell it to get something more enthusiast oriented. Who knows maybe another piston slap by early spring lol. Cdotson, I am very tempted to put antisway bars on my christmas list for santa. Problem is I dont think anyone in my family would know what they are :P

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