Piston Slap: It Ain't Easy Being on the Front Left!

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
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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 sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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2 of 16 comments
  • MBella MBella on Nov 21, 2011

    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.

  • Tuckerdawg Tuckerdawg on Nov 22, 2011

    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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