Common Causes of Tire Humming Noise and How to Fix Them

Car tire forest road
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Automobiles are noisy, driven by exploding fuel, tires gripping pavement, and pushing through the air at upwards of 100 mph. No doubt you enjoy a quite ride, and automakers and tire manufacturers spend millions in R&D to reduce noise wherever possible, some more than others. As you’ve become accustomed to your own vehicle’s particular “soundtrack,” you’ll likely notice when “something doesn’t sound right,” such as belt noise, wind noise, or tire noise.

There are a few reasons tire noise might occur. Some tire noise is perfectly normal, as tires strike a delicate balance of factors. Depending on what kind of tire you buy, the balance swings one way or another, generating more or less noise but also less or more traction, wear resistance, or some other factor. Other tire noise can be caused when something goes wrong, such as abnormal tire wear or a broken belt. Here are a few tire noise issues that many people experience and a few things that can be done to address the problem.

Normal Tire Noise 

Tire engineers and designers go through many design iterations to develop a tire that generates the right balance of traction, drag, shock absorption, wear resistance, and noise generation. From touring tires to aggressive off-road tires, each tire generates a specific tone. Some tires are specifically designed for a certain vehicle or vehicle type, to harmonize with the rest of the vehicle. Changing tire brands, sizes, or types could very well change the noise that you experience.

  • Low-profile tires, a 40-series tire compared to a 65-series tire, typically generate more noise because there is less rubber sidewall to absorb it. This noise gets transmitted through the chassis and the rest of the vehicle. Tipping the balance to traction, many are put off by excessive tire noise.
  • Wide tires, a 265/ tire compared to a 235/ tire, generate more noise than narrow tires because there is more rubber in contact with the road. More rubber is more traction, but also more noise, again showing the effect of tipping the balance.
  • Each tire type also has a unique sound profile. Touring tires and low-rolling-resistance (LRR) tires are typically the quietest, while snow tires and off-road tires are the noisiest – studded snow tires are even noisier. Performance tires and all-season tires fall somewhere in between. Because of their stiff sidewalls, run-flat tires (RFT) are usually noisier than non-RFT versions.

Abnormal Tire Noise

Once installed on the vehicle, there’s much that can go wrong, leading to excessive tire noise.

  • Abnormal tire wear, such as feathering or cupping, can be caused by alignment and suspension problems. In turn, feathering and cupping generates noise because as the tread surface is no longer smooth. Tire replacement is necessary, but suspension repair and alignment will prevent the problem from resurfacing. Regular tire rotations, every 5,000 to 8,000 miles, prevent excessive wear from causing tire noise.
  • Tire damage and flat spots can also cause tire noise. Tread separation and shifted belts are common results of defective construction, overinflation, and curb or pothole hits, leading to an out-of-round or out-of-balance tire. Tire slapping and tramping can be disconcerting and such damaged tires should be replaced immediately. Flat spots are often caused by a vehicle sitting too long in one position, sometimes even a winter night, but is resolved as soon as the tire warms. Increasing cold tire pressure can reduce these flat spots from occurring in certain circumstances.
  • While alignment problems can cause abnormal tire wear, it can also directly cause tire noise if it causes too much tire scuffing. This can occur when the alignment angles don’t keep the wheels aligned in a turn, forcing one tire to scuff sideways instead of rolling forward. Normal tire wear, when tire tread depth is very low, can lead to the same noise. Combined with excessive speed, this can lead to tire squealing and possibly a loss of traction. Ensure tires are properly inflated, slow down in turns, and have your suspension checked for damage and proper alignment. Replace tires before they get to 2/32” tread depth.

    Tires are just four of the many moving parts on your vehicle – some estimate upwards of 30,000 – and are important for utility, comfort, and safety. If you’re experiencing excessive tire noise after a tire upgrade, it could be related to your choice of tires. If you experience a sudden or gradual increase in tire noise, you may need to have a professional inspect and repair your vehicle. In any case, address tire noise as soon as possible to ensure that it is not a safety concern or indicative of a bigger problem.