Cars are capable of making all sorts of sounds — the trick is in knowing which ones you need to worry about. As always, the first step to determining that is finding the source of the noise. You might think that ticking sounds coming from the engine are more pressing than the occasional squeak you hear from your tires, but that’s not necessarily true. So today, I’m going to show you how to reduce tire noise, depending on the factors that have caused it.
In my opinion, dealing with these seemingly harmless sounds is crucial for several reasons. For example, taking these noises out of the equation can help you hear other sounds, such as:
- Honking and ambulance sirens, allowing you to respond accordingly
- Your engine — well, ideally, you wouldn’t hear it at all, but if it is making noise, you should catch that as soon as possible
- The music coming from your speakers (or the person on the other end of the line if you’re making hands-free phone calls)
And in the end, you might find that the noise wasn’t as harmless as you thought it was. You could discover that it was but a symptom of a much bigger problem. And even if you don’t, you’ll be glad you decided to deal with it promptly when the noise stops wearing away at your nerves. With that in mind, let’s talk about all the things that could be causing the sound you’re hearing.
What Causes Tire Noise?
Tires can produce many different types of noise. If they’re having trouble maintaining traction, they might squeak. Ticking and humming sounds can be the fault of broken wheel bearings. In that case, the best solutions should deal with the source of the noise rather than the sounds themselves.
If your tires are noisy, it may have something to do with their features. The properties that matter the most are the size of the tires, their tread pattern design, and the exact rubber blend the manufacturer used.
With large tires, you have a larger surface coming into contact with the asphalt, which naturally results in louder sounds. But even that wouldn’t be a problem if they had a shallow symmetrical tread.
Conversely, the deep and blocky tread you might see on mud terrain tires is usually pretty loud. These also tend to be made of harder rubber, which worsens the problem. Ultimately, soft, narrow tires with a shallow tread are your best bet if you want to keep the noise down.
Of course, not everyone can use those kinds of tires. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to use such plain highway tires on a large all-terrain vehicle. So, in that case, you might have to make peace with the noise — or work on soundproofing your vehicle.
Air Pressure Issues
But what if you happen to have a set of tires that should, by all accounts, already be relatively quiet? Well, there are still two things you may be doing wrong.
If your tires are deflating for some other reason, they will naturally sag and flatten against the ground. That would increase the total surface area of rubber that’s coming into contact with the road, which would produce louder sounds. Of course, if you’re driving with a flat tire, noise will be the least of your concerns. Your car will also heavily pull to the side, making it incredibly difficult to control.
On the other hand, you might be overinflating your tires. The heightened pressure inside can stretch the rubber out and make the tread disappear in some spots. Over time, inconsistent tread wear can start making noise as the tires begin to lose grip.
In addition to overinflation, there are a few other factors that can cause tread wear. The most common cause of it is time. As you drive your vehicle, the tires heat up and then cool when you’re not using them. Eventually, that makes the rubber lose its flexibility and harden. And, as we have established, hard rubber tends to be the noisiest on the road.
All tires start losing tread after several years, which is why we have to change them once in a while. Many manufacturers incorporate tread wear indicators into the design of their tires. These elevated bits of rubber sit inside the grooves of the tread. So once tread wear starts wearing off the indicators, you have to start looking for new tires.
Another reason you might spot bald spots in the tread is that you haven’t been rotating your tires. The front ones can turn left and right, so they usually show signs of wear before the rear ones. To avoid having to buy only two new tires at a time, you have to rotate them front to back or cross them if the tread isn’t an asymmetric one.
Lastly, if the noise you’re hearing is less of a squeak and more of a rattle or a growl, your problem probably lies in the wheel bearings. Sometimes, though, determining the source of the problem just by listening to the noise may be impossible.
If you want to make sure that the sound you’re hearing is, in fact, coming from the wheel bearing and not the tire itself, you could rotate the tires. So if you hear the noise coming from the front right tire, rotate it to the back. The next time you’re driving, if the sound is still coming from the front, the wheel bearing is faulty. If it’s moved to the back, it was the tire.
Alternatively, you can also jack up the car and check the tire manually, as demonstrated in the video. You won’t hear the noise at the same volume as while speeding down the highway. But if you do hear something, take it as a confirmation that the wheel bearing is the culprit.
Ways to Reduce and Prevent Tire Noise
Now that we know about all the things that could cause tire noise, let’s talk about how to get rid of it. There are basically two routes you might take. On the one hand, you could deal with the problem head-on. On the other hand, you could try to muffle the amount of noise you hear in the car cabin with soundproofing materials. In this guide, we’ll start with solutions that are meant to simply block out the noise and then move on to solving the underlying causes.
1. Make Sure the Doors Are Sealed
The first thing you can do to make all kinds of noises less noticeable in the car cabin is to work on sealing the doors. If you’ve read any of my home soundproofing guides, you’ll know that it’s always wise to start with the doors and windows, as they tend to let in most of the noise. So if you feel the air hitting your sides while you’re driving, that’s where the noise is coming from too.
Fortunately, solving this problem is a piece of cake. You just need a roll of rubber gaskets. The installation process is pretty straightforward, no matter which kind you get — it may just be a matter of slipping them over the edge of the door. Alternatively, you can use self-adhesive weatherstripping tape along the insides of the doors.
In my article about car soundproofing, I’ve explained that this method should also cut down on the wind noise you hear inside the cabin.
If the sound your tires are making is also coming in through the cracks in the doors, this should muffle it.
2. Soundproof the Car Doors
Another thing you can do to prevent tire noise from waltzing into the cabin is beef up the doors. You can do it with various automotive soundproofing materials, but I’m partial to sound deadening mats and pads.
However, if you’re unwilling to commit to this project, I can only suggest that you skip right to the portion of this guide that deals with addressing the cause of the noise. If you do decide to soundproof your doors thoroughly, you’ll need to open them up first. That alone can be a challenge for someone who’s never worked on their car — so don’t hesitate to get professionals involved.
I’ve explained the process in as much detail as I could in a previous article. But ultimately, you’ll have to look it up by searching for your vehicle model online — YouTube videos might be helpful in this case.
3. Soundproof the Vehicle Floor
If the tire noise is still painfully audible even after you’ve soundproofed your doors, it would be safe to say that it’s coming in from another direction altogether. That is, the noise could be coming from below, especially if you’re dealing with your tires kicking up stones at the underside of the car.
There are several ways to apply soundproofing materials to the floor of your vehicle. Obviously, the most thorough way would involve removing the seats and carpeting and starting from the ground up. After cleaning the metal, you could use sound deadening sprays or mats, MLV, or even just rubber, to begin with. On top of that, you might add thicker materials like foam pads or even just thicker carpeting.
If you’re feeling a bit lazy, skip the sound deadening mats altogether and just throw down some rugs. Remove the floor mats first, then lay down a bunch of carpets and rugs — the thicker, the better. Then, put the rubber floor mats back in. Hopefully, that’ll protect the carpets you put underneath from grime you’ll bring into the car.
If you’re still not satisfied, active noise cancelation is an excellent way to cancel out continuous road noise. You’d never again hear the whooshing of the wind, the squeaking of your tires, or even engine noise. However, as I have already mentioned, you really want to be able to hear some of that stuff. So perhaps we should move on to finding ways to fix tire noise.
4. Patch or Install New Wheel Well Liners
One of the worst sounds tires can produce wasn’t even included on my list of possible causes. Namely, this kind of noise happens when you drive on roads with a lot of stray pebbles, and the tires kick them up into the car. If your wheel wells are exposed and the metal underside of the vehicle is visible, the resulting clanging can be excruciating. More to the point, it can severely damage your car.
Fortunately, solving that particular problem is relatively simple. You’ll just have to overlay the metal with a material that wouldn’t produce as much noise. If you want to make the liner from scratch, you could do it with MLV or other washable materials. However, you can always just buy plastic ones — like these liners that fit all Ford F-150 trucks except the Raptor.
Installing wheel well liners is incredibly easy, as shown in the video. You’ll just have to wiggle and bend the plastic a bit as you pop it into place then screw it in. And if the liner ever comes loose or gets damaged, you can simply patch it with bits of plastic or rubber.
5. Perform Monthly Checkups
Now, let’s try to find a solution to all of those potential causes I’ve listed. The simplest thing you could do is keep track of the air pressure inside your tires. Ideally, you should check the air pressure in your tires every month to make sure they’re within the recommended range. If you’re wondering what that range is, you’ll find it on a sticker on the inside of the driver-side door.
All you’ll need to perform these monthly checkups is an air pressure gauge, so make sure you have a good one. If the tires are slightly deflated, use your air compressor or the air pump at the nearest gas station to refill them. You should also keep an eye on them to make sure the deflation isn’t going to be an ongoing problem. On the other hand, air pressure can also plummet due to cold weather, which isn’t as much of a problem.
On the other hand, if the air pressure inside is too high, as it can get during the summer months, you’ll want to let some of the air out before you go back to driving. Use your fingers to take the valve cap off, then press into the center pin with a screwdriver.
The air will come rushing out quickly, so make sure you’re stopping to check the pressure every few seconds. You don’t want to go too far!
Lastly, after every 6,000–8,000 miles of driving, you should rotate your tires or have your mechanic do it for you. Either way, doing this should keep the tread from wearing unevenly and causing the noise.
6. Check Your Wheel Bearings
If you suspect the noise you’re hearing has something to do with a wheel bearing, the only thing I’d prescribe is a visit to your friendly neighborhood mechanic. They’ll give your tires a complete workup and establish whether there’s evidence of uneven tread wear, faulty wheel bearings, and the like. If they conclude that one of the wheel bearings was the cause of the noise, they’ll probably have to replace it.
Basically, they’ll remove the tire and brake cover to get to the bearing. At this point, they’ll disconnect the bearing (which usually takes a lot of yanking) and replace it. Finally, they’ll work backward to restore everything to the way it used to be. Honestly, if you don’t know how that is done, I wouldn’t recommend trying to DIY it.
If you’re just interested in seeing the process, check out this video here. As you can see, removing a wheel bearing can be an incredibly strenuous task. But if you’re up to the challenge, you’re welcome to give it a shot.
7. Get a Set of Quiet Tires
Lastly, if your tires were loud as soon as you got them, or if the tread has completely worn off, you may have to invest in a new set. This time around, try to look into getting tires that are going to be quiet right off the bat. Some of the features you might want to prioritize include:
- Softer rubber
- Relatively shallow tread with an even pattern
- Narrow spaces between blocks
- Circumferential channels going all the way around the tire
- Reinforced, semi-closed shoulders
- Smaller sizes
If you want to read more about choosing the best quiet tires for you, I’ve made my recommendations in another article.
Hit the Road Without a Care in the World
Once you figure out what was causing the tire noise, you’ll be able just to sit back and enjoy the ride. Hopefully, the sounds will completely go away as soon as you deal with the underlying problem. But if they don’t, you can also muffle some of them by strategically implementing specific soundproofing methods. If all else fails, you may want to start saving up for a new set of tires or more expensive repairs.