When a tire fails by "tread separation," what does that mean?

A tread separation failure of a tire involves the violent ripping of the tread and/or steel belt(s) from the carcass of a tire while the vehicle is in motion.  These types of failures are also known as "tread belt detachment" failures.  Some people also refer to them more generically as "blow outs," though this is a misnomer because a true blowout involves a sudden loss of air pressure in a tire due to puncture, as opposed to a tread separation failure which involves the loss of integrity of the internal tire structure during operation.   A tread separation failure of a tire is a fatigue failure that usually takes at least 2 to 4 years to develop. The failure mode involves the internal components a tire literally ripping apart violently, usually at highway speeds. Properly built and designed tires will virtually never fail in this manner. Consumers who believe their tires are safe because they still have legal tread depth, generally have no warning that a catastrophic tread separation failure may occur.

If a tread separation failure occurs at highway speed, if often causes loss of vehicle control. Hundreds or even thousands of deaths and serious injuries are caused each year by tread separation failures that did not need to happen.  These types of failures are almost always caused by hidden design and/or manufacturing defects in the tire.  

A lot of people are under the misapprehension that the government institutes rigorous tests which weed out defective tire designs. That is not correct. The Firestone Wilderness AT and ATX tires that were sold to the public and later recalled years later in the tens of millions, passed all government tests with flying colors. Government mandated tests have improved somewhat since the Firestone recalls, but the testing remains entirely self-regulated by the industry and the tests do little to predict or prevent tread separation propensity in tires. Removing any reasonable doubt that government regulations do not prevent the sale of tires containing defects that lead to unreasonable tread separation propensity, one can point to literally dozens of large-scale tire recalls associated with tread separation failures of tires that passed all applicable government testing and regulations. Unfortunately, most tire companies deny that their tires are defective even when they are failing by tread separation in large numbers. They blame the consumers, the weather, the road conditions, etc. It is notable that Firestone blamed consumers for the failures of its Wilderness AT and ATX tires for literally years before massive government and public pressure caused the world’s largest recall.


Chris Roberts is a tire defect lawyer located in the Tampa Bay area.  He has represented consumer victims of tire defects in lawsuits against tire manufacturers literally all over the country.