Outside edge of front tires stairstepping

Is it normal for the outside edges of the front tires to be stairstepping on the outer inch or two only?
By stairstepping, I mean that you can't see the wear all that much but if
you rub your hand over the tread in one direction, you can feel a lip on each side swipe tread.
If you run your hand over in the other direction, you don't feel it. You only feel it if you run your hand from back to front on the outside tread of the two front tires.
If you do the same with the rear tires or on the inner edge of the front tires, you don't feel any 'stairstepping".
The tires are about a year old and are wearing the front outside edges only.
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Chaya Eve wrote:

What you feel is known as feathering, one side of the tread block wears more than the other. If you looked at the end of the block it would appear as a wedge.
It is commonly caused by improper toe settings and if on one edge only by improper camber angle as well. BUT it can also be caused by using a common tire on a vehicle that is driven aggressively. IE high speed cornering. That places a lot of weight on the outer edge of the tire and tries to force it to roll under. That will wear the outer edges rapidly.
Now if you had one spot that was "normal" then a wear spot then "normal" going all the way around the tire that would be cupping. That is normally a suspension wear problem.
--
Steve W.

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That was a far better answer than I had expected so I appreciate your expertise. The vehicle was aligned but probably about 2 years ago (while the tires are about a year old).
The car is driven on a five mile hill every day with scores of hairpins but it's NEVER driven fast. Those turns are made probably at 20 to 25 MPH (you can't take the turns any faster and stay on your side of the road).
Could that steep (10% or so) continuously twisting 5-miles each way every day have caused the "feathering" you explained my "stairstepping" to be?
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On 7/6/17 3:15 AM, Chaya Eve wrote:

Bet you a dollar that if you took your ride into a good repair shop, they'd find that your alignment is out of spec...
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If it is the alignment, do you concur that it's a combination of the front camber (tilted out too high at the top) and toe (turned inward too much at the front).
The tires are "feathered" only on the outside edge of the tread (last inch or two) evenly on both tires, but only on the front.
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On 7/6/17 9:26 AM, Chaya Eve wrote:

Above my pay grade.
For anything other than the over-inflation wear pattern (center tread wear) I take it in for an alignment.
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On 6/07/2017 11:26 PM, Chaya Eve wrote:

Camber does not cause feathering. It does cause wear on one side.

The greatest cause of outside edge tyre wear is overenthusiastic cornering.
One point I should note. By all means have your alignment checked. One thing that can cause feathering is a bent steering arm. Typically, a bent steering arm will cause a change in toe. If the technician just corrected the toe, he will have missed the real issue and the car will now have incorrect *toe out on turns*. A *toe out on turns check* should always be done at a wheel alignment as it will show up issues like bent steering arms.
--

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I think the advice so far is good in that it's either of these two: 1. Too much camber (top spread out) + too much toe (front spread in) 2. Hills with curves
If it's the alignment (camber plus toe) it can only be fixed with an alignment. If it's the hills with curves, there's nothing to fix.
The fact that the rear tires have no obvious strange wear might be a clue to help. Would the hills with curves also affect the rear?
Or do hills with curves only affect the front feathering?

I don't enthusiastically corner. Period. I drive slowly. But I can't change the five miles each way that are hills with sharp curves where most are hairpins and there is no stripe in the road since it's too narrow for a center stripe.
I'm guessing the speeds are 20mps or so but the turns are extreme.
Would that only affect the front feathering leaving the rear unfeathered? It's a rear drive 2WD basic SUV with a solid rear axle I am told.

Anything can happen at a pothole or curb but I seriously doubt anything major is "bent" since I'm the only driver and it was thoroughly checked two years ago when I bought it, including a full four wheel alignment.
My main question is how to determine if the front feathering is only due to the 90 and 180 degree corners on a 10% grade (I'm told) I have to go through at 20 mph every day (at least twenty of them each way).
Would that type of hilly curve NOT affect the rear tires at all?
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On 7/07/2017 2:45 AM, Chaya Eve wrote:

Short answer, no. Totally different suspension. The front is lateral arm.

The front wheels are the steering wheels. They have the appropriate geometry, the rears do not.

You have a solid live rear axle in that vehicle. There is no possibility of a camber or toe adjustment at the rear. There is no change in camber due to suspension deflections.
--

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Thank you for confirming why the rear tires could wear flat while the front tires seem to wear, as others said, on the outside edge (feathering) due perhaps to the excessive camber due to the tires "rolling" on the downhill 20mph steep 10% many curves.
My "problem" with doing another alignment is that one was done two years ago due to tires being 'wasted' but in this case, I don't want to waste an entire brand-new tire just to doublecheck that alignment.
I realize this is a philosophical issue but it seems to me to be a crime that alignment costs are such that they waste one of the four things they're designed to save. In the case of the 4Runner, they waste one of two things they're trying to save (the front tires).
It's a philosophical issue though, because it's the same cost:benefit issue you make when you decide to get a heart transplant or a back operation.
Assuming costs in my area are about $100 (on sale) for an alignment and about $100 per tire (includes mounting), the philosophical issue is that the alignment costs 1/2 of what you're trying to save.
Philosophically, is it a smart decision to definitely kill half of what you're trying to save, just to measure to see if it needs to be saved?
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On Sat, 8 Jul 2017 14:36:03 +0000 (UTC), Chaya Eve

You don't need to replace the tires to do the alignment.
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wrote:

I must not have made the philosophical argument clear if you say that, so let me just outline a WORST CASE scenario (philosophically speaking).
1. Assume alignment is fine (for the worst-case scenario philosophically) 2. Assume front tires only are wearing on the outside edges (feathering)
How much does a brand new tire cost, mounted? About $100.
How much does an alignment check cost, on sale, where I live? About $100.
That's a philosophical tradeoff of 1 mounted tire to 1 alignment check.
The logic is thus: A. If the alignment is obviously bad, then it will cause excess wear to EVERY tire ever put on the front axle, so, of course, you have the alignment fixed because of the obvious cost:benefit ratio.
B. However, if the alignment is actually ok, then it's not cost effective to have the alignment checked since the best you will do is save partial wear to the tires but at worst, you just threw away an entire brand new tire ($100) just to have the alignment checked.
My point is that checking the alignment costs as much money as does a brand new tire, so, where would you rather put your money IF the alignment is actually OK?
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On Sat, 8 Jul 2017 16:32:25 +0000 (UTC), Chaya Eve

The way you're looking at this, there's no point in doing anything. Once the tires are feathered, there is nothing you can do - they are essentially ruined. If they are not dangerously worn, and not noisy enough yet to drive you nuts, then just forget about it. You can do an alignment when you finally replace the tires.
At the same time, it would be nice to know that your front suspension and steering parts are not dangerously worn, and that should be checked in an alignment. But it's your car, your life, and your money, so do whatever you want. You've gotten solid advice here, you just have to make a decision.
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wrote:

I agree with you that the advice is "solid" here. * It could be normal given the steep slow many curves, or, * It could be both the camber and toe is too positive.
The only way to tell whether that's the case is to sink $100 into an alignment.
I don't think it's at the level of "dangerously worn" though but you seem to think so (but on what evidence?).
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On Sun, 9 Jul 2017 05:51:14 +0000 (UTC), Chaya Eve

No, I have no reason to think that. What I did say is that they are ruined, and nothing can change that, even if they are still usable and safe. If you rotate the tires, you'll just ruin the back tires, too. The feathering itself does not make them dangerous, but they will become noisy, if they aren't already.
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On Sat, 8 Jul 2017 16:32:25 +0000 (UTC), Chaya Eve

You can have an alignment CHECKED - if no adjustment is required, for a whole lot less than $100 if you get it to the right shop. Also, you do not need a "4 wheel" alighnment. The toe in can be easily checked, even without a fancy alignment machine, by anyone worthy to call himself a mechanic. Less than half an hour's work either way if no adjustment is required. Either way, I'd pay to MAKE SURE rather than take a chance on having to keep throwing tires at it.
That said - in YOUR SITUATION, the first thing I would do is check and verify tire pressures, and AIR UP 5 PSI.
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That's the HOLY GRAIL of services if it exists.
What would be perfect is a "free alignment check" and no charge if the alignment doesn't need adjusting - but that may never happen for two reasons. * Alignment is a range (it's not just a single number), and, * Nobody offers that anyway (that I can find).
Second-best (and perfectly acceptable) is a $25 alignment check-only, just like I go to diagnostic-only smog stations, where all they do is MEASURE the front toe and front camber (which is all that I need).

I've been reading up on alignment where the Toyota only has front camber/caster (which is one setting) and toe, so that's all I need are those two things.
If I can find a shop who will do those two CHECKS for around $25 that would make logical sense.
But to pay for an entire mounted tire just to save on a mounted tire seems like throwing good money away logically as it was aligned two years ago (and at that time, it needed it because the front left was wearing really fast).
Now they're wearing evenly.

I googled how to check toe and LOTS of people seem to be using string. All I need is to tie a string to the center point and then cut the ends off on each side at the center of the tire tread in front and in back at the midpoint of the wheel axle.
That's a cost of four strings!

I completely understand and agree that if EVERY tire was wearing unusually fast (which is what happened two years ago to the left front tire), then a $100 alignment makes perfect logical sense.
But to pay the cost of an entire 40,0000-mile tire just for a remote chance of getting a thousand or two thousand miles out of the process seems like a horrid cost:benefit ratio to me.
A $100 alignment is an entire $100 tire completely wasted (in terms of opportunity cost) if the $100 alignment is not needed.

Here's what I definitely will do given the really sound advice. * Since I never check PSI, I'll start using 40psi (35 is normal) * Next time I'll get stiffer sidewalls (105S instead of 102S) * I will rotate every change of seasons (I cross hatch with no spare) * I will take the downhills slower (if I can but I'm always the slowest) * I will look for a $25 toe/camber-caster only check around town
To me, if a $25 toe/camber-caster only check existed, it would be a no brainer. But to definitely throw away a perfectly good $100 40K-mile tire in opportunity cost just to possibly save a couple thousand miles of wear on two tires seems not like an obvious cost:benefit logical decision of a $100 alignment.
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I would be very, very suspicious of anyone who did this. They likely have some kid who knows how to put numbers into the machine doing the job, instead of an alignment expert doing the work.
It's going to take the tech about half an hour to do the suspension check over....going around pulling on things and hitting things with a mallet and getting some sense of the general condition of the suspension. Then he is going to spend ten or fifteen minutes talking with you about how you drive, THEN he's going to start measuring the suspension. So figure an hour's time for a full-priced technician just to look everything over.

What you MOST need is the guy pushing and prodding and hitting things with a hammer to make sure everything on the suspension is stable. The actual alignment on the machine is the easy part and the less important part.
You take it to the tire store, they put it on the machine, they measure it, they put shims in so everything looks good on the machine and they declare it aligned. But if you have anything loose and worn, it will be out of alignment again by the time you get it out of the shop. Before putting it on the machine you need to verify this isn't the case.

It's maintenance. Every 3,000 miles you change the oil, and you look over all the hoses and belts and check the fluid levels just to make sure everything is okay. You're not wasting time or money doing the check just because it _is_ okay. You spend the time or money to make sure it stays that way. Every once in a while you need to check the state of the suspension as well.
And yeah, finding someone who actually knows what they are doing and who can do a careful alignment is rare, and it's worth supporting that person. --scott
--
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This makes logical sense that the industry might not benefit from having a $25 alignment check only.
In a way, one could argue that it's like having an appointment to the doctor where they only checked your eyes for the need for glasses and nothing else.

Again this is logical. An hour could easily be $100 shop rate.

I never disagreed that it's best to have the alignment checked. I only pointed out the "opportunity cost" was an entire mounted tire.
Cost of alignment check = cost of 1 mounted tire
The logic is so inescapable that I was surprised people had trouble with that math, since it's simple logical math that they teach you in school all the time ("opportunity cost") although the "true cost" is what I need to calculate, not just the upfront cost.

Yes. I know. I talk to them while they're aligning my vehicle and I ask what they're doing. Sometimes they kick me out behind the yellow line but other times they let me walk around with them.

This is a good point in that it's the standard cost of maintaining a car just like rotating the tires and changing the oil is.
I just wish it didn't cost as much as the thing it's trying to save! I think the price point is set too high - but you've made a point that it's an hour and an hour costs what an hour costs. Period.

Trust in the mechanic is also important. I agree.
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You don't do maintenance to save your tires. You do maintenance to save your life.
Maybe you have a tie rod going bad. Maybe you have a steering knuckle wearing out. Probably not, but unless you check it, you don't know. And if you do have a front end problem, the only symptom you may have is odd tire wear. So you check it out.
You check the front end because the consequences of front end failure on a twisty road are very, very bad and may well involve your head becoming separated from the rest of your body as your vehicle rolls down the side of the mountain.
Tire life? Who cares. Tires are cheap, passengers are expensive. --scott
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