Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How do I check my Tire Tread for Wear?

“The best way to keep children at home is to make the home a pleasant atmosphere and let the air out of the tires.”
- Dorothy Parker
During the winter it's especially important that your car's tires have a good grip on the road. I've already experienced black ice and curves slick with pouring rain this season. Are my tires in good shape? How can I tell?

 Coin Test
Use the coins in your pocket for a quick tread check.
  • Place a penny upside down in a tire groove with Lincoln facing you. If the tread reaches the top of Lincoln's head then you have 2/32" or more of tread.
  • Turn the penny around and upside down again. If the tread reaches the top of the Lincoln Memorial, then you have 6/32" of tread.
If you are between 2/32 and 6/32 inches, try this test...
  • Place a quarter upside down with Washington facing you. If the tread reaches the top of Washington's head then you have 4/32" or more of tread.
Be sure to check both inner, outer and middle grooves of each tire, because tires can wear differently on each side, due to improper wheel alignment or low inflation.

Wear Bar Test

Tires sold in North America are required to have "wear bars" which run across the tire from the outside shoulder to the inside. When the tread is worn down to the "wear bar" then it's time to get new tires.

Bottom Line

New tires typically begin with 8/32 to 12/32 of tread depth (deeper for snow tires).

According to most states' laws, tires are legally worn out when they have worn down to 2/32" of remaining tread depth (i.e. top of Lincoln's head).

If wet roads are a problem, consider replacing your tires with 4/32" of remaining tread depth (i.e. top of Washington's head). New tires aren't cheap but cost less than an accident.

If snow is a problem, put on new tires or snow tires when the tread depth falls before 6/32". But don't toss the old tires away. You could put the old tires back on in the spring and wear them down to 4/32 or more when the snow is gone.


To prolong the life of your tires' tread, make sure your tires are properly inflated at all times. Over or under-inflated tires can put extra wear on the rubber, decreasing your car's fuel efficiency and even making it more hazardous to drive during bad weather. Consult your car's instruction manual or driver-side door panel for advice on the right air-pressure levels for your tires 

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