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A Surprising Tool To Measure Tire Tread Wear Is Already in Your Pocket


Everyone wants to make sure their car is safe to drive. Most people know how to check their tire pressure and coolant level, and are conscientious about regular oil changes. They know that regular maintenance is the key to keeping their car working at peak efficiency. However, many people don't know how to check the tread on their car tires.

Tire problems are a factor in 1 out of every 11 vehicle crashes, usually resulting in an expensive auto repair. Worn tread is one of the primary reasons for crashes caused by faulty car tires. In fact, vehicles with shallower treads (less than 1/16" deep) were three times more likely to experience pre-crash tire troubles than those with deeper treads.

Treads are grooves in car tires that offer stability and traction. Car tires slowly lose their tread, similar to the way a pair of running shoes lose their grooves as you run. As tire treads wear down, they lose the ability to hold onto the road, especially in wet conditions. Checking a tire's treads can help keep a car safer on the road, and keep you out of the auto repair shop. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends checking a vehicle's tires at least once a month. Luckily, it only takes a few minutes and a little pocket change to check the treads of a car tire.

How to Check Car Tire Treads

Take a penny from your pocket or purse. Try to use a shiny penny instead of a dull one, as darker pennies will not work nearly as well. Take the penny and insert it, upside down, inside the grooves on each tire. If the top of Lincoln's head is covered by the treads, the car tire has at least 2/32" of tread remaining. This is the minimum recommended tread depth for a car tire. If you can see Lincoln's head, it is probably time to look for new tires.

Continue checking the car tire at intervals of around 15" or so. Be sure to check the central grooves as well as the outer and inner grooves. Different tread levels can mean the car tire has uneven wear. That's a sign that the car needs a front end alignment or a tire rotation.

While the minimum safe tire tread depth is 2/32", NHTSA recommends replacing car tires at the 4/32" mark. The additional tread helps tires handle water and snow much better. More tread also translates to a shorter stopping distance. A Consumer Reports study showed that car tires worn down to half of their original tread depth (about 5/32") had a substantially increased risk of hydroplaning. They had longer stopping times in the rain, reduced traction in snow, and showed an increase in stopping distance even in dry conditions! If you want to be extra safe, use a quarter instead of a penny. If the top of Washington's head doesn't show, the car tire has at least 4/32" tread on it.

When Should Car Tires Be Replaced?

Usually, people think that only worn tires need to be replaced. This is true, but older car tires can be an issue as well. As a car tire ages, it becomes more susceptible to failure, regardless if they have been used or not. Car tires age whether the vehicle is driven on or not, so be sure to check the tires on collector cars, community vehicle, RVs, and trailers too. Don't forget about the spare tire as well.

Manufacturers recommend a trip to the tire shop when car tires are 6 years old, and to never go more 10 years without new tires. To determine the age of a tire, look at the last four digits of the Tire Identification Number (TIN), which is on the wall of the car tire. As an example, "1415" indicates that the car tire was made in the 14th week of 2015.

If a car's tires are low on tread, it is highly recommended that they be replaced with new car tires as soon as possible. If you're in the Los Angeles area, the professionals at West Coast Tire can help, and help you save money, too. Stop by their website to see the best tire matches for your vehicle, at the best possible prices. And remember, when it comes to car tires, bald is definitely NOT beautiful!