How to Check Your Car’s Tire Tread Depth
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Your tires play an essential role as the part of your car that comes in direct contact with the road surface.
Depending on where you find yourself driving—road conditions cover a wide range—your tires help keep you moving by providing traction and a quality ride.
Perhaps the most critical aspect of a tire is its tread pattern, which helps it bite into asphalt, dirt, snow, and slush. And when you encounter wet conditions or standing water, the tire tread prevents hydroplaning, ensuring safe driving.
Over time, the tread on your tires wears down, and it's time for a replacement set. After all, you don't want to compromise on safety when you're on the highway, surrounded by other vehicles.
But how can you know when to replace tires? How can you measure the tread depth of a tire?
Let's look at the subject of minimum tire tread depth, how you can measure it, and when it's time to buy a new set of tires.
The different types of tires
Many types of tires exist for specific applications like snow, all-around driving, high-performance, and off-road conditions.
High-performance tires, or summer tires, are for drivers of sports cars and sports sedans who seek maximum grip during warm weather conditions. Summer tires use sticky rubber that excels in acceleration, cornering, and even during track use. However, when colder temperatures arrive, summer tires lose effectiveness and may be unsafe. And since summer tires use a soft, high-performance rubber compound, they tend to wear out quicker than other types.
All-season tires are the way to go for drivers who want excellent all-around performance for all four seasons. Also known as touring tires, all-season tires allow you to drive in just about any road condition safely, all while providing a pleasant ride. Typically, touring tires have some of the best treadwear ratings, letting you drive many miles before needing replacement.
All-terrain tires, or off-road tires, are made for drivers of trucks and SUVs who seek to venture off of the beaten path in search of challenging terrain. Off-road tires use thick sidewalls and deep treads to lock into dirt and mud and power you through the most demanding trails. But while the design of all-terrain tires helps them through difficult situations, it also hinders their on-road ride quality. And because of their large tread blocks and soft rubber, off-road tires may need replacement quicker than other types.
Winter tires are for those who reside in climates that see regular snowfall and icy road conditions. The rubber compound on winter tires is soft and flexible, helping them maintain performance even when temperatures drop below freezing. And their treads use multiple grooves and "siping" to combat snow and ice. Although you can drive winter tires year-round, they may lead to sloppy handling or longer stopping distances.
Competition tires are for race tracks or other performance driving events like autocross. Typically having a slick surface with no tread, competition tires use varying grades of rubber for maximum grip and acceleration. Although some competition tires are road legal, they aren't the best for daily driving due to their focused intent. And competition tires wear out fast because of their composition and design.
One great way to save on wear-and-tear items like tires is opting to buy a used car instead of a new one because buying used can save you thousands. But where can you go for not only a great price but also a quality vehicle ready for many miles of reliable driving? Shift's certified mechanics perform extensive 150-point inspections on every car and have complete vehicle history reports, so you know your used car feels as good as new.
When to replace tires
Just like the soles on your shoes, your tires slowly wear down with time.
The more of the tread that wears away, the less effective traction, handling, and hydroplaning resistance is available when you're on the road.
In the United States, new tires typically come with 10/32" and 11/32" tread depths, although some winter tires or off-road tires may feature deeper lugs.
A standard rule of thumb is replacing tires when they reach a tread depth of 2/32". Not only does the Department of Transportation recommend replacing a tire when the tread falls below 2/32”, many states require tires to have it as a minimum.
But although your car can pass inspection or drive through optimal road conditions with tread worn down to 2/32", it may be better to replace them earlier. That's because as the tread wears down, tire performance wanes, leaving your vehicle more vulnerable to adverse road conditions like rain, snow, or ice.
Aside from the overall tread depth of your tires, it's essential to pay attention to uneven wear. If your suspension is out of alignment or your tires are underinflated or overinflated, it might cause irregular wear patterns, with the tread worn away in some places more than others. That could cause poor handling, so it's good to inspect your tires from time to time and make a note of how they're wearing.
How to measure tire tread depth
Several methods exist to monitor your tire tread depth.
A simple way to check your tire tread depth is at or over the 2/32" inch limit is by using a penny.
Insert the penny between two tread grooves, with Lincoln's head pointing into the tire surface. If the tread depth covers his head, you still have 2/32" or more left and are good to go for the moment. But if you can see Lincoln's head entirely, it's probably time to purchase a new set of tires. It's also important to check in various locations along the tire's width in case of uneven tread wear.
Other methods to measure tire tread depth include a tread depth gauge or inspecting the wear indicator bars.
You can find a tire tread depth gauge at your local auto parts store, which provides measurements in 32nds of an inch and millimeters. All you have to do is place the gauge in between the tread grooves and check the depth reading.
Lastly, many tires feature wear indicator bars that alert you to the need for replacement. Placed intermittently around the tire in the grooves between the treads, wear indicator bars are 2/32" in height. When the tire tread becomes even with the wear bars, it's time to purchase a new set of tires.
Owning a vehicle brings assorted expenses like fuel, insurance, and replacing wear and tear items like tires and brakes. Finding ways to save money on car-related costs helps keep money in your bank account for other essential obligations. One way of doing this is by securing a good auto loan. Shift works with a network of trusted lenders who compete for your business, so you get the best deal on financing. Applying for financing with Shift is quick and easy, with no cost or obligation. If you have poor credit, don't worry; we welcome co-signers, too.
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April 15, 2022
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