How to Check Tire Tread Depth

close up of tire tread

Are you wondering, “How do I check tire tread wear?” You’re in good company. If it’s been a while since you replaced your tires and you’re wondering if it’s time to buy a new set, then checking your tire tread depth is a good first step to take. But how do you perform this elusive auto maintenance task, you may ask? It’s actually quite simple. All you need is a ruler or penny, and you can check your tire tread depth at home in Hayward or Rice Lake, WI! You can also, of course, invest in a dedicated tire tread depth gauge, if you prefer. Either way, if you have questions after the fact or decide that it’s time for a new set, contact us to take the next steps at Don Johnson Motors.


Learn More About Tire Tread Depth

When your new vehicle rolls off the assembly line, its tires will usually have a tread depth of about 10/32 or 11/32 of an inch (about a third of an inch). The same is true when you replace your tires with a new set. That is, of course, unless you opt for dedicated winter tires or possibly off-road tires with deeper treads.

When should you replace your tires, though? When your tires reach 2/32 of an inch, it’s time to replace them with new tires, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That’s not a suggestion, by the way — it’s the law. That’s because driving with adequate tire tread depth is essential to maintaining sufficient grip and traction on the roads of Cumberland and beyond. 

When your tires go bald, it’s much easier to hydroplane or lose control on roads with ice, water, mud, or compacted leaves, among other surfaces. Plus, when tires get too old or dry-rotted, it’s more likely that you’ll experience a blowout. But enough about replacing tires. Here’s how to check tire tread using the penny test!


The Penny Test for Checking Tire Tread Wear

Turning to a ruler is the most accurate way to actually measure tire tread depth by the millimeter, but if you can’t find one lying around — or if you are on-the-go and you want to check your tires, perhaps on the road — a penny will work just fine. Here’s why.

The design and dimensions of the U.S. penny make it an ideal tool for checking tire tread wear. While it won’t give you exact measurements, it could be helpful in alerting you about whether you require new tires ASAP or if you can wait a while. Here’s how to use a penny to check tire tread wear on your car, truck, or SUV:

  1. Insert a penny with Lincoln’s head/silhouette visible. Then, put it head-first into a tire tread groove on your vehicle.
  2. Is Lincoln’s head covered (no longer visible between the grooves)? Check to confirm if it is visible or hidden.
  3. If you can see Lincoln’s head in its entirety, sorry — your tire tread depth is 2/32 inches or less and you’ll need to shop for new tires at our parts center or elsewhere in Rice Lake, WI. 
  4. Repeat this process on all four tires and in multiple locations on each tire, since it’s not uncommon for tires to wear unevenly.
Checking tire tread with a penny

How to Check Tire Tread Wear: Alternate Options

With the advent of credit cards and mobile payment options, many people no longer carry around loose change. That’s why we’re happy to recommend other methods for how to check tire tread wear (which are actually more accurate than the penny test anyway):

  • Use a Tire Tread Depth Gauge: A dedicated tread depth gauge usually provides the most accurate tread measurements aside from a ruler. To use one of these handy tools, just put the probe into the shallowest tread groove, then press the top bar of the gauge flat against the tire to see the treadwear rating. Today’s tire tread depth gauges are available with manual measurement sticks as well as digital screens, eliminating the guesswork sometimes associated with manual measurement.
  • Use the Tread Wear Bars Built Into Your Tires: Many tires from big name brands like the ones we sell at Don Johnson Motors come equipped with tread wear indicator bars built into the tire treads. If equipped, you’ll see them at the bottom of the tread grooves in multiple locations across the tire. How do you read them? If the bars are flush with the tire ribs that surround them, it’s time for new tires.

Don Johnson Motors is Here to Address Your Tire Care Needs!

Looking for more information on how to measure tire tread? We can help! We can also equip you with the new tires you need to maximize performance and efficiency for your particular car, truck, or SUV. Once you’ve put new tires on your car, don’t forget to follow our guides on how to properly maintain your tires. 

After all, we want you to get the most life possible out of your investment! Though there’s often a range for how many miles tires last, here’s some helpful information on how to make your tires last longer.

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