How To Check Tire Tread – 2021 Guide

| Last Updated: March 13, 2021

You’ve probably heard the phrase “tire treads” a million times before, and you might have a firm or slight grasp of what they actually do.

But one thing that no car owner should be without is the ability to check a tire tread. Because of the role that tire treads play in traction and safety, they’re an integral part of the safety of your vehicle.

So, if you’re not quite sure how to check a tire tread, read on to find out.

Why You Should Check Tire Tread

So, you might be wondering why you should check your tire tread depth, and that’s a valid question. Quite simply, your tires are made of rubber. When you drive down the street, this creates friction which slowly causes your tires to disintegrate. If you’re an aggressive driver, this can cause your treads to wear down even faster. Even if you buy tires with a life span of 50,000 miles, this style of driving can take miles off their life span.

With less tread on your tires, your car doesn’t get the same amount of grip driving down the road. This can lead to dangerous driving conditions that can cause concerns when turning and cornering, potentially putting your safety at risk.

In general, a tread depth of 2/32 of an inch is about as low as you can go. Once your treads wear this much, you should replace your tires as soon as possible. 

However, some tire manufactures and tire shops now say that 4/32 of an inch is about as shallow as you want your treads. This is because a tread with a depth of 4/32 of an inch is still relatively safe in snow, mud, and rainy weather. While 2/32 of an inch or 3/32 of an inch may pass safety tests, neither has been proven effective or safe in less-than-ideal weather conditions.

How to Check Tire Tread

Checking your tire treads — or at least getting a rough estimate of tread depth — only requires you to dig through the change in your pockets. If you have a penny or a quarter, you’re in luck. Both of these coins provide a semi-accurate tire tread that’s second only to a professional tire shop.

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The Penny Test

A tried and true way to check your tire tread is called the penny test. That’s because the distance between the edge of the penny and the top of Lincoln’s head is approximately 2/32 of an inch — the bare minimum tread depth to maintain safe control of your vehicle.

To conduct the penny test, just follow these steps:

  1. Turn the penny upside down with Honest Abe’s head facing you.

  2. Place the penny in the tread.

  3. If you can’t see the top of Lincoln’s head, you can continue to drive on your tires.

  4. If all of Lincoln’s head is visible, your tread depth is less than 2/32 of an inch, and you should replace your tires immediately.

The Quarter Test

Because more tire repair shops and experts tend to err on the side of caution, they often recommend a tread depth of no less than 4/32 of an inch. Thankfully, a U.S. quarter has a distance of roughly 4/32 of an inch from the edge to the top of Washington’s head.

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To conduct this test:

  1. Turn the quarter upside down with Washington’s head facing you.

  2. Place the quarter in the tread.

  3. If you can’t see the top of Washington’s head, your tires are still good to go.

  4. If all of Washington’s head is visible, your tread depth is less than 4/32 of an inch, and you should consider replacing your tires within the next few thousand miles.

Using a Depth Gauge

One handy tool that’s far more accurate than a quarter or a penny test is a depth gauge. All you need to do is insert the pin (middle part of the gauge) into the tread. Then, press down on the handle. The depth gauge will then show you the exact depth, giving you more precise measurement.

Quick Safety Tips

Before you conduct any of these tests, make sure your vehicle is in the park, the ignition is off, and the parking brake is engaged to prevent the vehicle from rolling.

Don’t Let Your Tires Tread on You: Check Your Tire Treads Regularly

Checking your tire treads is as simple as sticking a piece of change in the treads. With a test this easy, there’s no excuse for not checking your treads at least once a month. Your safety depends on it.

People Also Ask

Checking your tire treads with U.S. currency is about as easy as you can get. But what if you live in Canada or you have other questions about tire treads related to upkeep or safety. If these are some of the concerns you’ve had, check out these questions that people also ask about how to check tire tread and general tire tread information.

What is the Average Time to Check Tire Tread?

If you have a penny or a quarter handy, a check of your tire treads shouldn’t take more than a few seconds. For the sake of convenience, always keep a quarter or a penny in your car’s cup holder, ashtray, or center console.

Is the Penny Test For Tires Accurate?

Although the penny test was the gold standard for checking tire treads in the past, sentiment has somewhat shifted toward the quarter test. 

According to some experts, the penny test doesn’t leave a deep enough tread to provide adequate traction in wet or snowy weather. And while even the shallowest tread that passes the penny test may be fine on dry pavement, it won’t provide the recommended tread depth that the quarter test affords.

What is the Tread Depth of a New Tire?

Depending on the tire and its desired usage, the tread depth of a new tire is usually either 10/32 or 11/32 of an inch. This means that you’ll have 8/32 or 9/32 of an inch of wear before the tread becomes shallow enough for you to lose significant grip.

How Do I Know If My Tire Tread is Too Low?

If your tread is 2/32 of an inch or less, it’s considered worn out and needs immediate replacement due to safety concerns. 

The penny test is the quick method to determine whether you have enough tread left, although you should remain apprehensive or cautious when driving in inclement weather.

How Do You Check a Tire Tread With a Toonie?

Canadians shouldn’t have to worry about crossing the border for a penny or a quarter. A toonie will do just as good a job to check a tire tread. Place the toonie in the tread with the bear facing you. Then, follow these instructions: 

  • If you can see some of the writing where it says “dollars,” you need new tires, as the tread is too worn.

  • If the silver section is covered, you’ve worn your tires approximately halfway down.

  • If the bear’s paws touch the top of the tread, you’ve got a brand new tire essentially.

How Often Should You Check Your Tire Tread?

One good practice that responsible car owners implement is to check the tire tread any time they check tire pressure. Experts agree that this constitutes a once-a-month check of the treads, although, with brand new tires, you can probably get away with bi-monthly inspections.

Is 50 Percent Tire Tread Good?

Yes, your tires are perfectly good to drive on at this depth. New tires come with tread depths of about 10/32 of an inch, you need to understand what 50 percent means. Since a tread that’s 2/32 of an inch deep is considered worn out, 50% tire tread is actually around 6/32 of an inch. 

What is the Minimum Tire Tread Depth That Is Safe?

Most experts and mechanics agree that 2/32 of an inch is the shallowest a tread can be while still maintaining reasonably safe traction.

To that effect, 42 states have 2/32 of an inch as the minimum tread depth to still pass a state safety inspection. Idaho and California’s limit is at 1/32 of an inch to pass a safety test, while six states (Montana, New Mexico, Arkansas, North Dakota, West Virginia, and South Carolina) have no statewide standards regarding tread depth.

An ex-salesman of industrial equipment, Shawn used to drive nearly 60K miles a year just commuting to clients. He also has a little project Miata build going on the side. Safe to say, Shawn has slain a few tires in his days. He knows all about horrid road-noise, hydroplaning risks, and how much damage a bad alignment can do to your wallet. He enjoys helping us out and Chris always values his opinion when designing something new for the website.