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Checking Your Tires Made Simple: Safe Tread

Updated on February 23, 2012

This article provides basic step-by-step instructions and common tire knowledge for checking Tire Tread Depth, and it's intended primarily for those who have no experience in this area.


Tire Tread

The tread of a tire is the pattern on its rubber circumference that makes contact with the road. Tread provides contact with the road surface to enable the best response time for turning, stopping, and acceleration. They are designed with deep groves called sipes that pull water away from the tread to help keep it in contact with the road and prevent hydroplaning. Tire tread that is in good condition will quicken response time and accuracy, as well as increase your safety.

This tire has uneven tread wear, likely from an alignment issue.
This tire has uneven tread wear, likely from an alignment issue. | Source
Wires may protrude from any point in the tread, depending on wear.
Wires may protrude from any point in the tread, depending on wear. | Source

Visual and Hands-On Inspection

There are several things to examine when your checking the tread of a tire for safety. The first thing to look for is uneven tread wear. Uneven tread wear is commonly caused by an alignment issue with the vehicle, but can sometimes be caused by driving with the tires improperly inflated. If the problem has been there for a while, it will be easy to spot.

1.Starting with the outside of the tire, inspect the outer edge of the tread for smooth bald spots where the tire has worn unevenly with the rest of the tread, or where the tires wire bands are being exposed.

2.Then, you can carefully slide your hand to the inside edge of the tire tread and feel for wires protruding, and smooth balding spots on the inside.

If either of these problems are present, the tires need to be changed immediately. At this point, the tires are unsafe to drive with or on.

* Note, If only the inside of your tread, or only the outside of the tread on all tires is worn, it is recommended you have an alignment done on the vehicle. This same implication and recommendation applies if the tires are worn only outside on one side of the vehicle, and inside on the other side of the vehicle.

*Note, If the tires are worn in the center of the tread only, this wear is likely caused from driving with the tires over inflated. If the tires are worn on both edges of the outside of the tread, it is likely caused from driving with the tires under inflated.

For More Information About This, Please Read:

Checking Your Tires Made Simple: Air Pressure

This picture shows measuring tread with a Euro-coin. A penny can be used as well.
This picture shows measuring tread with a Euro-coin. A penny can be used as well. | Source

Tread Depth; 2/32" Inch Rule

Most Passenger Tires start with about 7-9/32" inch of tread , and 10-17/32" inch tread for LIght Truck Tires. In most states 2/32" inch of tread is considered " illegally low". It is required of most tire manufacturers to have low tread indicators on their tires called wear bars. This indicator is molded into the tires tread, from inside to outside and connects the tread pattern. When the tread becomes even with this wear bar, your tires have reached 2/32" inch, and its time to replace them.

The Penny Trick

If you do not have a tread depth gauge, you can measure the tires tread depth to see if it has reached this critical point by using a penny. With the penny upside down, place it into the groove of at least 3 points across the tread of the tire ( the inside, middle and outside) . If Lincolns head is at all covered by the tread, you have 2/32" or more tread. If it is not covered, you have less than the legal limit, and it is time to replace them. The performance of your tires handling and safety are greatly reduced at this point.


Example of Tread on a Directional Tire
Example of Tread on a Directional Tire | Source
Example of Tread on a Directional Tire
Example of Tread on a Directional Tire | Source

Directional Tires

Directional tires are usually performance tires, and are commonly found on luxury and high performance vehicles. The tread on these tires were designed to function a certain way with the performance of the vehicle they are on. They have a specialized tread pattern that has directional sipes.

Most tread patterns on directional tires point the direction they should be facing. It would resemble and arrow in the design, pointing to the front of the vehicle.

Also, you can also find arrows on the sidewall of the tire that will tell you which way the tire should be facing.

For obvious safety reasons, it is important that the tires are installed in the right direction, all of them.


A Myth About Tread

Often, inexperienced people will have incorrectly inflated their tires and it have caused uneven tread. Most commonly, people tend to try to fix this problem by doing the opposite of what caused the problem to begin with.

An example being, the tires had been over inflated which caused the center of the tread to wear down. To remedy this, people often then under inflate the tire so that they have more tread making contact with the road. Although in theory, this works, it can often cause more damage than good, and if the tire is already showing signs of wear in the middle, it will continue to wear down faster than the rest of the tire regardless of what is tried. The best solution is to inflate it properly to get the most out of it, or have it replaced if it the damaged arera is lower than 2/32" inch.

For More Simple Information Please Read These Related Articles:

Checking Your Tires Made Simple: Flat Tires (How determine if a flat can be safely repaired, and how to install a spare tire.)

Checking Your Tires Made Simple: Sizes, Ratings and Design (How to figure out your tire size, speed ratings, and what types of tires are right for your vehicle, etc.)

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    • samurray profile image

      samurray 5 years ago from Marion, OH

      I learnt this from my Dad and Grandpa and it's always good information to know especially if a person doesn't know what to look for. Thank you for putting this article on here for those who don't know.

    • Abdul Wahabone profile image

      Abdul Wahab 4 years ago from Yanbu Al-Bahar, Al Madinah, Saudi Arabia

      Thanks for sharing this informative hub........

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