Do your tires need to be replaced? How to tell

How can you find out if your car’s tires need to be replaced or not? Here are some simple ways you can check without making a trip to a mechanic.

Many people are concerned about just asking at a tire shop or mechanic, because they figure they will always say that you need new tires — which, how lucky for you! — they happen to sell.

So is there an easy way for a layperson to tell if your tires are worn out or not? Fortunately, the answer is yes.

Time to re-tire

Do your tires need to be replaced? How to tellMost state laws say that tires are legally worn out when they have 2/32″ or less tread depth remaining. (Yes, this could also be written as 1/16 of an inch, but industry standard is to use fractions based on a 32-part whole.)

All tires sold in North America have “wear bars” in the grooves between the tread that are, you guessed it, 2/32″ tall. So when the wear bars are even with your tread, it’s definitely time to replace those tires.

Realistically speaking, once a tire drops below 4/32″, it can no longer effectively displace water on a wet road, and hydroplaning and a resulting loss of control becomes a real danger. If you live somewhere where it snows, consider replacing your tires when they reach approximately 6/32″ of remaining tread depth.

Figuring it out

Okay, great. So the tread is taller than the wear bars. How do you figure out just how much tread is actually left? Well, you could go out and buy a tread depth gauge. They aren’t that expensive and give a nice accurate reading. However, you probably have all the tools you need to measure your tires’ tread right in your pocket.

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Twenty-six cents for your answer

Here is a simple way you can check without making a trip to a mechanic or auto supply store.

Dig in your pocket or coin jar and pull out a penny and a quarter.

  • Take a penny and place Abe head down into the grooves of the tire. As long as part of his head is covered by the tread, you’ve got more than 2/32″ remaining. Repeat in several areas around the tire to be sure, because tread wear isn’t always even.
  • Grab a quarter and put George head down into the grooves. Repeat in several areas. As long as part of his head is always covered by the tread, you’ve got more than 4/32″ of tread remaining.
  • Now take that penny again, flip it over, and put the Lincoln Memorial upside down into the groove. If the top of the memorial is always covered by the tread after trying several locations across the tire, you have more than 6/32″ of tread remaining.

Check out the photos above to see exactly how you can do this for yourself. (And people say the penny is worthless!)

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