How To Check Tire Tread by Yourself

Let's check that tread depth.

Time Needed: 5 Minutes, Difficulty: Beginner, Cost: Spare change

As the only part of your car that is actually intended to touch the road, it’s easy to see how important your tires are. Unfortunately, they don’t last forever. Over time, normal driving wears away the rubber in your tires, and at a certain point they become unsafe to use. Different types of tires wear at different speeds, though, so it’s important to know how to check your tire tread depth.

You don’t need tools or a shop to check your tire tread. As long as you’ve got some loose change and a safe place to park your car for a moment, you’re good to go. Car Bibles’ editors have had plenty of experience with tires of all types and are here to help you get rolling safely.

How To Know When It’s Time To Replace Tires

Unless you’re riding on a set of Mickey Thompson race slicks, your tires have tread that helps them get traction and remain in contact with the road when it’s wet. In general, there should be at least 4/32 inches of tread depth for a tire to be considered good-to-go. If it’s less than that, it’s time to consider replacing the tire.

Check your tread depth with a penny.
Check your tread depth with a penny. Depositphotos

The Safety Brief

Follow these tips for a safety check.

  • Find a safe place to check your tires. The side of the road or a busy parking lot are not the best options here.
  • Make sure your car is in the park, and/or that the parking brake has been set. There’s nothing worse than the car rolling away while you’re trying to check the tires.
  • If you’re unsure of what you’re looking at, or if there appears to be damage to the tire, it’s best to take it to a shop for a repair or inspection.

The Tools And Parts You Need

You won’t need a whole toolbox to check your tire treads.

The Job: How To Check Tire Tread

Follow these steps for a quick and easy job.

Put Vehicle In Park

Make sure the vehicle is parked safely and that it won’t roll away while you’re trying to inspect your tires. If your vehicle has a manual transmission, set the parking brake for extra security.

Use Coin To Check

If you don’t have a tire tread gauge, you can use a quarter for this job. Take the coin and insert it into the tire tread with the president’s head going in first.  Washington’s head will be your measuring tool. If the tire tread reaches the top of his scalp, you’ve got at least 4/32 inch of tread left. If you can see the top of his head, it’s time to replace the tires.

Use Tire Tread Wear Indicator Bar

Most tires have a wear indicator molded right into the tread. When the tire has worn enough for the wear indicator bar to be flush with the rest of the tread, it’s time to replace your tires.

A tire tread depth tool.
A tire tread depth tool. Depositphotos

The Car Bibles Questionnaire

Car Bibles answers all your burning questions!

Q: Do Tires Have Expiration Dates?

A. Yes! Over time, the rubber compounds in tires breaks down and dries out, leaving behind a tire that is more brittle and prone to blowouts. In general, tires have a usable life of about six years from the manufacture date. That’s why it’s important not to hop in a car that has been in storage for a while for a drive. It might run great, but the tires could have expired while it sat.

Q: Does The Coin Test Work On All Tires?

A. If your tires have tread, then it’s possible to check the tread with a coin. Off-road tires and other types that have extremely robust tread to begin with may be difficult to gauge with a coin, but most other tires can be checked with Lincoln’s or Washington’s head.

Q: Do I Need To Replace All Four Tires?

A. If your vehicle is all-wheel drive, replacing all four tires is recommended. Mismatched tires or tread depths can cause uneven rotational speeds, which can lead to damage. If you’re replacing tires on a front- or rear-wheel drive vehicle, it’s best to replace at least two at a time. No matter what, make sure each of your replacement tires are the same type, size, and brand.

Q: Part of My Tire Tread Is Wearing Off Faster Than The Rest. What Can I Do?

A: If you’re seeing uneven tire wear, one of a few things can be happening. Your vehicle may be out of alignment, which can easily be fixed by a shop. You may also have an over-or under-inflated tire, which is also an easy fix. Other, more serious, causes can include worn steering and suspension components, which will require diagnosis and repair by a professional.

Video Tutorial on Checking Tire Tread

Best Places To Buy Tools and Parts to Check Tire Tread?

Even though you don’t need a garage full of tools to check your tire tread depth, there are a few items that can make it easier. These products include the Steelman Color Tread Measure, Mechanix Work Gloves, and the Everready LED Flashlight.

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