How to Check Tire Tread Depth

Somewhere in every community, there's that one traffic light. The one on the hill. The one nobody wants to get stopped at when the road conditions are slick and slippery. Maybe you've even witnessed someone stuck there? The light turns green, the wheels start to spin, and they go nowhere. Or worse, they start sliding sideways or backward. Not only is that not fun, but it can also be scary and dangerous.

At Mavis Tires and Brakes, we want to make sure our customers drive with confidence. So, let’s talk about tire tread.

We’ll explain what tire tread is, why it’s essential, and go over how to check tire tread depth.

Proudly serving the community for over 70 years, Mavis Tires and Brakes is built on a foundation of providing outstanding customer service. We offer the fastest, friendliest, and most affordable tire repair and replacement in your area. At the first sign of tire trouble, head to your local Mavis.

LC Image - How to Check Tire Tread Depth

What Is Tire Tread Depth?

Tire tread depth is the measurement of the vertical depth from the top of the tire’s rubber to the bottom of the lowest groove.

Tread is the rubber of a tire that makes contact with the surface you’re driving along and is responsible for traction. Traction gets your car moving and provides resistance for stopping. Basically, traction is how well a tire grips the road’s surface.

As we drive, it’s normal for tire tread to wear down. The friction created by driving causes tread wear. Rough road surfaces, potholes, and hard braking also contribute.

Tire tread depth is so important because as the tread wears down, you start losing traction. That’s why it’s crucial to pay attention to your tire tread depth and know how to check tire tread. Because driving on tires with bad traction can become an incredibly slippery slope.

The Consequences of Driving on Tires With No or Low Tread

Your tire tread is literally where the rubber meets the road.

If you’ve ever had to slam your brakes to avoid hitting something—the car in front of you or the neighbor's cat—you understand that even a few feet can be the difference between relief and an unfortunate event. Even if you’ve recently had your brakes replaced, your stopping power can be undermined by the condition of your tires.

Tires with insufficient tread depth are a serious hazard to you, your passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians.

Some facts about tires with no or low tread:

  • Worn tires are more prone to lose air pressure which reduces fuel efficiency

  • Low tire tread makes it more difficult to gain traction on snow-covered or icy roads

  • Tires with low tread are more likely to hydroplane on wet road surfaces

  • Bald tires are much more vulnerable to punctures and blowouts

  • Tires with low tread reduce a vehicle’s ability to stop effectively in all road conditions

According to field-tested data from American Automobile Association (AAA), when traveling at 60 mph, vehicles with worn tires needed an additional 87 additional feet on average to come to a complete stop compared to the same vehicle (at the same speed) with new tires. Plus, the vehicle with worn tires was still moving at 38.8 mph at the same point the new-tired vehicle was able to stop.

How to Check Tire Tread Depth

There are several simple ways to measure tire tread depth. The first three are easy DIY methods. In fact, they’re about as easy as digging out a handful of spare change from under the couch cushions. Just make sure you grab a quarter and a penny.

Quarter Tire Test

Take a coin with good ‘ole George’s imprint. Place it in a groove between tire treads with Washington's head facing down. If the tire tread covers part of his head, your tires have at least 4/32 inches of tread left. 

If you can see the top of Washington’s head, it’s time to get Honest Abe’s opinion.

Penny Tire Test

Like the quarter test, insert a penny into a tire tread groove with Lincoln’s head upside-down.

If the tire tread is flush with the top of Lincoln’s head, you only have 2/32 of an inch of tread left. Many states require tire replacement at 4/32 inches. If your tires don’t pass the penny test, you should replace them immediately.

Tire Tread Depth Gauge

Although it costs a bit more than a quarter and a penny, a tire tread depth gauge is an inexpensive tool to check tire tread depth. 

A standard tire tread depth gauge measures in increments of 32nds of an inch. Insert the probe bar into a groove and slide the flared shoulders down until they’re flush with the tread on either side. The measurement at the top of the gauge is your tire tread depth.

Pro Tip: When checking tread depth, make sure to check the tread on all four tires. You should also check several different areas on each tire.

Are you wondering how to check tire tread depth without doing it yourself? There are two simple ways.

Tread Wear Indicator Bars

Some tires have tread wear indicators built in. These indicators are raised rubber bars embedded in the tire’s grooves. Typical wear bars are 2/32 inches tall. When your tire tread wears down to the point that the wear bars are flush with the tread, it’s time to replace your tires.

Professional Tire Tread Check

If you’re not sure your tire tread depth is in good condition, it’s a good idea to get the opinion of Mavis, your local tire care specialist. Or maybe you’re just not the DIY type and would rather leave it to the professionals? Either way, a full inspection can be done fast and efficiently when you choose Mavis. Schedule an appointment today.

Tire Tread FAQs
How accurate is the penny test for tire tread depth?

Every penny minted has the exact same dimensions. The distance from the edge of a penny to the top of Lincoln’s head is exactly 2/32 inches. This is why the penny test is an accurate measure. But, when tire tread gets that low, driving is very unsafe. For that reason, most experts feel the penny test is outdated. The quarter test is a better and safer measure of tire tread depth.

What is the limit for tread depth?

Tire tread depth is measured in 32nds of an inch in the U.S. The standard tread depth for new tires is 10/32 inches or 11/32 inches. Specialized off-roading and winter tires may have deeper tread depths.

Tires with 2/32 inches of tread depth or less must be replaced immediately. Most states and trusted tire manufacturers recommend replacement when the tread depth reaches 4/32 inches.

How often should I check my tire tread?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)—a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)—recommends you check your tire's tread at least once a month. They suggest doing it at the same time you check your tire pressure.

What should I do if my tire tread is too low?

Once you’ve learned how to check tire tread correctly, you may notice signs of uneven wear. Maybe the tread depth is lower in some areas than in others. Sometimes, simply having your tires rotated can help extend the life of your tires.

Of course, if your tread is too low all around, the best option is to visit your local Mavis.

Get New Tires at Mavis Tires and Brakes

Tire wear is unavoidable. As your tire tread wears, tires become less effective, and traction is reduced. When the tread depth reaches that 4/32-inch level, it’s time to start planning to get new tires. 

When you know it’s time for a new set of tires, you need tire experts you can trust. When you want superior customer service and first-rate tire repair service, visit Mavis Tires and Brakes. After many years of providing customers with a great experience, we’ve built a reputation you can trust.

As one of the largest independent multi-brand tire dealers in the U.S., we offer great deals on tires. With generous manufacturer rebates, tire promotions, and special offers, we have the right tires at the right price.