Your tires may look simple. But in reality, there’s a lot going on right there on the surface. Here we’ll talk more about the design of your tire treads, share some helpful tips about measuring tire tread depth, and give you some simple guidelines to help decide if you need new tires.
6/32" or higher
The tire’s tread depth is sufficient.
If you drive in snowy or icy conditions, consider replacing the tires.
If you drive on wet roads, consider replacing the tires.
Consider replacing now; your tires are very close to being worn out.
2/32" or less
Tires are legally bald, and must be replaced now.
I HAVE BALD TIRES. IS THIS A PROBLEM?
The quick answer is: yes! Maintaining the proper tire tread depth is a vital part of your driving safety and performance, and anything less than that means it’s time for new tires. Let’s talk for a moment about how your tires are designed to work. The surface of new tires includes a pattern of knobs, shapes, and grooves that work together to grip the road and allow your vehicle to accelerate, brake and corner properly. Newer tires also help maximize the fuel economy of your vehicle. So, when the depth begins to wear away, you’re sacrificing performance, safety, and fuel efficiency. Ideally your tires would never get bald, so if they’re that far along, it’s time to replace them as soon as possible.
MY TIRES ARE LOSING TRACTION. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
If you’ve noticed that your tires don’t perform like they used to (especially in rainy or snowy conditions), you should check your tire tread depth to see if your tires are worn beyond the recommended level. It’s normal for your tires’ grooves to get shallower over time, but at a certain point, they should be replaced to help ensure your safety. To test your tread depth, find a tire tread depth chart online or at your tire retailer, then purchase a tread depth gauge to measure the tires on your vehicle.
IS THERE A STANDARD ON HOW TO CHECK TIRE TREAD?
Absolutely. You can use your tread depth gauge and tire tread depth chart to determine how much tread is left on your tires. But before you do that, it helps to understand how tire tread depth is measured.
In the United States, tire tread depth is typically measured in increments of one thirty-second of an inch (1/32”). New tire tread depth is typically between 10/32” and 12/32”, with the treads on some off-road tires going as deep as 15/32”. (Keep in mind that this is a nominal measurement; the actual usable tread depth on a tire with 10/32” depth is generally 8/32”.) When tires wear down to a depth of 2/32”, they’re considered “bald” and they can no longer meet the daily challenges of driving. They also become more susceptible to flats, punctures, and even complete failure.
Once your tread depth gauge reads 2/32” or less, don’t wait to get new tires. They must be replaced right away. If you don’t have a depth gauge and tire tread depth chart, you can also use that classic American life hack: the tire tread penny test. Take a penny and place it into the shallowest groove on the tire with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If all of Lincoln’s head is visible above the tread, your tread depth is 2/32” or less and your tires have reached the end of their useful life.
WHEN DO I REPLACE MY TIRES?
So let’s say your tires passed the “penny test,” but now it’s time for a more precise measurement. Here’s how to measure tire tread. Grab your tread depth gauge and insert it into the shallowest groove on the tire. Press the shoulders of the gauge flat against the tread, then check your measurement against these guidelines:
6/32" or higher: The tire’s tread depth is sufficient.
5/32": If you drive in snowy or icy conditions, consider replacing the tires.
4/32": If you drive on wet roads, consider replacing the tires.
3/32": Consider replacing now; your tires are very close to being worn out.
2/32" or less: Tires are legally bald, and must be replaced now.
Your tires also have tire tread wear indicator bars that you can look at for a quick measurement. But if you want a second opinion—or better yet, exact measurements from a trained technician—stop by your local Jiffy Lube® for a full tire inspection. Your technician will check your tread depth and also inspect the tires for cracks, cuts, and bulges that can indicate other tire issues.
The technician can also recommend new tires if needed, or perform a tire rotation to help extend the life of your current tires. Over time, taking good care of your tires can help maintain fuel efficiency, provide better performance, and maintain your tire manufacturer’s warranty—hopefully keeping more pennies in your pocket, and not just in your treads.