How To Check Tire Tread By Yourself

It’ll only take a minute.

The rear of a red 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500.
Ford

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Checking a tire’s tread depth is so easy that you could literally do it every single time you get into your car without really altering your life or disturbing any of your plans. With only a quarter, or the right device designed for the job, it takes mere seconds, though there’s no reason to check tire tread every single day. Hey, we’re cautious, but not that cautious.

Depending on how much you drive, you likely only need to check tire tread once or twice a month. When you know what to look for, these simple inspections will help shield you from tire-related incidents, and the stress and money that they drain from you. 

The wired editors at The Drive have driven thousands of cars and disintegrated hundreds of pounds of rubber, so we’re pretty familiar with the stuff. Today, we want to share our experience and knowledge about monitoring your tire’s health with a few simple steps. Let’s get to it.

What Is Tire Tread?

Tire tread is the part of the tire that touches the ground. It is usually cut in a pattern of grooves and ridges that are designed to help the tire and the car maintain traction during various types of weather conditions.

Penny Test Vs. Quarter Test

The old standard for checking tire tread used a penny. The rule, endorsed by Michelin, said if you can see the top of Lincoln’s head when the coin is upside down on the tire, then you need to change it. This rule operates under the impression that 2/32 of an inch is the limit of an operational tire. This rule has been questioned throughout time, however, and AAA now suggests a different standard.

Rather than using a penny, AAA suggests using a quarter for the test instead. If you place the quarter upside down on the tire, and you can see the top of Washington’s head, you need to replace it. This rule operates under the impression that 4/32 of an inch is the safe limit. When it comes to tire safety, we prefer to stick to the side of caution, so we use the quarter test.

Tony Markovich

Don't use a penny, use a quarter.

The Basics of Checking Tire Tread

Estimated Time Needed: Two minutes

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: (electrical, exhaust, engine, interior, etc)

Tire Check Safety

While you’re checking your tire tread, it’s a good idea to do an inspection of the tire by rubbing your hand across it and feeling for defects or issues. For that, you’ll need protection.

Everything You’ll Need To Check Tire Tread

Some spare change is really all you need. 

Tool List

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking that’s also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

Here’s How To Check Your Tire Tread

Let’s do this! 

With a Quarter

  1. Find the most worn or lowest point on the tire.
  2. With a quarter upside down and with Washington’s head facing you, place the quarter in between the tire’s tread. 
  3. If the top of his head is still buried, then you’re good, for now.
  4. If you can see the top of his head, then it’s time for new tires.

With a Tread Depth Gauge

  1. Find the most worn or lowest point on the tire.
  2. Place the point of the gauge in between the tires and press the shoulders onto the tread.
  3. Take the reading.
  4. If it is between 2/32-4/32 of an inch, you’ll want to get new tires.

Using the Tire’s Tread Wear Bars

Virtually all new tires have tread bars that sit in between the tread. If the tread is even and smooth with the tread bar, then your tread is worn, and you need to replace your tires.

The fat tire of a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.
Tony Markovich

Big tires need checking too.

Sometimes You Need a Certified Mechanic

As much as The Drive loves to put the "you" in do-it-yourself, we know that not everyone has the proper tools, a safe workspace, the spare time, or the confidence to tackle major automotive repairs. Sometimes, you just need quality repair work performed by professionals you can trust like our partners, the certified mechanics at Goodyear Tire & Service.

Pro Tips For Tire Care and Maintenance

Tires are possibly the most important safety feature on your car. Treat them right!

  • Always replace your tires at the same time. Uneven wear could create driving issues or problems for the new tires.
  • Rotating your tires is an important part of your regular car maintenance. Learn how with our guide, How Often Should You Rotate Tires?
  • Tire pressure is equally as important as the tread. Learn the numerous points of safety inspections with our Tire Health Checklist.

FAQs About Tires and Checking Tire Tread

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. Is the Penny Test For Tires Accurate?

A. It is accurate for measuring tires to roughly 2/32, however, we recommend the quarter test, as outlined above.

Q. Is 5/32 a Good Tire Tread Depth?

A. Just barely! We recommend new tires at 4/32.

Q. What Is a New Tire's Tread Depth?

A. According to Continental Tires, the average tread depth of a new tire is about 10/32 to 11/32 of an inch, or about 8 to 9 millimeters 

Q. How Fast Do Tires Wear?

A. This will depend entirely on how you drive, where you drive, and how often you drive. Consistently check your tire tread to know when to change your tires. 

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors!

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)

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