Let’s talk tire tread depth

We’ll give it to you straight: tire tread is essential. It helps keep your vehicle connected to the road, and it’s your first line of defense against dangerous road conditions. Technically speaking, tire tread refers to the ribbed pattern on a tire. These patterns work to move water, mud and snow out of your tires so you can stop quickly and safely. Eventually, your tread will wear to the point that your tires no longer grip the road, and will need to be replaced with new tires.

If you’re not sure how to check the condition of your tread, this article offers some solid tips and tricks.

The penny test

Grab a U.S. penny because it's time to put ol' Honest Abe to work. The penny test is an easy way to check the depth of your tire tread. Here's what you need to do:

  • Insert the edge of a penny into the most worn groove of your tire tread with Lincoln’s head down and facing you.
  • If the top of Honest Abe’s head is covered by tread, meaning you cannot see the top of his head, the tire tread depth is acceptable.
  • If the top of his head is visible, you need to replace the tire. We recommend that you take the vehicle to a trained tire service professional immediately.

Tire tread depth is measured in 32nds of an inch. Once a tire tread depth reaches 2/32nds of an inch, it is considered worn out and should be replaced immediately. Anything 2/32nds or less won't legally pass a vehicle safety inspection. Take your tire tread depth seriously because worn out tires can put you at risk of hydroplaning in wet road conditions and sliding on ice or snow. For more info, check out our Hydroplaning article.

Visual tread depth test

Visually inspecting your tread is another easy way to gauge how much tread wear your tires have left. Take a peek at the tread wear bars your manufacturer has placed in the grooves of your tire tread. The wear bars run perpendicular to the tread and are visible on all tires. Once the tread is worn down to these wear bars, it is time to replace your tire. Cooper® also offers Wear Square™ technology that shows you tire wear. As the tire wears, the Wear Square™ transitions among five stages, beginning with a full square design on new tires, and ending with an exclamation mark when the tread reaches 2/32s of an inch, indicating that it’s time to replace the tire. It’s an easy way to visually monitor the state of your tread.