If you keep your right foot in check and properly maintain your tires, a new tire purchase might only come around a couple of times per decade. However, the need for new tires is just one of those automotive inevitabilities.
So how do you know when it’s time for new tires?
A Family Tire Pros technician will evaluate the life and condition of your tires. Stop in to our tire shop in American Fork for a free tire condition consultation with one of our experts.
Reason 1: Minimum Tread Depth
Slowly but surely, as the miles accumulate, tire tread wears and becomes shallower. Tire tread depth is defined as the measurement between the outermost portion (top) of the tire tread, and the major groove(s)/channel(s) of the tread.
New tire tread depth varies according to tire design and purpose, but for example, an everyday all-season tire might have 11/32-inch of tread depth when new. Federal regulation requires a minimum of 2/32-inch of tire tread depth for legal operation.
Passenger vehicle tires are marked with minimum tread depth indicators called “wear bars,” which are structured into the major tire grooves. When the wear bar is even with the surrounding tread, then that’s an indication that a 2/32-inch of tread depth has been reached, and the tire is no longer serviceable.
So wear bars allow for simple measurement when the minimum tread is reached, but how can you easily evaluate tire tread depth before that point?
We recommend two simple methods to check tire tread depth with meaningful accuracy:
Method 1: Tire Tread Gauge (available at Family Tire Pros in American Fork)
Before using the tire tread gauge, you’ll need to identify the tire’s circumferential grooves. In layman’s terms, these are the primary channels (centrally located on the tread) that run all the way around the tire. These grooves will be the main tread depth measurement points.
Begin with the gauge in the collapsed, pre-measurement position, then push the extended “driver” end of the gauge into the tread groove, and keep pushing down until the handles of the gauge rest flat on the adjacent tread blocks.
The measurement stick extends at the opposite/top end of the gauge according to the depth of the groove and provides the reading.
Take multiple tread depth readings across each tire’s tread by inserting the gauge into all of the circumferential grooves.
If you’re not in a good position to observe the reading as the measurement is taken – for example, if you’re reaching into the wheel wells to measure mounted tires – be careful not to bump the gauge and disturb the reading as you remove it to take a look.
If tread depth readings vary, which is the one to go by? To be safe, we recommend a “glass-half-empty” approach. If tires are worn unevenly, use the lowest reading as your reference point.
Method 2: The Penny Tread Depth Test
If you don’t have a tire tread gauge handy, then some pocket change will do the trick.
Insert a penny into the tire tread grooves upside down, so the top of old Abe’s head is facing into the groove.
Be sure to insert the penny into various tread grooves across (left to right) and around the tire. You should check in multiple tread grooves and in multiple locations to allow for uneven wear across and around the tires, which is not uncommon.
If some of Lincoln’s head is covered by the tread, then you have at least 2/32-inch of tread remaining, which is minimum tread depth. If none of Lincoln’s head is covered by the surrounding tread when the penny is inserted into the tread grooves, then you’re at or below minimum, and it’s definitely time to replace your tires.
Important: Once again, your lowest tread measurement should be your reference point. If any of the tread grooves are below minimum tread, then it’s advisable to replace. Sufficient tread depth in one area of the tire doesn’t compensate or cover for insufficient tread depth elsewhere on the tire.
All good after this measurement step? Flip the penny around for an additional measurement:
If the top of the Lincoln Memorial is covered, then you have more than 2/32-inch of tread. For most normal driving contexts and applications, that’s considered sufficient tread depth.
Reason 2 for New Tires: Uneven Tire Tread
Another reason for mandatory tire replacement is uneven wear. This can be brought about by a vehicle that is out of alignment, a lack of tire rotation, improper tire pressures, or a few other factors.
If the wear is uneven enough, tire performance, and therefore tire safety, will be compromised.
Reason 3 for New Tires: Structural Damage
A tire can meet its demise long before its “natural” lifespan due to catastrophic damage, which can occur from pothole impacts, road debris, or an unfixable puncture/tire blowout.
Signs of structural damage include sidewall bulging and chunking, tread splices, and rips or tears in the tire tread.
While common tire punctures can most often be patched and tire function fully restored, structural tire damage almost always necessitates tire replacement.
If you see any signs of structural tire damage, the tire should be considered unsafe for use.
Want (Not Need) New Tires?
You might have a hankering for new tires before your current set is technically expired, even if wear is good. Perhaps you feel your current tires have lost a performance edge, or aren’t delivering the ride quality and/or low noise characteristics they once were.
We hear you. Present-day tires are remarkable insofar as they provide good performance throughout the tire life and wear process. However, especially in certain driving conditions, a well-used tire will be at a performance deficit as compared to a tire that is closer to original, new condition. Traction on wet roads, and certainly tire performance in inclement winter weather is affected by tire tread depth and age. Years and miles make any tire less effective and less capable in tough weather and road conditions.
If you sense your vehicle isn’t quite as solid and predictable as it once was through the winter months, for example, aged and worn tires are the likeliest explanation.
The restoration of maximum tire plus vehicle performance and/or comfort might be motivating factors in the tire decision process.
New performance or performance gains can also motivate a new tire purchase. Indeed, it would take tens of thousands of dollars of vehicle modifications to replicate the performance improvements gained with only a new set of tires engineered for certain purposes.
For example, high-performance tires can be transformative in a vehicle’s handling characteristics and therefore, the enjoyment factor from the driver’s seat. For 4x4’s, all-terrain tires can yield considerable performance improvements in off-road environments.
Whether you find yourself at the tail end of tire life, or just wanting to restore or enhance the performance of your vehicle, Family Tire Pros can weigh in on your tire situation and get you rolling right – hassle-free, and with the best tire deals.