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Penny and quarter tests for tires

Bald tires = big trouble

Bald is beautiful, right? Sure -- except when it comes to tires. If your tires are “bald,” you’re much more likely to be in a tire-related accident.

What exactly does “bald” mean?

Here in the U.S., tire tread is measured in 32nds of an inch. A brand-new tire has a tread depth around 10/32nds of an inch (approximately 1/3 of an inch). Some tires, like winter tires or off-road tires, may have a deeper tread.

As you drive on the tires, the tread gradually wears down. If you reach the point where there’s 2/32nds of an inch of tread or less left, the tires are bald and are considered legally worn out in most states. Continuing to drive on these tires is definitely dangerous and could even earn you a ticket.

How do I know if my tires are at 2/32nds of an inch?

Use a tread depth gauge, or if you don’t happen to have one of those laying around, try the “penny test.” Insert a penny into the tire tread grooves with Lincoln’s head facing down. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, your tires are at 2/32nds of an inch or less of remaining tread. You need new tires immediately!

Penny vs. quarter

There’s a movement afoot that recommends testing tire tread depth with a quarter rather than a penny. This is because at 2/32nds of remaining tread, the tire has already lost all its traction benefits in snow and has lost a significant amount of traction in rainy weather.

If you do the same test with a quarter, and Washington’s head is partially covered by the tread, you’ll know you have at least 4/32nds of an inch of remaining tread depth. If you regularly drive on wet roads like we do here in the Pacific Northwest, 4/32nds remaining is a good point to consider replacing your tires.

Penny and quarter tests for tires

But what does all this mean?

A good way to bring “bald” home is to look at stopping distances. Let’s say you’re driving on the freeway, doing about 70 mph, and suddenly you see a turtle crossing the fast lane. If you slam on the brakes to avoid it, it’s going to take a lot longer for you to stop if your tires are bald. Take a look -- it takes nearly twice as long to stop on bald tires versus new tires.

Stopping distance

New tires: 10/32nds tread

Stopping distance on wet road 195 feet
(5 school bus lengths)

Worn tires: 4/32nds tread

Stopping distance on wet road 290 feet
(7.25 school bus lengths)

Bald tires: 2/32nds tread

Stopping distance on wet road 379 feet
(9.5 school bus lengths)

Source: Good Morning America

Do the turtles of the world a favor. Check your tire tread depth regularly, and consider replacing your tires when they reach 4/32nds.

So, to recap: bald tires are definitely NOT beautiful. If your tires are bald, please replace them immediately. We can help – just tell us about your vehicle and we’ll show you the best tire matches.

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