Tire tread can affect your vehicle’s safety and performance while on the go. While you might not think about your tire tread every time you drive, it is important to check in every once in a while to ensure that your tires are in good working order. Ready to talk about tire tread depth? Let’s dive in.
The tread depth of the tire is a vertical measurement between the top of the tread and the lowest groove. In the U.S., tire tread depth is measured in 32nds of an inch. When tires are brand new, they have tread depths from 10/32 to 11/32.
In the United States, tires are required by law to have easily recognizable tread wear indicators. As the tire tread wears down, it eventually becomes level with the tread wear indicator. At this point, the tire should be replaced. It has too little tread left to provide traction. If safety weren’t persuasive enough, keep in mind that it is also illegal to drive with bald tires.
The minimum legal limit is 2/32 of an inch. This doesn’t mean that tires are perfectly safe if they have 3/32 left of the tread. This is simply the limit at which you won’t pass your state safety inspection. Your tires become incrementally less safe as the tread wears down.
When it comes to safety, your tires are literally where the rubber meets the road. Sufficient tire tread depth is necessary for safe turning and braking.
Low tire tread depth can spell disaster for your drive, including:
Reduced stopping distance
Less traction in snowy or icy conditions
Increased risk of hydroplaning in wet conditions
Increased risk of a tire blowout
Reduced acceleration power
Decreased fuel efficiency
If you live in an area where it rains or snows frequently, consider replacing tires when they reach 4/32 of an inch. With worn tires, you are at risk of hydroplaning on wet roads. This is when the tire can’t channel the water through the grooves. The car rides along the top of the water instead of staying in contact with the asphalt. As such, the tires can’t respond to the steering system. If you have experienced it, you know how terrifying it can be. In icy or snowy conditions, low tread depth makes it harder to stop. You can also fishtail when accelerating or slide sideways when turning.
There are special considerations for driving in hot weather as well. If you are heading into summer and your tires are near the end of their lifespan, be aware that they wear down faster on hot roads.
Easy peasy. All you need to check your tire tread depth is a penny. Insert the penny with Abraham Lincoln’s head upside down. If the top of Abe’s head is showing, it’s time for new tires.
Be thorough when you measure your tread depth. Insert the penny in several places around the tire. It’s not uncommon to have uneven tread wear. Measuring in several places will compensate for this.
Having the proper air pressure in your tires is also critical. Tire air pressure is expressed as a number followed by PSI. This stands for pounds per square inch. 28 PSI means 28 pounds per square inch. It is a measurement of the force inside the tire applied to one square inch. You can check the recommended tire pressure for your car in your owner’s manual or on a sticker inside the driver’s side door. For most vehicles, it is around 32 PSI.
If your pressure is too low, your tires will wear out quicker. You will also get poorer gas mileage. This is because it’s harder for your engine to propel a vehicle riding on squishy tires. The low air pressure also results in a jerkier ride.
If you discover that your tires are too low, fill to the correct pressure. Don’t assume ‘more is better. There are problems with over-inflation as well. When a tire has too much air, it doesn’t have as much surface area in contact with the pavement. This makes it more difficult to handle. It also increases the risk of a blowout. At high speeds, a blowout can be deadly.
Since the early 1970s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and international counterparts were concerned about the dangers of low air pressure. They were seeking technology that could warn drivers. Evidence was mounting that underinflated tires were a factor in thousands of car accidents each year. At the end of the decade, the NHTSA was also motivated by the energy crisis. Tire air pressure affects fuel economy.
Tire pressure sensing technology became available in the 1980s and was first used by Porsche on the 1987 Porsche 959. In the U.S., TPMS was federally mandated beginning with the 2007 model year.
There are two types of TPMS, indirect and direct. Direct pressure detectors are located on the tire stems. If the sensor detects a significant pressure drop, it sends an alert to the engine computer. The indirect type uses the antilock brake system to detect low pressure by measuring wheel speed. Tires revolve at different speeds depending on air pressure. The indirect method is less reliable and has been largely phased out among manufacturers.