Your tires, just like worn shoes, lose their ability to grip as their treads wear. Checking your tire treads can help keep you safer on the road. It only takes a few minutes and little to no money.
When do you need new tires?Many people think only severely worn tires need to be replaced. Though this is true, old tires are also a concern because as tires age, they become more prone to failure, whether they have been used or not.
Replacing tires when they are between 6 and 10 years old is recommended by some manufacturers. That goes for the spare in your trunk, too. Pro Tip: You can use the last four digits of the Tire Identification Number (TIN) on the wall of your tire to help determine the age of your tire (e.g., 2613 means the tire was manufactured in the 26th week of 2013).
But age is not the only factor - tread is important. A worn tire can be just as dangerous, or even more so, than one that is simply old. In one study, vehicles with shallower treads (less than 2/32″ deep) were 3 times more likely to experience pre-crash tire troubles than those with deeper treads.
While the minimum safe tire tread depth is 2/32", consider replacing your tires at the 4/32" mark, especially if you drive in rainy and snowy conditions. A recent Consumer Reports study of tires worn down to half of their original tread depth (about 5/32") found increased risk of hydroplaning, longer stop time in the rain, and reduced snow traction.
Luckily, you can test your treads using spare change:
Take a penny and place it in multiple grooves around your tires. If the top of Lincoln's head is always covered, you have more than 2/32" of tread remaining. If you can see all of Lincoln's head, it is time to replace your tires.
For an added measure of safety, consider replacing your tires at 4/32". The extra tread can help your tires handle water and snow more effectively. Using a quarter, your tires have more than 4/32" tread if the top of Washington's head is always covered.
Basic checks like these take just a few minutes and can help save lives. So put that change in your pocket to good use to help keep you safe.