How To Check Tire Tread?

People are often unaware of the importance of car tires but the reality is that this is the only part of a vehicle that touches the surface. Their quality drastically impacts the overall performance of a vehicle. Stopping power, grip in corners, road noise and fuel efficiency are just some of the things that depend a lot on the tire condition.

Regarding tire condition, we are primarily thinking about tire treads. That’s the part that touches the surface and, therefore, the part that will wear out after some time. It’s important to control their size every now and then, to be sure that your vehicle will be able to react properly in unpredictable situations.

What are tire treads? What’s so important about them? How to check them? How to reduce tire tread wear? If you’re looking for answers to some of these questions, then you are in the right place because this short article is all about tire treads:

What Are Tire Treads and Why Are They Important?

Tire treads are the most important part of a car tire. They are the part of the tire that makes contact with the surface and, therefore, the part that is responsible for traction, stopping power and the overall performance of a tire. The treads come in a combination with grooves, which cut the tread in a specific pattern, in order to throw out the water from beneath the tire, reduce road noise etc. Depending on the purpose, as well as the manufacturer, tires come with different patterns and different tread sizes. As you may presume, snow tires usually feature bigger treads than regular, street tires, while off-road tires are even more extreme in this aspect.

No matter the type of tire, the outcome is always the same. As treads are wearing out, tire performance is getting weaker. At some point, treads will get to the point where they are worn out so badly that tire can’t perform well anymore. The grip becomes so bad that it’s impossible to keep the minimum level of safety. That’s why it’s important to replace tires on time before they lose all of their properties.

Checking Tire Tread

What Is a Good Tire Tread?

If we are talking about a bare minimum, we should refer to regulations, which are similar in most countries. For example, the minimal tire tread in the UK and Europe is 1.6mm. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the minimum tread in the U.S. is 2/32 of an inch, which is also around 1.6 millimeters. In China and India, tire tread also needs to be at least 1.6mm, while Japan and Australia are a little less strict and require at least 1.5mm.

Once again, we are talking about a bare minimum. New tires typically come with an 8mm (10/32) tire tread, so there is a lot to wear out before the tire becomes unsafe. What’s important to know is that treads have a significant impact on tire performance, especially braking. A tire with 3mm tread has 25% better stopping power than one that’s on legal minimum. Moreover, at the speed of 80km/h (50mph), the average stopping distance with new tires is around 26 meters (28.4 yards). With 1.6mm treads, the distance extends to nearly 40m (44 yards). We are talking about a 14m difference – that’s longer than a school bus!

So far, we were talking about summer tires. Keep in mind that winter tires are mandatory in many parts of the world, during the winter season. These tires have to deal with way more water and snow, so treads are much bigger and, according to both to legal regulations of most countries and manufacturer recommendations, they need to be at least 4mm (5/32).

How To Check Tire Tread?

So, you probably wonder now how to check tire tread. Do you need to visit a professional, or you can do it by yourself? Short answer - it’s a super easy thing and you can definitely do it by yourself. You don’t even need any kind of special tool.

The whole point is to check how deep are the grooves and there are plenty of ways you can do that. Here are some of the easiest:

Tire Tread Wear Indicator

Most modern tires come with a built-in tread wear indicator. It sounds fancy, but it is nothing more than a small bar located in the tread groove. The way these indicators work is super simple. When you buy a new tire, they are deep in the groove and can hardly be seen, because they are at the minimum tread level. As the tire tread wears out, they become more visible. Once you get to the point that the tread and this bar are even, it means it’s time for a replacement.

Not only that this is the easiest way to check tire treads, but it is also the most reliable. With other tools, you stick with general rules, but keep in mind that there are different types of tires and tire manufacturers. Different tires perform differently, even with the same-level tread. Manufacturers take all aspects of a specific tire model into account and set the indicator bar accordingly, to avoid any safety concerns.

Tread Depth Gauge

The most precise way to measure tread depth is with a special gauge. It is a very simple and easy-to-use tool you can get in most gas stations and automotive shops, or simply order online. They are usually very affordable.

If you’ve ever had a vernier caliper in your hands, you will know how to use this gauge. The tool looks like a pin, so all you need to do is to pin it into the groove and press it. It will read out the exact depth. Most products of this type read out both in millimeters and inches.

Measuring With a Coin

The fastest and easiest way to check your tire treads is to grab a coin from your pocket. For example, Americans like to use a penny coin to check their tires, because the distance between the coin’s edge and the top of Lincoln’s head is exactly 2/32 of an inch (1.6mm), which equals the minimum tread. So, what they do is insert the coin into the groove in a way that the Lincoln’s head is turned upside down. If they can see the whole head, the tire is done. If not, there is still more than 2/32 of an inch, so tires can be used for some more time.

A quarter dollar coin is also popular, because of the distance between its edge and George Washington’s top of the head is around 4/32 of an inch. So, in this case, if the top of the head can be seen, that means that although treads still haven’t reached the minimum it’s time to start thinking about getting a new set of tires.

Of course, you can use other coins as well, no matter the currency. The only important thing is that there are some referent points on the coin (such as Lincoln’s and Washington’s top of the head). After all, it doesn’t have to be a coin. You can use any small object as a measuring tool, as long as you can mark the appropriate distances (1.6mm, 3mm, 4mm etc.)

Tire Tread - Measuring with a coin

How Often Should You Check Tire Treads?

Aside from performance ones, most tires are designed to last for years. They are made from a combination of materials that ensure longevity. Usually, you can make tens of thousands of miles/kilometers with one set of tires, but keep in mind that there are many factors that affect a tire’s longevity. Weather conditions, road quality, and driving style are just some of the factors.  Of course, expect more expensive tires from renowned manufacturers to last longer, although that doesn’t always have to be the case.

In any case, tires will last long enough, so you don’t have the check treads every now and then. With relatively new tires, it’s perfectly fine to check treads every 8000km/5.000 miles. As the tires are getting older and closer to the tread depth minimum, the checks should become more frequent.

How To Reduce Tire Wear?

As mentioned, there are many things that affect tire longevity. On some of them, such as weather conditions and road quality, we can’t affect. However, there are a few things we can do to reduce tire wear and make them last longer.

One of the first things that come to mind is the way you drive. If you are an aggressive driver, you may reconsider your driving habits if you want your tires to last longer. Don’t be hard on your brake pedal, but rather start braking slowly and on time. Be gentle with the throttle pedal and, finally, don’t take curves too fast.

Also, don’t forget to check the air pressure. We suggest once a month because if tires aren’t inflated properly, they don’t make appropriate contact with the surface, which leads to uneven wear of the treads. Also, check tire pressure before taking a long trip, and always follow the manufacturer’s specifications.

Don’t forget to rotate your tires, because front wheels are usually under more pressure, from braking and steering. If you rotate tires regularly, they will wear out equally, which will extend the lifespan of the whole set of four.

Finally, keep in mind wheel alignment and suspension. If something is not right, tires will wear out unevenly and they will be done pretty quickly. With a proper setup, not only your tires will last longer. The ride will be smoother and, most importantly, safer.

Tire Tread Inspection

Age Is As Important As Tire Treads

Tread depth is one of the two most important conditions for good tire performance. The other one is the age. Even if the tread depth is good, that doesn’t mean that the tire is going to perform well. You should be aware that tires are made from a combination of materials that lose their properties over the years. Some manufacturers give a 10-year warranty, but most experts suggest replacement after 6 years, no matter the mileage.

So, what you need to check is a so-called DOT number, which has four digits. Those four digits show the week and year of production. For example, if a DOT number is 1322, that means that the tire came out from the factory line on the 13th week of 2022. for more information read our guide about Tire Aging.


To sum up, tire tread depth is the thing that determines the performance of a tire, and that’s why it’s important to replace them once the depth gets to the minimum. The mitigating circumstance is that you can check them easily, and you don’t even need a special tool. You don’t have to pay a visit to your dealer, mechanic, or any other specialized shop. You can do it by yourself, in a matter of moments, and be sure that you’re driving a safe and dependable car.