One of the scariest feelings for any driver is the sudden loss of control when a car skids on ice, hydroplanes, or fails to brake quickly enough. When these terrifying moments occur, it's usually due to poor tire maintenance. Tires that are too worn or have other flaws can put your life at risk, so if you want to stay safe on the road, it's important to replace them when the old ones are too worn down.
The Importance Of Deep Tire Treads
From a safety standpoint, the treads are the most vital part of your car's tires. Deep treads allow your vehicle to maintain plenty of traction, even in wet or icy weather, because they provide a channel for water to escape through. This increases your braking power and reduces the risk of hydroplaning. When treads are worn down too much, water can become trapped in between your tires and the road, reducing your car's grip.
In fact, the risk for cars with flat treads is so great that it is illegal to continue using tires with treads less than 1/16th of an inch deep in the United States. If you choose to keep using tires past that point, you run the risk of getting a ticket and having your insurance deny your claim if you get into an accident.
However, that doesn't mean your car is perfectly safe as long as your treads are above the legal limit, either. One tire test case found that tires with treads worn down to 5/32 of an inch were 8% more likely to hydroplane and 15% more likely to skid in snow, despite this depth being more than twice the government's requirement. The bottom line is that it's better to play it safe when it comes to tread depth. So how can you tell if your tires are reaching their final days?
Methods To Measure Your Tire Treads
Most auto parts stores sell small devices to measure tread depth for only a few dollars. You can also buy a small plastic ruler and use a rubber band to mark off the top of the treads. Still, if you want to save some money, the quickest way to measure tread depth is with the good old penny test:
Take a penny and hold it with Lincoln's face toward you, upside down. Insert it into the deepest section of treads, located along the middle of the tire. If you can't see anything above Lincoln's eyes, you're in the clear and your tires should last a while yet. On the other hand, if you can see his forehead or his hair, it's likely time to start shopping for replacements. If you can see Lincoln's entire head and some of the space above it, your tires are too worn, and you need to replace them, pronto.
Potential Problems To Look Out For
Be warned, even if your tires pass the penny test, they may not be road safe. While you check the treads, you should also look out for some of the following problems:
- Side wall bulges. When a tire is cracked inside, pressurized air can escape into the side wall and cause it to bulge. Driving on a tire with a sidewall flaw can result in a blowout, so it's important to replace it right away.
- Nails, glass, and other sharp items stuck in the tire. Sometimes when a tire is punctured, the offending item stays stuck in the rubber. This causes the pressure loss to be slow enough that you might not notice anything wrong until you inspect the tire. Punctured tires can often be patched, but in severe cases you may need to shop for a replacement.
- Uneven tread wear. Usually a sign of a bent wheel or poor alignment, uneven tread wear can cause your car to vibrate while driving. If the unevenness is severe enough, the tire may suffer a blowout. If the thinnest section of the middle treads does not pass the penny test, stop using an uneven tire immediately and take your car in for an inspection to determine the cause.
Worn treads and other tire problems can put you in danger on the road, especially in wet or snowy conditions. If you haven't checked your tire treads in a while, give them a quick inspection. It might just save your life.
For more information or to get new tires, talk with a tire shop in your area, like Discount Tire Centers.