What Your Tire Tread Tells You About Driving Danger

Driving on bald tires jeopardizes your own safety on the road, as well as that of everyone around you. Frugal types like to squeeze every mile possible out of their tires, but it’s a bad idea to push them to the limit.

Dummies.com presents a guide to help you read your tire tread and determine actions you need to take.

Some tips from the post:

* If your center treads are worn. This means your tires are probably overinflated. Check the recommendations in your manual and on the inside of your door and let some air out.

* One side is worn more than the other. It’s time for a rotation. In order to save trips to a mechanic, consider having your tires rotated at every oil change.

* Tread-wear indicators are visible. Many tires have hard rubber bars that become visible when your tread is worn down to 1/16 of an inch. If you see the bars, it’s probably time to get new tires.

Checking Your Tires for Wear [Dummies.com]


Edit Your Comment

  1. P41 says:

    If one side is worn more than the other, needs alignment. Says this pretty clearly in the article. (May not be alignment, may be worse)

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Could also be worn out struts.

    • hansolo247 says:

      Par for the course in sports cars.

      My S2000 has negative camber, and the tires are not rotateable, as they are different sizes front and back, and has specific inside/ouside orientation on the tires.

      So, I buy tires every 18 months or so.

      • MexiFinn says:

        In my case, this happened to me when control arm bushings were going, and yes, that affects alignment.

  2. Sarek says:

    I wish Consumer Reports would expand the number of tire models they test. Nearly all of their highly rated 4-season tires [i.e. all-seasons that are decent in snow] don’t fit my car. And I drive the very popular late model Honda Accord! But I had the same problem when I drove a (also popular) Nissan Altima.

    • Sian says:

      You need something a little more beige to be relevant to Consumer Reports.

      • Sarek says:

        ? You can’t get much more beige among cars in the US than the Accord & Altima. Perhaps it’s because they take really big sizes?

  3. there's a difference between username and screen name? says:

    Here in southern Louisiana the roads are so rough that the steel belts in the tires will typically break and cause the car to pull strongly before the treads are too worn. That’s happened the past few times I have had to replace tires, but not before the tires got fairly close to the treadwear indicators.

  4. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    I think it’s generally a good rule of thumb to not wait until the wear-bars show up and to replace tires at 4/32″, especially if going into winter. Tires and brakes are the worst places to skimp on in car maintenance.

  5. LanMan04 says:

    If you need new tires, ordering online is BY FAR the best way to go. You order the tires, have them shipped to a local service shop, and the shop will charge you something like $10 per tire to mount/balance the tires.

    I did this on my wife’s 2003 Saturn VUE a few years back and easily saved $150 on a nice set of Continental tires. We used tirerack.com, but I’m sure there are other places.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I’ve always used TireRack to comparison shop. It’s just a shame that they don’t carry Cooper or Toyo tires.

  6. StarfishDiva says:

    So much THIS.

    My brother’s girlfriend needed new tires, but my brother pushed back, said “two more weeks, when I get paid, I’ll get the new tires.”

    She was leaving a friend’s house, turned right at about 20 miles per hour (a little too fast), and her front passenger tire dipped between intersection of the roads, into the grass. This caused her tired to explode, and the wheel slipped into the ditch, the weight causing the car to flip over.

    Just to make my brother feel ever worse, one of the crew at the scene made the offhand comment “if those tires hadn’t been so bald….” right after my brother crumbled into a ball of tears when he found out she died on the scene.

    Long story short, get your sh*t rotated or buy new tires, the end. Happy New Year!

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Wow, now that’s a depressing story.

    • GearheadGeek says:

      Right turn… so the tire going off the pavement was the one on the INSIDE of the turn? That doesn’t sound like the result of insufficient tread. Also, knocking the bead of the tire off the rim with the edge of the pavement is more likely to be facilitated by low inflation pressure than by low tread. Finally, a 20mph rollover killed a belted occupant? It sounds like there are multiple contributing factors to this tragedy.

      • there's a difference between username and screen name? says:

        This. The story as told doesn’t make a lot of sense.

        • there's a difference between username and screen name? says:

          ADDED: TBQH I find it hard to believe that even with bald tires you can oversteer a car enough to make it roll over, unless you were literally TRYING to make the car roll over. What kind of car was it?

    • TheMansfieldMauler says:

      I doubt if the “crew at the scene” was qualified to make that assessment.

  7. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    One day as I was working as a motorcycle mechanic, an acquaintance of mine from school brought his bike in for a new rear tire. It was beyond bald…down to the cord being visible in the middle of the tire.

    I took the tire off the rim and then called him back in the shop to show it to him. Because he, like essentially everyone else on the planet it seems, didn’t realize how thin a tire actually is.

    I showed him the cordy center of his tire. Then i took a knife and sliced down the middle of the tire. The thickness of the tire that you could then clearly see was less than a mm. Significantly less…

    His face went a bit white when he saw that. And he vowed to me to never let a tire get that bad again.

    Folks, change your tires when the TWI is up. Or if you’re not sure, stop by a shop and ask them what they think. Don’t push your luck.

  8. Snip says:

    Don’t forget to check the sidewall for the tire’s age. If it’s ten years old it doesn’t matter how good the tread looks, it could still blow up while you driving 50 miles an hour.

  9. shadowboxer524 says:

    Bought new tires last week. I was down to 3/32″. It’s a good thing, too, because on my way back up to Michigan earlier today, I ran into quite a bit of snow and some slippery conditions. I’d probably be in a ditch if I had tried to drive on my old tires.

  10. dangerp says:

    I was driving behind someone once that was driving on bald tires. Rear left tire failed spectacularly. Did not end well for the driver (thankfully, he survived).

  11. MrEvil says:

    If you can only afford to buy a pair of tires ALWAYS put the new tires on the rear axle regardless of your vehicle being Front or Rear wheel drive. The rear tires tend to wear less or at least more evenly than they do up front.

    The exception to that would be higher-end cars with independent rear suspension and high negative camber…of course if you’re driving something like that you probably don’t have problems buying tires.

  12. creativecstasy says:

    Can someone link me to a photo of what bald tires look like, or what thread wear indicators look like? At my last oil change, I was told my treads were “low” but I don’t know what that means, or how soon I need to be shopping. As I recently discovered this 3 year old car uses highly rated tires, that cost more than my monthly income, this is an issue.