Here's How To Measure Tire Tread Depth With a Penny
While finding a penny may not actually be a harbinger of good luck, a penny is indeed an effective tool to measure your tire tread depth. And importantly, the penny measurement allows you to determine with some certainty if you’ve reached minimum tread and it’s time to replace your tires. Here’s how to measure your tire tread with a penny –
While this can be accomplished with ease on most vehicles with the wheels/tires still on the car (save lowriders and race cars), we’re going to demonstrate on a tire that is not mounted a vehicle. Why, you ask? a. We have a wheel + tire in the garage in a conveniently elevated position. b. Laziness.
Anyways, you can accomplish this with the wheels still on your vehicle.
Insert the penny into various tread grooves across (left to right) and around the tire. You want to check in multiple tread grooves and in multiple locations because you have to allow for uneven wear across and around the tires, which is not particularly uncommon.
Insert the penny upside down so that the top of Honest Abe’s head is heading into the tread groove, like so -->
If some of Lincoln’s head is covered by the tread, then you have at least 2/32” of tread remaining. If none of Lincoln’s head is covered by the surrounding tread when the penny is inserted into the tread grooves, then you’re below minimum tread. Time to replace the tires.
In the above image a substantial portion of Abe's head is covered, so we clearly have more than 2/32" tread remaining.
If you have more than 2/32” and would like to establish just how much more, then hang on to your penny, and also invite a quarter into the mix.
Insert the quarter upside down so that the top of Washington’s head is heading into the tread groove, like so -->
If some of Washington’s head is covered by the tread, then you have at least 4/32” of tread remaining. In the image above at least a chunk of Washington's 'fro is covered by the tread, so we have greater than 4/32" of tread remaining.
If your tires have passed the quarter test too, then you’re probably feeling all cocky and confident. Pull the penny back out of your pocket, and we’ll see what you’ve really got…
Turn the penny around so that the Lincoln Memorial is facing you. Once again, insert the penny upside down so that the top/roof of the Lincoln Memorial is headed into the tread groove, like so -->
If a part of the top of the Lincoln Memorial is covered, then you have at least 6/32” of tread, so plenty of treadlife remaining. In the image above a smidgen (at best) of the Lincoln Memorial roof is obscured, so given all of the above measurements we can deduce that we have about 5/32" of tread remaining on this tire.
When evaluating your tire tread status, also don’t forget the wear bars that are conveniently found on all street tires. The tire wear bars run laterally (left to right) across the tread grooves on your tires. Along with the first penny test above, the wear bars are an indication of 2/32” tread remaining, i.e. when the tread bars are even with the tread grooves, then it’s time to replace the tires. Here’s what the tire wear bars look like -->
And that's how to measure tread depth with a penny. Now put that lucky penny back in your pocket and move forward appropriately with your newfound tire knowledge!