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A Complete Guide to Tire Tread Depth

Tires are often out of sight, out of mind for drivers—until something goes wrong. Unfortunately, a lot can go wrong if you drive with worn tire tread. So how thick should your tires be? How can you measure your tire tread? The local auto mechanics at Chapel Hill Tire are here with a complete guide to tire tread depth.

When Should You Replace Tires?

Tire tread levels often guide the way for drivers regarding their tire replacement needs. So at what level of tread depth should you begin considering tire replacement?

  • Dangerously low tread: The minimum legal limit of tire tread depth is 2/32 of an inch. Tread depth lower than this limit is considered dangerously worn. This wear level is the latest you should wait to replace your tires. 
  • Low tire tread: Many mechanics recommend replacement when your vehicle reaches between 3/32 and 4/32 of an inch. This is especially true if you live in an area with severe climates to prevent hydroplaning and other inclement weather risks. 
  • Good tread levels: New tires often have 11/32 of an inch of tread. Any depth between 11/32 and 6/32 of an inch is generally considered safe on the road. 

If you are unsure whether or not your tires are due for a replacement, consider bringing your vehicle to a local mechanic for a visual inspection. Your mechanic will also often look over your tires during routine maintenance services, such as an oil change visit. 

Problems Caused By Low Tire Tread

Why is it so important to replace your tires? Low tire tread might seem like a small concern, but it can have significant safety implications for you and other drivers on the road. Here is a look at some of the troubles worn tire tread can  cause: 

  • Safety and Handling: The biggest concern that accompanies low tire tread is safety and handling impediments. Your tire tread is responsible for gripping onto the road, allowing you to effectively control your vehicle. When tires become worn out, they could cause accidents or handling troubles. 
  • Braking Troubles: Tire tread gives your vehicle the friction against the road needed to slow and stop. As such, low tire tread can be an underlying cause of brake troubles.
  • Low Gas Mileage: Tire tread helps your vehicle gain and maintain your speed. Without adequate tread, the vehicle will have to overwork to run properly—leading to excessive gas usage. 
  • Climate Troubles: The grooves of your tire tread help your vehicle manage rain and snow. The lower your tread is, the harder time your vehicle will have in inclement weather.
  • Safety Inspection Failure: As mentioned above, tire tread issues can present some significant safety concerns. Therefore, low tire tread can cause you to fail your annual vehicle safety inspection. 
  • Emissions Inspection Failure: You can also fail your emissions inspection due to the poor gas mileage that low tire tread causes.

Tread Depth Indicator Bars

Here is a little-known tire secret for you: all new tires come equipped with tread depth indicator bars. These are small, elevated notches placed inside your tire tread. Tread indicator bars mark the exact tread depth at which you should have your tires replaced. You can read our full guide to checking tire tread depth here.

Is Tread Depth the Only Reason to Replace Tires?

While tire tread depth is the most common cause of tire replacement, it is not the only factor to consider. Perhaps most obviously, severely damaged tires will require replacement—even with thick tread depth. 

Another important factor to consider is tire age. Over time, tires begin to experience thermo-oxidative degradation. This process causes tire separation, which can create or worsen car accidents. Every vehicle and tire manufacturer has distinct recommendations regarding tire age. However, most tires do not begin thermo-oxidative degradation until after 5 years. You can read our guide to tire age here. 

Tire Replacement at Chapel Hill Tire

When your tread becomes worn down, the experts at Chapel Hill Tire can help keep you safe on the road. You can buy your tires here online with our Tire Finder tool. Then, visit any of our 9 Triangle-area locations across Durham, Carrboro, Apex, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill for your new set of tires. It is just that simple. You can explore your tire options or make your appointment to get started today!

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