New tires have an average tread depth of about 10/32 of an inch. It's enough to create adequate friction for steering, accelerating and braking, and it allows the channels between the treads to funnel away rain and snow, which prevents your car from losing traction and hydroplaning. 

But as a tire wears down, the treads become increasingly shallow, gradually compromising the tire's ability to grip the road and funnel moisture away, until the tire is no longer usable.

How can you determine how much life your tires have left? Perform this simple test to measure your tire's tread depth. All you need is a U.S. penny. 

The Penny Test

  1. Make sure the penny is in good shape. Abraham Lincoln's image must be completely visible on the head side of the coin.
  2. Place the penny, head side facing you, into the centermost tread channel, with Lincoln upside down.  
  3. Now move the penny to the same position in one of the outermost tread channels, near the tire's edge.  
  4. Observe how much of Lincoln's head is visible in each channel.  

A new tire tread will cover Lincoln's head up to the front hairline and almost the entire phrase "In God We Trust" over Lincoln's head. The tire is still usable as long as some portion of Lincoln's head is obscured by the tire treads. Once the entirety of Lincoln's head is visible in any of a tire's channels, you have less than 2/32 of an inch of tread depth left - meaning your tire needs to be replaced very soon. At this point, the tire's wear bars will be prominently visible in the tread channels. The wear bars are positioned perpendicular to the treads, and if you can plainly see them, it's another sign you need to replace the tire. 

Few things impact your driving safety like your tires. Fortunately, saving a penny can help you keep your vehicle on the road and in good condition.

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