How To Measure Tire Depth

There are a few practical ways that you can measure your tread depth. The first just requires an American penny.

The Penny Test

This is the most well-known test. Use a penny to measure between the tread by placing Lincoln on his head. If you can see above his head you have less than 2/32” remaining and are in need of new tires. If the tread is just reaching Lincoln’s hair then you have at least 2/32”. Any rubber that is covering Lincoln’s face is more than 2/32.


Using a ruler is also an easy and accurate way to check tread depth. Measure between your tread lines with a ruler and use the 1/16” scale. Just remember that 1/16” is equal to 2/32.

Tread Gauge

Purchasing a tread gauge is the best way to measure your tread as this takes the estimation and math out of the process. This tool will already be marked in 32nds of an inch, and can be immediately placed between your tread to measure the remaining depth.

How Much Tread Do I Need?

Tread depth requirements are set individually by the states. There are 6 states that have no minimum tread requirements. California and Idaho both require tires to have 1/32”. Texas will require you to have 3/32” in order for your vehicle to pass inspection and the rest of the states all require you to have 2/32”.

What Do Your Tire Tread Wear Patterns Tell You?

An over inflated tire will cause the center tread area to wear the quickest. When you look at a tire that has been consistently over-inflated, you will see that the tread pattern near the edge of the tire is still in good shape while the center of the pattern has been worn away.

The exact opposite can be seen in tires if they have been consistently under-inflated. Those tires will be worn the most near the outside edges of each tire, with the tread in the center remaining as the most visible.

Wheel alignment issues can also cause irregular tread wear patterns. When the alignment of your car is not correct, the car will be pushed/pulled to one side or the other, and this causes one side of the tread pattern to wear faster than the other.

Why Bother Measuring The Tread Depth On My Car?

There are a few practical ways that you can measure your tread depth. The first just requires an American penny.

Safety and Performance When your tires do not have enough tread they are no longer safe to use and will not perform as well (particularly in rainy and snowy conditions).

Replacing tires on AWD cars If you are only replacing one tire and you have an AWD system, it is always key to match tires down to the tread depth.

Returning a leased vehicle If you have a leased vehicle, the contract may require a minimum amount of tread for turn in.

How Much Tread Do Brand New Tires Have?

A typical set of new tires will have 10/32” or more of tread to begin their tire life.

What Is The Penalty For Not Having Enough Tread Depth?

This depends on where you are driving and what the regulations there state. Some states (like Texas) only require you to have sufficient tread depth in order for your vehicle to pass inspection. The majority of states require that you have sufficient tread depth anytime that your vehicle is on the road. You will usually receive a ticket if you are using tires that don’t meet the standards.