When Should I Replace My Tire? – Signs That Your Tire Is Worn Out

We all know a bad tire on the road is catastrophic. But do you really need to wait for a blowout or flat to get new tires? Because your tires may look fine, but then again, just like your feet after a long walk, tires wear out. The only thing is, your tire cannot speak to tell you it’s “tired” and in need of replacement. 

Sure you have your mechanic to help you with the condition of your tires but they may not be always at your disposal. As a responsible vehicle owner, you can take it upon yourself to check the integrity of your tires. But how do you know if your tire has served its purpose and needed changing?  If your tires exhibit any of the warning signs listed in this article, it means that it’s about time to go and shop for new tires.

The tread is the part of the tire that often comes in contact with the road. Hence, they take most of the beating. They wear away and the volume of the grooves becomes shallow, losing its traction and ability to grip especially when driving in slippery and wet surfaces. 

Inspecting the tread depth is one way to maximize your tire’s safety and performance. The tire depth is the diameter of the tread rubber, established by measuring the top of the tread down to its deepest grooves. Tires below its recommended level of tire depth often lead to accumulation of water beneath the tire, risking your car to hydroplane-related road accidents.

While the safe tread depth would vary from state to state, most manufacturers recommend that you change your tires when it reaches 4/32” in the cold weather season and 2/32 in summer. If it’s always raining or snowing from where you live, your tires should be replaced once it reached to 5/32”. You can check your tire depth with the following technique.

A. The Coin Technique: Note that in doing any of the coin methods we listed below, coins should be inserted in several locations of the tread groove or rib and not just in an isolated portion for more accurate testing.

  • Using a Penny:Insert a penny on your tire grooves or that raised segment of your tread with Lincoln’s head pointed down. Your tire should be fine if any part of Lincoln’s head is not exposed. However, if you can see Lincoln’s head, you need new tires as this indicates that the depth is less than 2/32”. The same method applies if you are using a Canadian nickel. The top of Queen Elizabeth’s crown shouldn’t be visible, otherwise, it means that your tire is below the recommended tire depth and considered unsafe for driving.
  • Using a Quarter:Slide the quarter into the tread groove. If the tread touches Washington’s head, your tires have approximately 4/32” depth which may or may not be good depending on your driving conditions. If the snow-covered or wet roads are your concern, consider replacing your tires.

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B. Indicator Bars: Tires come equipped with flat rubber bars known as the tread wear indicator bars placed perpendicularly throughout the bottom of the tread grooves. (Note: Winter tires may have different bar placements.) Treadwear indicator bars are part of tire safety standards in most countries including the U.S. You will not likely see these bars if the tires are new. But they gradually become visible as the tread depth gets low. When the tread leveled down to the wear bars, your tires needed changing as this is an indication that are worn to 2/32”.

C. Tread Depth Gauge: The most accurate and simplest way to determine tire depth is through a gauge tool specifically designed to measure the tread depth level. Tire depth gauges are inexpensive and available in most auto parts stores and gas stations. The procedure includes sticking the probe into the groove and pressing it against the tread block. The device will then give a reading of the depth level.

Irregular Wear

Tires obviously wear out over time of use. However, the wear patterns can also occur for other reasons such as incorrect inflation, poor driving style, overloading, season changes, and misalignment among many others. Regardless of the contributing factors, worn treads needed attention. Tire wear may require a fix or immediate tire replacement depending on the severity and type of pattern. If you notice any of the following wear patterns in your tires, it’s best to bring your car to a technician as your tires may be unsafe to use.

Dangerous Tire Wear Patterns:

Exposed Steel Cords: If you notice steel or cords in the liner, it’s an indication that your tires are already heavily worn which disqualifies it from further use. Exposed tire cords are either a result of under-inflated tire or out-of-spec-alignment.

Chunking: This type of wear has some parts of the rubber torn-off or sliced. The damage is normally related to the suspension. Because of the gaps and damage on the tread, replacement is highly recommended. Chunked tires are a sign of the rubber wearing and it compromises the integrity of the tread. The tire will then lose traction and grip which can result in the vehicle going out of control.

Factory Defect: Tire manufacturers, despite the standard specification, defects and fault can still happen to the tire. This may evident itself through a splice or separation on the tire belt. Defect tires are unsafe to use and should be returned as per warranty.

Bulges and Cracks on Sidewall: Not all wears may appear in the tire. Sidewalls can also exhibit signs of wear. Look for bulges and cuts which could be an indication that your tire is in the risk of a leak or worse, blowout.

Other Common Signs of Tire Wear Includes

  • Feathering or scuffing on the inside or outside of the tread
  • Flat and bald spots
  • Patchy tire wear
  • Cups or dips around the edge
  • Heel or toe wear on the shoulder ribs
  • Cracks all over the tread
  • Bulges and blisters

Vibrations on the Steering Wheel

If you are a seasoned driver, you probably are familiar with the causes of vibrations on the steering wheel. From time to time, you will feel a vibration on the steering wheel as you drive on paved or uneven roads. But even if you are not driving on the bad roads, you may still feel the wheel shaking or vibrating as you increase your speed. If this happens, it’s likely that you have an issue with your tires.

Vibration on the wheel that is related to tire faults normally starts as you drive in the speed of 40 to 50 mph. The amount of vibration intensifies as you go beyond. This is a  likelihood of misaligned tires. If the vibration does not stop even after you fixed the alignment, the tire is most likely damaged and needed replacement.

High Mileage

Tires mostly lasts on an average of 25,000 to 50,00 miles before they are considered worn out. Anything significantly more is considered “high mileage”, an indication that your tires needed changing.  Don’t know your mileage? Here’s worth notetaking; if you regularly use your car, your annual mileage should be around 12,000 to 15,000 miles and it’s likely that the tread will wear in 2 to 4 years. So a car that is five years old, used on a regular basis,  should have approximately 75,000 miles.

Aged Tires

Even if your tires drive on the annual minimum mileage, if its sitting around for a long time, an aging tire could be an issue.  In fact, even unused or spare tires are subject to wear. Tires have rubber components that over time, develop cracks which are a root cause of the steel belts separating from the rest of the rubber. It is for this reason that tire makers and transportation departments advised changing tires every 6 to 10 years after the tire’s manufacturing date.

Tires have a 4-digit code written on its wall which represents the manufacturing date. The first two digits stand for the week in the year it was manufactured while the last two digits are the year.

While 10 years might be the indicated maximum lifespan, you should not wait this long to change your tires. In fact, when your tires are more than 6 years old, you should start getting cautious about using it. You can also refer to your car’ owner’s manual on the recommended changing of tires.

Don’t wait for the mishap to happen before changing your tires…

Even if your tires appear “usable” or pristine BUT exhibit any of the warning signs we have pointed out, it’s time to let go. We understand how it is especially hard to dispose of the unused tires given the fact that tires are quite expensive. But if the tires are nearing their 6-year mark, time to look for new tires.

Tires that are in good shape meant optimized fuel consumption and mileage. Apart from this, it’s all about your safety. Your ability to control your car largely depends on the performance of your tires. This being said, don’t hesitate on getting new tires if you notice any aging or wear signs.

2 thoughts on “When Should I Replace My Tire? – Signs That Your Tire Is Worn Out”

  1. Thomas Clarence

    I appreciate you helping me to understand that bald spots can be a sign that a tire is wearing out. This morning, I noticed that my son’s car had a couple of tires that were showing signs of balding when he came to visit me. I’ll be sure to mention to him that he should consider taking his vehicle to a mechanic to have this taken care of.

  2. Thanks for pointing out that you should replace your tires every 25,000 to 50,000 miles. I have noticed that the tread on my tires is starting to wear down, so I’m thinking about getting new ones to help make sure my car can be safer. Since I’m probably close to the 50,000-mile mark, I’ll have to start looking into new tires as soon as possible so that none of them completely wear out.

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