Time for some new Treads? (not threads… get it?)

Welcome to our ‘Quick-Start’ guide for how to check one particularly important aspect of a road worthy car; Tread depth on your tyres.

“The legal minimum tread depth for cars is 1.6 millimetres. This 1.6 mm should be in a continuous band throughout the central three-quarters of the tread width, throughout the whole of the circumference.”
Source: https://www.highwaycodeuk.co.uk/answers/whats-the-minimum-tread-depth-for-your-car-tyres

Now, to check your tyres it’s always best to have the proper equipment – which can be bought at Amazon (and other retailers) for less than the price of a drink in a pub (depending on what your poison is of course)! On the basis of how cheap this item is, I recommend this as the sort of tool that you should always just leave in your glove box, so that it’s nearby if/when you need to require it (or even help out a friend or a fellow motorist who isn’t as prepared as you)!

Use of the tool is very simple. You simply push the ‘pin’ end into the tyre; the gauge will then show a depth reading (which on the recommended product above will be colour-coded for ease of seeing whether you’re in a ‘tread depth emergency’, or if you’re still a while away from that). Make sure that you check the whole of the relevant ‘central ¾ of the tread’ for these minimum depths. 

In a pinch (say the tool that you have ordered hasn’t arrived yet for example, or you have left it at home!) you can use a 20p coin to check you are above legal minimums – although you can’t check any more specifically than that. The process? You simply place the 20p coin into the main tread grooves of your tyre. If the outer band of the 20p coin is obscured when it is inserted, then your tread is above the legal limit.

Always remember that you shouldn’t leave it until you are on the verge of hitting the minimums to get your tyres changed, as if an officer of the law asks to see your tyres and they are below the legal level each bald (or defective) tyre carries a fine of up to £2,500 and three penalty points. So in other words, if all 4 of your tyres were below 1.6mm of tread you would lose your license as you would accumulate 12 points – plus the potentially massive fine!

Further to the above; check all the tyres when you are checking one. This is because all tyres are likely to wear at slightly different rates – and if you have any issues with Tracking (or worse) then one or more might have worn considerably more than others. Also, factor in that front-wheel-drive cars are likely to get through 2 full sets of front tyres before needing to change the rears –  so ensure you ‘rotate’ (swap front wheels to the rear and visa-versa) if you are only buying new fronts. This is to prevent the rubber decaying on the rears (as they wear so little on front-wheel-drive cars) over extended lengths of time. Rear-wheel-drive cars are likely to wear at a more even rate due to the balance of wear from driving and from steering. 

Don’t worry you don’t have to do the ‘rotation’ yourself – you can ask the garage fitting your new tyres to do so for you. Most will be happy to oblige.

Finally remember that just because the legal minimum is 1.6mm of tread, the generally held school of thought about changing tyres is that you should do so around 2.5 – 3mm. This is due to braking distances increasing dramatically around this point and exponentially below. 

If one tyre is particularly worn, or if one edge is severely worn (more so than realistically should be expected) then consider having the vehicle looked at by a professional in case of problems with tracking, wheel balancing or even potentially worse. Better safe than sorry.

Tyres are something that motorists often neglect or plain forget about; don’t fall foul of baldness. Stay safe, and keep your treads fresh.


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About the Author
Sam Wardega is a freelance car journalist working on behalf of Carsnip.com.
A lifetime Petrolhead who started with Hot Wheels aged 2, and now just spends his life savings on owning his dream cars. As they say, boys don’t stop playing with toys; they just get bigger and more expensive!

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