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Checking tire tread wear: what to do when the tires look worn out

Tips & Advice for Car, SUV & Van tires

Many drivers call on the services of a tire specialist to help them with their tires, as it is the best way to know if the tire tread and the sidewalls are in good condition. However, drivers can check tire tread depth on their own using a tread depth gauge or a twenty pence coin. Alternatively, looking at the treadwear indicators that are spaced out around the circumference of the tire is a good way to check tire wear. If they are level with the remaining tread, then it is time to replace your tire.

So, it isn't hard to take control and check your tires yourself. It’s quick and can prevent many problems. Inspect your tires for wear and damage problem at least once a month and before you go on a long road trip.

What is tire tread?

To begin with, it is probably worth starting by explaining just what tire tread truly is. Once motorists understand what tire tread is, they should be better equipped to check whether their tires have enough of it.

Essentially, tire tread is the set of grooves that run around the outer surface of a tire. What these grooves do is maintain a good grip on the road, for example, by helping to disperse water to prevent aquaplaning. What's more, stopping in time would become much, much harder. It would also be much trickier to get started the car without spinning the wheels if no tire tread is present to help gain traction.

Are there different tire treads?

MICHELIN tires are designed with different patterns of tire tread.
Some are designed to maximise grip when cornering. Other tires are specifically designed to help maximise traction in wet or snowy conditions by shifting water out of the way.

Tire treads are specific to each driving experience (road use, winter use, off-road use, mixed use ....). They all have slightly different purposes, but the overall thing to bear is that tire tread is essential for safety and performance.

tyre tread

Why does tire tread wear out?

Of course, as tires are made from rubber compounds, the tire tread will inevitably wear down over time due to a variety of factors including vehicle type (Hybrid, electric, or petrol cars), driver behaviour, climate, temperature, the roughness of the road surface, the mechanical condition of the vehicle (camber settings, wheel alignment, wheel balance, suspension, transmission…), maintenance, tire pressure…

The latest MICHELIN tires are designed to deliver excellent longevity and high levels of performance from the first to the last kilometer* throughout the tire’s life. That’s what, at Michelin, we call “Performance made to last”!

When worn tires reach a certain point, it is no longer legal to drive on them. In the UK, cars fail the MOTs if the tires are too worn.  So, it's important to know how to properly check the remaining tread on a car's tires.

*The following tire lines are designed to offer high level of longevity and performance that lasts: ​MICHELIN CrossClimate², MICHELIN Primacy 4+, MICHELIN Pilot Sport 4 , MICHELIN Alpin 6 and MICHELIN Pilot Alpin 5.

How to check the tire tread depth?

Check the tread wear with one of the three methods:

With the tread wear indicators

Tread wear indicators are small, raised areas at the bottom of the grooves of the tread pattern. On MICHELIN tires, the Michelin Man figure shows where these indicators are in each of the main grooves of the tread.

A tire must be changed as soon as it wears down to these indications. Tread depth remaining is then 1.6 mm, which corresponds to the legal minimum. Beyond this limit, you are putting your safety at risk, and you are breaking the law.

If only one tire wear indicator is reached, your tire is experiencing abnormal wear (overinflation, underinflation, misalignment). Seek for professional advice!


With a tread depth gauge

One of the best devices to use is a simple air gauge designed for this specific job. Tire tread depth gauges won't cost a great deal, and they can accurately and swiftly confirm the tread level.

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With the 20 pence coin test in the UK 

Another way to check the tread of tires effectively is to use a 20 pence coin  instead of a purposely built tread depth gauge. It is possible because the rim on a 20p coin  is just the right size for measuring a depth of 1.6 mm. So basically, all motorists need to do is insert a coin into the grooves around their part-worn tires and check whether the rim of the coin disappears from their view. If it does, then there is sufficient tire tread depth remaining. If the rim stands proud of the tire, on the other hand, then the partially worn tire is no longer valid and needs to be replaced forthwith.

The depth of the main grooves of the tires must be at least 1.6 mm on 3/4 of the tire tread.

Checking for wear must always be carried out at several points across the circumference and width of the tire. It also involves getting them checked regularly, both inside and outside, by a tire specialist. If the legal treadwear limit has been reached, the tire must be removed and replaced.

A tire professional must be consulted if there is abnormal wear or a difference in wear between two tires on the same axle.

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Any visible perforation, cut or deformation must be checked thoroughly. Leave it to the experts! A tire specialist will tell you if your tire can be repaired after damage has occurred.

As a precautionary measure, even if the tire’s overall condition appears good to the naked eye and it is within the legal limit in terms of wear, Michelin recommends changing tires when they reach 10 years old from their date of manufacture. This ten-year age limit is calculated from the date in the DOT marking.

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