Tire tracks in snowWhen it rains and snows, your car’s tire tread depth becomes a real safety issue. If you have worn-out tires, you’re more likely to get into an accident — and vehicle (and tire) maintenance is a must for being able to file a claim if you get into an accident due to wintry weather.

Car insurance does cover common wintry weather incidents. But you’ll pay for it. Car insurance rates increase about 31% after filing an accident claim, according to a CarInsurance.com analysis of rates.

“You can take a car with an awesome four-wheel-drive system and put a tire that’s a high-performance summer tire, and you could render it almost useless in the snow because the tires have got no grip,” says Matt Mullins, chief instructor at the BMW Performance Driving School in South Carolina. “On the other hand, you could take your regular old car and put an awesome set of snow tires on, and you’d be amazed where you could go.”

Keep reading to learn about tire tread depth and why it’s important.

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Written by:
Karen Aho
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Our Carinsurance.com team is made up of regular people with insurance policy needs, just like you. We just happen to know a little more about insurance than the average bear.

Why is tire tread depth necessary?

Tire treads are essential to monitor because they are critical in driving safety, performance and fuel efficiency. Tire treads allow the tire to grip the road, handle acceleration and breaking.

As the tread wears down, your tires become less able to do their job, which could increase your chance of an accident, especially in wet or snowy conditions. That’s why checking your tire tread depth should be part of routine vehicle maintenance.

How much tread is safe on a tire?

The minimum safe tire-tread depth is 2/32, but you should replace your tires at 4/32, especially if you drive in rainy and snowy conditions.

Most states require tires only to have at least 2/32 inches of tread depth. This is fine on dry roads and somewhat dicey on wet ones, but drivers cope — you don’t see cars abandoned if a half-inch of rain falls.

But in snow, any tread below 4/32 inches is considered useless. The car may only come to a stop with the help of another object in its path.

A new all-season tire has at least 10/32 inches of tread. But even it won’t grip like a winter tire.

How to tell if you need new tires

You can use a penny to determine when to replace your tires. Here’s how, according to Firestone:

  • Place a penny head-first into several tread grooves across the tire.
  • Your treads are shallow and worn if you always see the top of Lincoln’s head. If this is the case, your tires need to be replaced.
  • If the tread always covers part of Lincoln’s head, you have more than 2/32 of an inch of tread depth remaining. This means you probably don’t need new tires.
Laura Longero

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Laura Longero

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Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

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Karen Aho
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Our Carinsurance.com team is made up of regular people with insurance policy needs, just like you. We just happen to know a little more about insurance than the average bear.