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By Tire Agent Staff
December 13, 2021
Today's tires have built-in features that help drivers know when it's time to replace tires, before it's too late. Newer vehicles have electronic tire safety pressure monitoring (TSPM) systems in the form of dashboard alerts to let drivers know when tire pressure is low. A tire that continues to lose air pressure might need to be replaced (or repaired).
There are other factors that determine when tires should be replaced, but most modern tires have built-in visual indicators that let drivers know it's time to go. These are called tire wear bars, and they are built in to the tire itself, spaced evenly throughout the tire's tread so that as the tire wears closer to that 2/32" mark, the war bar becomes more visible. When tread is even with the wear bar, it's time to replace it.
The US Department of Transportation (DOT) says that tires with a tread depth of 2/32 of an inch or less are not safe and should be replaced.
Tire wear bars are also called driving safety indicators, tire depth bars, tire change bars, tire wear indicators, quick view indicators and in some models, they're called tire wear dimples because they are very small dimple-like indentations. Because there is no industry or government standard for what tire wear indicators look like, it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Michelin, for example, uses its Michelin Man logo to help drivers find their wear bars. The tiny logo is etched into the edge of the tire, as this photo shows.
Continental Tire uses a unique technique in some tire all-season tire models. They stamp DWS into the tread of their tires, which stands for dry, wet, and snow. When the S is no longer visible, the tire is not safe for snow driving. When the W is no longer visible, the tire is not safe for wet conditions. And, when the D fades, it's time to replace the tire.
Different manufacturers place them in different places, so it depends on who makes them. Generally, the tire wear indicators are placed throughout the circumference of the tire, evenly spaced in the grooves. In fact, when you are inspecting your tires, we recommend that you carefully check the entire surface of each tire, as tires can and do wear unevenly.
If any portion of a tire is at 2/32" or lower, it is time to replace it, even if other parts of the tire are deeper than 2/32".
Yes, you can drive on tire tread bars. But as soon as they become more visible and closer to the outer tread, it's time to start shopping for replacement tires.
When your tire tread bars become close to smooth with the outermost tread of your tire, it's time to start shopping for tires. The safety rule says that tread depth that is 2/32" inch or less is considered a "bald" tire, and it's time to replace it. However, you do not need to wait for your tire to wear that low! In fact, we recommend that when your tire tread gets to 4/32", it's time to start tire shopping.
In this video from Bridgestone, they explain how tire wear bars can be found and what they should look like when they are new versus when it's time to replace the tire.
Tire wear bar indicators are not set for distance. They're set for tread wear. On average, a driver puts 10,000 to 15,000 miles on a car every year. For a tire with an expected mileage of 60,000, then the tread bar indicator will start to show around year 4.
It means stop driving on them, immediately. When bare tires have exceeded their treads, you might see the fibers that were used to strengthen the tires when they were new.
If you've got white threads or some other type of thread showing through the rubber of your tire, you're in danger. The tire is beyond its usability and could blow, causing a crash. It is not safe to drive on tires with visible tread wires.