When Should I Replace My Winter / Snow Tires?

Monday, October 4, 2010 by Todd Galbreath
Dill Digital Tread Depth Gauge When tires reach 2/32" (approximately 1.6mm) of remaining tread depth they are considered to be legally worn out. According to U.S. law, tires must also have easy-to-see Tread Wear Indicator bars incorporated into their tread design for visual indication that a tire has worn down to 2/32". Tire Rack offers an easy-to-use tread depth gauge for around 20 bucks that will allow you to be aware of your tread depth in less than a minute.

However, in spite of the legal minimums, drivers expecting to experience rain-soaked roads should consider replacing their tires when they reach 4/32" of remaining tread depth. Our tests have shown that shallow treads both reduce wet braking traction and increase stopping distances.

Driving on snow and ice-covered roads is another story. Consider replacing tires when they reach approximately 6/32" of remaining tread depth to maintain good traction capabilities. All tires need more tread depth in wintry conditions to compress snow and release sit as they rotate. If there isn't sufficient tread depth, the slush and snow that can be processed on each tire revolution will be reduced and the vehicle's traction in snow and slush will be reduced.

New Tire Tread Depth   Approaching Winter
Wear Indicators
  Approaching Tread
Wear Indicators
Combines tread design, compound and full depth to provide effective snow traction   When worn to about 6/32", its ability to provide beneficial snow traction diminishes   While still legal at 2/32", the tire has worn well past where it provides beneficial snow traction

Fortunately, winter tires are typically molded with deeper tread depths than summer or all-season tires. Many also feature Winter Wear Indicators (also called Snow Platforms) to identify tread depths that are suitable for snow performance. While Winter Wear Indicators are not intended to be a sign the tire is legally worn out, they signify that snow traction has passed the point of diminishing returns and has worn to approximately 6/32" of remaining tread depth.

Not many all-season tires have Winter Wear Indicators molded into their tread designs, but their winter traction will also pass the point of diminishing returns when their treads wear down to approximately 6/32" of remaining tread depth. Tire Rack recommends that they be replaced as well.

Too little is never enough!

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