Driving Tips

Tire Tread, Hydroplaning and Tire Safety


First, it’s important to understand what tire tread is.

Tire tread is the rubber part of the tire that makes contact with the road. When you buy a new set of tires, they’re said to have full tread, meaning your vehicle is driving at its optimal level.

Tires with full tread grip the road, dispell water and give you total control behind the wheel. Trust us, they’re the type of tires you want on your vehicle.

Like most things, though, after a lot of use, your tires eventually wear down over time. This is when things start to get unsafe. When tires lose their tread, they’re then called “bald tires.”

Driving on these types of tires is dangerous. It increases your risk of hydroplaning and collisions, and it reduces the amount of control you have behind the wheel.

That’s why it’s important to know how to check your tire’s tread.

How to Measure Your Tire’s Tread

There are several ways to check your tire’s tread, but we’ll explain the two most common: A tire tread gauge and The Toonie Technique.

1. Tire Tread Gauge

The most accurate way to check your tire’s tread is with a tread gauge. You can purchase one at any gas station.

To operate, push the accompanying measuring scale into the gauge and then press it down into the tread block. It’s recommended to do this at different points across the tire and then average the readings. This will give you the most accurate picture of your tire’s tread.

  • 6/32” – Tire Tread is Good
  • 5/32” – Tire Tread is Slightly Worn. Consider Replacing.
  • 4/32” – Your Tires Need to Be Replaced
  • 2/32″ – Your Tires are Legally Bald

All this being said, you can usually spot a bald tire using just your eyes. Instead of bumpy grooves and obvious distinctions throughout, you’ll see nothing but a smooth, flat surface.

Driving on tires that look like this isn’t just unsafe for you, it’s unsafe for everyone on the road. In fact, if you’re in an accident and your tires have been proven to have no tread, you can be charged with negligence if it helped cause the collision.

2. The Toonie Technique

Slide a toonie in-between the tread blocks on your tire. If the tread hits the polar bear’s paw, you have a safe amount of tread left.

If the silver part of the toonie is covered by the tread block, your tires have lost half their tread. They’re still safe to drive on, but you should be ready to buy new tires in the near future.

If the tire tread only hits the letters “DOLLARS” on the toonie, then your tire’s tread is almost completely gone and they need to be replaced immediately!

Reasons Why You Want Good Tire Tread

The treading on your tires is designed to grip the road. In snowy or rainy conditions, good grip helps “bite” the road and keeps you in control. And for us Canadians who have to navigate some pretty treacherous road conditions in the winter, good tire tread is important.

Tread also dispels water which can help you avoid hydroplaning when it rains or sliding around corners. The chances of a tire blowout are also lessened when your tires have good tread.

What To Do If You Hydroplane

Hydroplaning is a loss of traction to the front tires. Experts say that tires with half their tread depth can take anywhere from three to six feet longer to stop in the rain than tires that have full tread (at 50 km an hour). This can have big consequences at high speeds – namely hydroplaning.

If you find yourself hydroplaning, you should not brake. Braking slows the front tires and locks the rear tires which can cause you to spin out. Accelerating suddenly is also a bad idea, as it pulls the vehicle forward.

Hydroplaning in an FWD or RWD Vehicle W/ ABS: Look for open space and direct yourself towards it. Keep your foot light on the accelerator and steer gently towards that open space.

Hydroplaning in an RWD Vehicle W/O ABS: Look for open space and direct yourself towards it. Take your foot slowly off the accelerator and steer gently towards that open space.

Tire Health

Tire tread isn’t the only thing that’s important when it comes to a tire’s overall health. When you’re checking the tread on your tires, check for other flaws, such as cracks, bulges or abrasions. Tires can also show signs of uneven wear, depending on your vehicle’s alignment.

Note – According to the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Act, cars and light trucks are considered legally bald when the tread depth reaches 2/32 inches or 1.5 millimeters on your summer tires.


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