Penny In Tire Tread Test (How It Works + Is It Accurate?)

The large majority of states in the United States have minimum tread requirements. If you want your tires to stay legal, they have to stay above this legal limit

However, measuring your tire’s tread can be difficult through normal means. Luckily, the penny test provides an easy way to accurately determine your tire’s tread level. Below, I’ll discuss how to accurately perform this test!

Penny In Tire Tread Test

The penny test provides an easy way to check your tire’s tread level. Simply insert an upside-down penny into your treads. If you can still see Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace your tires. If his head is covered, your tires are fine. Still, you should check your local laws to ensure that this measurement is accurate in your area.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the penny test tells you whether or not your tires are safe. Keep reading to learn about other tests to determine your tire’s tread level!

Is the Penny Test for Tires Accurate?

Generally, it depends on the exact measurement you’re looking for.

When performed correctly, the penny test will let you know if your tires’ tread is less than a 16th of an inch. At this point, many states require that you replace your tires.

However, that doesn’t mean that this is the best time to replace your tires. While you may not be legally obligated to replace them until your tread is less than a 16th of an inch, you may experience drops in safety and grip before this.

In fact, many experts suggest that you replace your tires when they are below an eighth of an inch.

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While you’ll end up replacing your tires sooner than you’re legally obligated, you won’t risk the chance of your tires not gripping the road correctly.

Plus, replacing when your tires are at an eighth of an inch also removes the chance that you’ll accidentally cross the 16th of an inch cut-off.

Therefore, while the penny test will tell you when you’re legally obligated to change your tires, you may want to change them before this for maximum safety.

For this reason, we recommend doing the quarter test instead. While this is extremely similar to the penny test, it will give you the eighth of an inch measurement instead of the 16th of an inch measurement the penny test provides.

How Do You Check Your Tire with a Penny?

How Do You Check Your Tire with a Penny?

Simply turn a penny so that Lincoln’s head is facing down. Then, insert the penny between the ribs of your thread.

If some of Lincoln’s head disappears between the ribs, your tires are still about 2/32”. However, if you can still see his whole head, then your tires need to be replaced.

If possible, I recommend checking multiple points on your tire. Unless you’re meticulous with tire rotation and balancing, your tires are likely to experience some uneven wear – even if it isn’t visible to the naked eye.

For safety, your whole tread needs to cover Lincoln’s head. Even if only a small part of your tire is too low, it is time to replace it.

Of course, be sure you check all your tires as well. The chance of different tires experiencing slightly different rates of wear is high.

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Plus, if your tires are just covering Lincoln’s head, I recommend replacing them. It is easy to accidentally pass under the legal tread limit. Plus, tires with lower treads often don’t perform as well – even if they are within the legal limit.

How Do You Check Tire Tread with a Quarter?

To perform the quarter test, turn the quarter upside down so that Washington’s head is pointing downwards. Then, insert it into your tire’s ribs.

If part of his head is covered, your tires are okay. However, if his head is completely visible, it is time to replace your tires.

Compared to the penny test, the quarter test provides you with a slightly different measurement. If you use the quarter test, you’ll end up replacing your tires before the penny test would alert you to a problem.

In many places, the penny test will provide you with the legal minimum tread measurement. If you’re just worried about legalities, it is probably the best option.

However, it is often better to use the quarter test for safety reasons. You may replace your tire sooner, but you won’t risk going below the legal limit or driving on tires with less grip.

Many states recommend following the quarter test as well. When checking your tire tread, we highly recommend checking your local laws for the exact measurement your treads need to be.

What Is The Penny Trick for Tread Wear on Tires?

What Is The Penny Trick for Tread Wear on Tires?

The penny trick is a fast and easy way to determine if your tires are legal or not. Simply speaking, you insert an upside-down penny between the ribs of your tire. If they obscure Lincoln’s head, your tires are still in the clear.

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However, if they don’t, it’s time to change your tires.

Surprisingly, this test is pretty accurate. All pennies are made to the same measurements, so they make pretty good measuring tools – even if that isn’t their explicit purpose.

With that said, you should check your local laws before relying on the penny test. Plus, just because you’re in the legal limit doesn’t mean that you’re following the safest path.

In many cases, you’ll want to replace your tires before they fail the penny test. Firstly, you don’t want to accidentally wear your tires past the legal mark. Secondly, tires that are approaching this tread level are more likely to experience problems.

Therefore, we recommend doing the quarter test instead, as it provides you with some extra leeway. Plus, the quarter measurement has also been deemed more accurate.

To know more about tires, you can also see our posts if tires have metal in them, if plugging a tire is safe, and tire feathering.


The penny test is pretty easy to figure out. Simply put, all you need to do is stick a penny into your tire tread with Lincoln’s head facing downwards.

If your tires are still okay, some of Lincoln’s head will be obscured. If they need to be replaced, you’ll still be able to see all of Lincoln’s head.

However, many experts now recommend performing the quarter test instead. Compared to the penny test, the quarter test provides more accurate measurements.

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