A common question asked by customers when they visit an auto-shop is
“My tires are worn, how long can I wait before replacing my tires?”
Clearly, customers dread buying new tires, and understandably so as new tires cost quite a bit of money.
But in this reluctance, they put off replacing worn-out tires – even totally bald ones.
It is not recommended to drive on bald tires even for a mile. If your tires’ tread depth is less than 2/32″, you should have them replaced with new tires as soon as possible to avoid any possible accidents on the road as bald tires offer zero to no traction at all.
In what follows, I will discuss when you should consider replacing your tire.
Should I still drive on a bald tire?
The simple, straightforward answer to this question is “No.” A bald tire is an accident waiting to happen. Driving with a bald tire is extremely dangerous as it not only comprises your own safety but also jeopardizes the safety of other drivers on the road.
It is the tire’s tread that provides you traction on the road, channels water away in different weather conditions, and is responsible for the proper steering of your tires.
Worn out or damaged tread can lead to punctures and blowouts which are the driver’s worst nightmares. It can also lead to cracks in the tire.
If you find that your tires are bald (i.e., have a tread depth of less than 2/32″), it is the right time that you consider replacing the tire. Bald tires are often the main culprits behind the humming noise coming from the tires.
Learn More: How to Puncture a Tire Silently?
What are bald tires?
If you’re not sure what bald tires mean, allow me to explain it to you:
Tires have specific patterns and grooves on their surface which make up the tread of the tire. If you look closely, the tread has a particular depth.
A brand new tire has a tread depth of about 10/32″ to 11/32″. The tread naturally wears out with every mile you drive.
A tire is completely ‘bald’ when all of its treads wear out and you essentially have a smooth rubber surface with no grooves.
In most countries, however, tires are legally classified bald if they have a tread depth of less than 2/32″.
Most tires also come with ‘indicator-bars’ (also called parallel wear bars) that help determine whether the tread is worn out or not.
If the tread is at the same level as the indicator, you have a bald tire. A bald tire is just another word for tires with worn-out tread.
A side-by-side comparison of a brand new tire (left-tire) with a bald tire (right-tire) is shown as:
(Picture taken from https://www.performanceplustire.com/)
Risk of Bald Tires
Bald tires can have serious implications on overall safety on the road. The following are some of the risks associated with bald tires:
Less traction on the road
A tire’s tread is designed to maximize traction across a variety of weather conditions. The grooves are so designed that they give you a proper grip on the road.
A bald tire i.e., a tire with inadequate tread is more prone to skidding and sliding especially in bad weather. Even on dry surfaces, you’ll find it difficult to accelerate, brake, and corner without slipping.
With a bald tire, the risk of hydroplaning in bad weather increases tremendously.
Hydroplaning is when your tire actually loses contact with the ground and instead rides on the water layer.
In such a condition, the driver loses control over his steering which is quite a dangerous condition that may lead to a fatal accident.
The tread on your tire provides a channel for the water on the ground and prevents it from forming a layer beneath the surface of the tire.
As the tires wear out, the grooves become shallower making them less effective against watery roads, and in the case of bald tires, there is no protection whatsoever against hydroplaning.
Less control over steering
Bald tires offer less control when it comes to steering on the road.
The stopping distance of the vehicle once brakes are applied is also drastically increased with bald tires offering you less control over your vehicle.
Tires require friction to operate, it’s what moves them on the road. A little bit of friction is desirable, as it prevents your car from skidding.
However, with friction comes heat and as the tread wears out more and more, heat starts to build up as the contact patch increases.
Tread helps cool the surface of the tire through its grooves that provide a channel for the air to flow in.
A bald tire is at serious risk of overheating because there is no tread to cool the surface temperature.
Above a certain temperature, the tires become susceptible to a driver’s worst nightmare – a blowout.
Puncture and Blowout
Bald tires are more vulnerable to puncture as there is no protective tread which acts as a barrier for the tire.
Puncture in a bald tire can lead to a blowout as well in addition to a flat tire.
Punctures resulting in blowouts can occur with protective tread as well but tires with proper tread stand a much better chance resisting that possibility as opposed to a bald tire.
What should you do?
Regularly check state of your tread
Check the state of the tread every 1000 miles or on a monthly basis. You don’t need to be a car technician or a specialist to check the state of your tread.
All it takes is some visual inspection. In the case of a completely bald tire, you would easily notice that all of the tread is gone leaving a smooth layer of rubber on the tire with no grooves.
However, in the case of partially worn-out tires, the following are a few tests that tell you about the state of the tread.
Insert a penny upside down as shown in the image below. If any part of Lincoln’s head is covered, it means your tire tread is in a good state.
If not, it is a worrying sign and you might consider replacing your tire.
(Image taken from https://lkq.co)
Don’t understand what I am saying? Watch this video:
Tire gauges and wear bars
You can get your tires checked in a nearby auto shop that will measure the depth of your tread using tire gauges that give you a value of tread depth anywhere from 1/32″ to 32/32″.
Below 2/32″, the tire is legally considered bald and needs to be replaced.
Alternatively, there are wear bars present on most modern tires that help you determine the state of your tread.
Replace the tire
From the above tests, if you conclude that your tire is legally bald, the best practice is to simply replace the tire.
There is practically little else you can do when it comes to bald tires and there is no use in jeopardizing your safety by driving with bald tires.
Countless lives have already been lost on the road simply due to poor tire maintenance.
To simply conclude, It is not advisable to drive on a bald tire as there are huge risks life-threatening risks involved. It is however possible to slowly drive your car to a nearby workshop to get your tires replaced with newer ones.