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The Tire Penny Test: Myth or Fact

The Tire Penny Test: Myth or Fact

You’ve probably heard this one from someone when you were learning to drive: To check if your tires are still ready to hit the road, stick a copper Honest Abes’ head into your treads, and if you can still see his whole head sticking out it’s time to replace your tires. 

But what exactly is the 16th President telling us? And is this the best way to determine whether or not you should be looking into new tires? Join our crack team of researchers at Rent A Wheel as we dive into the “Penny Test.”

How to Know When Your Tires Are Toast

You’re driving down the highway in your sick ride. Everything’s going smooth. You take care of your car because you love it. You make sure that it looks clean, that it sounds great, and when you hit the gas it gets going fast, way faster than the plebs around you. You can imagine your tires spinning on the pavement, sometimes so fast, those killer rims you picked up at an unbelievable price from Rent A Wheel just turn into a blur. Not many things feel better than a finely tuned car ripping down the road when you’re behind the wheel. 

But then, someone in front of you hits the brakes, or you notice a mattress lying in the middle of the road. And you suddenly have to hit the brakes and ruin the moment. But the mattress is coming up quicker than you thought, so you have to brake, fast. So you slam on your least favorite pedal and feel your car trying its best to come to a halt. But for some reason, you keep sliding, and suddenly that mattress is heading right into your precious machine- why did you slide so far? 

This is exactly the situation we want to help you avoid. You never want to find out your tires have a problem when you’re skidding on the highway because some other fool doesn’t know how to tie down a mattress. You take care of your car, engine, and interior--those are all easy to notice when something is wrong. But how can we make sure our tires are still too legit to quit after a few years?

What is the “Penny Test” anyway?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tires need to have a tread of at least 1/16th of an inch in order to safely grip the road in wet conditions. 1/16th of an inch also happens to be the gap between the rim of a penny and where Abraham Lincoln's head begins, which means sticking that penny into your tread can show you just how close you’re getting to the line between reliable and dangerous tires. This can be the difference between hitting the brakes and avoiding a nasty accident, or hitting the brakes and and straight up sliding right into said accident. 

It’s an age old method, sure, and many online sources will tell you that this technique is tried and true. Starts to sound like we have a fact on our hands, doesn’t it? Well hold on a minute because there’s more information to be told and perhaps another President we should be looking to for advice. 

If not a penny, what should you use?

Mr. Lincoln was a great President, don’t get us wrong. But in the case of checking your tire tread depth and deciding if you should get a new set of Nexen N’Fera AU7’s or not, we would suggest actually using our first President, Mr. George Washington. Not his ruggedly handsome portrait on the $1 bill, but the $0.25 we use at vending machines and do our laundry with. The quarter has a gap between the rim and President Washington’s forehead of 2/16ths, and while this doesn’t seem like much, it could be the stopping difference of a few hundred feet. 

If you live somewhere where it rains from time to time (just about everywhere) or snows occasionally, your tires are going to need that extra 1/16ths of an inch to hold on to the road should anything happen. 

Waiting until Honest Abe tells you you only have 1/16th of an inch of tread left on your tires to replace is them is sort of like waiting until your landlord is threatening you with eviction to pay rent: A bit last minute. And at Rent A Wheel, we’re all about making sure the future is manageable and easy to prepare for, whether it’s through our flexible Rent-to-Own purchase plans or just simply knowing when you should be purchasing new tires. 

What To Do When It Snows

Alright, so we’ve talked about some rain, and the difference 1/16ths of an inch can make between you coming to a stop and you collide with a rogue mattress (or potentially much worse.) But we know some of you deal with a weather condition much worse than rain: Snow. 

Ugh, the gripes of living where it snows when you just want to enjoy the car you put so much care into. You have to wipe it off in the morning. You have to let your engine warm-up before pushing it. You have to kick all that snow off your shoes before even getting in, or you’ll get nasty, muddy tracks all over your beautiful floor mat. 

But snow has its difficulties even when you’ve already cleaned your car (and shoes), and you’re driving somewhere. We don’t have to tell you that snow makes it harder to stop (duh,) but do you know just how much it makes it harder to stop? And what this means for your tread?

Get Your Wheels Ready for Snow

We know that 2/16ths of an inch is a good time to start looking at tires when the road is slick with rain, but now we’re talking about snow. 

You bought yourself a set of Continental ProContact TX tires from Rent A Wheel for just $31 a month, great all-season tires at a great, affordable price. But that was a few years ago now, and suddenly you see on the news that this winter “is going to be snow this year.” It’s time to start stepping up the game as far as checking your tires. According to the Colorado Department of Travel, )and trust us, they know snow), if you’re expecting a few inches or more, you should start making sure you have at least 3/16ths of an inch of tread. 

Not to mention, even if those sweet Continentals are pushing 3/16th’s or more, they still only have a stopping distance of 650-plus feet if you’re out on the highway doing 60 mph, being that they’re “all-season.” This means if you’re under that measurement, your car is most likely going to be sliding almost as far as Seattle Seahawks Wide Receiver D.K. Metcalf ran all season in 2020. 

To get yourself and your dream vehicle ready for the harsh realities of snow, we strongly recommend looking into a pair of actual snow tires, even if President Washington has his head stuck in your treads. And with Rent A Wheel offering reasonable monthly payments for reliable and trusted winter tires like Pirelli Winter Ice Zero FR, which not only look legit but also sound super cool, it’s never been easier and more affordable to make sure you’re going to be in a safer position come winter. 

When it comes to tires, you want your stopping distance to be low. And especially when it snows, you want that number to be as low as you can get it. With plenty of options available at RentAWheel.com, you can have your ride bringing in numbers like New York Jets Wide Receiver Braxton Berrios did in the 2020 season (sorry Braxton, we know it’s not entirely your fault.

The Takeaway

All in all, we want you to be safe on the road and not break the bank while doing so. The penny test is a bit outdated, and the quarter test works if you’re somewhere it doesn’t snow too bad. And if it does snow where you live, well, we’ve got you covered there too. 

At Rent A Wheel, we make it easy and affordable to make sure you and your car are completely up to standards while looking most excellent. Whether it’s a mattress out to ruin your day or someone not paying attention and slamming the brakes in front of you, we know you take great care of your car and want a service that’s simple to use when you need it. Just remember that you can’t really trust President Lincoln to tell you when that is, go ask George Washington.



How to Check Tire Tread Depth with a Penny | FirestoneCompleteAutoCare.com

Tires | NHTSA.gov.

Winter Driving | CODot.gov