How to Measure Tire Tread Depth in 15 Seconds

11_32 = new tire treadWe want to show you how to measure your tires’ tread depth. It’s painless, quick and easy – heck, we were even able to fit it all in this 15-second video.

Winter tires are important, but only if you have enough tread. Legally, you cannot have less than 3.5 mm (approximately 5/32 of an inch) on most highways in British Columbia between October 1 and March 31. If you barely have the legal minimum depth of tread, you should replace your tires for improved safety on the road.

What’s the big deal with tread, anyway? Well, the tread groove disperses water and snow as the tires roll, allowing the tires to make contact with the road. A shallow groove reduces the tires’ ability to push water and snow to the outside, which can cause hydroplaning and loss of traction.

If you’re looking for more information on winter tire requirements and recommendations, give this blog post a read.

Or, perhaps you missed previous installments of our 15 Seconds to Safety video series? (It’s part of the Shift Into Winter campaign). Play some catch-up below.

>> Clearing Snow Off Your Vehicle

>> Are Your Tail Lights On?

>> How to Pack Your Vehicle Emergency Kit in 15 Seconds

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Page 1 of 13 comments on “How to Measure Tire Tread Depth in 15 Seconds”

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  1. A couple of things stand out. Winter tires for many of us living in the “transition zone” are put away either on their own rims or not. We put them on “as needed” or by date required by law on BC Highways.
    Speak to us about the age of the tire and the difference in efficacy as reaches old age.
    Also, the various conditions of snow throughout the winter in the Lower Mainland where humidity (surely) has got to be a factor.
    It seems to me that tread depth cannot be the only factor where the seasonal differences are so varied.
    Thank you.

    • Hello Ib,

      Great comment. We encourage you to keep track of the mileage on your winter tires, along with the tread depth. The tire manufacturer should list the estimated lifetime mileage for the tires. Your tire shop (or whomever does your tire transfer should also be a good point of reference in the life left in your tires). Other signs of wear, like surface (or aligator) cracking could also be taken into consideration. We hope that this is helpful.

  2. What your video failed to show, is that the proper spot to measure tread is from the tread wear indicator, in the same format shown in the video, every manufacturer has tread wear bars spaced evenly around circumference across the tread.

    • Hello Aran – thanks for your comment. Some tires do have tread depth indicators, but they are intended to be a visual reference point for drivers to clearly see when the tread depth has reached the minimum allowable tread depth – for regular use (summer). We recommend drivers measure their tread depth using a tread depth indicator at three key locations across the width of the tire and at regular intervals (approx. every 15 cm) around the tire as well. This will give you a clear indication of any areas where the tire tread depth may have uneven wear due to different driving behaviours. Hope that this helps clarify! Thank you again for connecting with us here.

  3. Unfortunately not everyone has a tire tread depth gauge. However, everyone has access to coins which can be used to measure tread depth approximately. The question is which Canadian coin to use and how much should be showing to indicate the B.C. legal minimum of 3.5mm tread depth for winter tires? There are many videos featured online but they fail to provide a clear picture of what to look for. Some even feature U.S. coins or describe standards for provinces other than B.C. There is a video available featuring our Transportation Minister however it is difficult to see exactly what he is describing. What’s needed is a simple line drawing showing the coin being inserted into the tread for B.C. standards.

    • Hi Gord. 3.5 mm is fairly precise, so we recommend using a tread gauge. However, a Canadian quarter can be used to give a general idea of legal tread depth. The caribou’s nose is approximately 5 mm from the coin’s edge. So, when placing the coin inside the tread, caribou nose down toward the tire, the tread should nearly meet, or cover, the nose. While 3.5 mm is the legal minimum, the deeper the tread the better.

  4. What’s a winter tire? It’s a radial tire, not summer tire. It has the meaningless M+S symbol. Unless you drive a Ferrari you’re going to have radial three season tires.

    What’s a snow tire? One that has the snowflake emblem on the side of the tire. That’s what should be mandatory with an increased minimum tread depth. Again, ICBC has such low tolerance it gives them reason to raise our rates and not penalize drivers for their lack of common sense.

  5. Please correct your article and video to reflect the act.

    The lower mainland’s highways in BC do not require winter tires at all, and so in winter only a 1.5 mm tread-depth is required by law.

    Furthermore, on all BC highways a passenger car is legal in the winter months with winter tires on the drive axles with a minimum depth of 3.5 mm and also a pair of summer tires on the non-drive axle with a minimum depth of 1.5mm.

    Of course, the ministry of transport recommends all winter tires…..but this is not a legal requirement.

    • Hi Angus,

      Thank you for the suggestions. The video is a quick educational piece meant to raise awareness about the importance of monitoring tire tread depth for safety. The article is correct when it states the law requires a minimum tread depth of 3.5 mm “on most highways in British Columbia…” You are correct that the law applies to the tires on the main drive axle. However, the law is not meant as a guide for drivers choosing the best (most safe) option for their specific location and travel habits. It is simply the legal minimum required. We appreciate your feedback, and understand that some readers will be looking for more information on legal requirements versus recommendations, so we included a link to another blog post with more information at the bottom of this article.

      • That’s the problem now isn’t it? The law isn’t meant to deter bad driving behaviour or prevent people from being taken advantage of.. It essentially serves no purpose. Those who drive on bald or near bald tires are fully aware they’re tires are unsafe. Laws should be made to protect people not to protect the government from liability. The fact is in many cases laws do just that, just not in BC.

    • As a seasoned interior BC resident, I strongly agree that the minimum tire tread depth on only your main drive axles is not enough. Depending on vehicle type (FWD, RWD, AWD, or 4WD), being able to accelerate from a stop is not the only criteria to driving. Having functional tread depth on steering and drive axles enables you to stop, and steer around obstacles and potential hazards. Running the legal or minimum tire tread depth in this part of the province puts not only yourself at risk, but other drivers on the road around you. Be safe not sorry!