Atlanta roads can be particularly unforgiving to car tires, especially with extensive road construction, potholes and the general wear-and-tear from your daily commute. Whether you drive a new or pre-owned car, it's important to replace tires every six years or when the tread has worn down to an unsafe level.
Myth: Just use the penny test
As you may have heard from a professional mechanic or tire dealer, the old trick of using a penny to measure your tire tread is not recommended as the sole test for tire safety. When placed upside down between the grooves of your wheel, Lincoln's head should always be covered by the tire tread. If so, it means you have more than 2/32" of tread depth. While this means that you are meeting the minimum legal standards for tire safety, it does not necessarily mean that they are safe for driving.
Check for even depth
Uneven tread wear could indicate a need for alignment, tire rotation or a suspension check. One thing the Lincoln penny can do is help you check for consistency. Place a penny between the tire grooves with Lincoln's head facing down. If even one of the wheels covers a different portion of Lincoln's head or face than the others, take your car in for service or tire replacement.
All cars sold in North America have something called tread wear indicators or "wear bars" built into tires. These 2/32" wear bars are located between the tread blocks that run around the tire. As your tire's tread blocks wear down to the minimum legal requirement of 2/32", the rubber will become flush with the wear bars. This is an obvious visual indicator that your tire needs to be replaced immediately.
Responsiveness in rain (and the occasional snow storm)
While Atlanta drivers typically don't have to worry about snow and ice, rain performance is a good clue of tread wear. If you find your car skidding as you turn a corner or if you come to a sliding stop in the rain, it is absolutely critical that you replace your tires immediately. Water must be able to pass through a tire's tread, providing a stable surface for the car tire to touch the road. When the tread has been reduced between 2/32" and 4/32", rainwater is not able to flow through the tire and can cause a car to hydroplane out of control.
If you think your tires need replacement, contact a tire professional to get an estimate. Remember, you'll probably want to replace all four at once so that they wear down evenly over time.