Tires may look the same at first glance, but they vary greatly depending on their intended use. Take a closer look at the tread, and a tire will tell you under what conditions it performs best and when to replace it.

Here’s what you need to know about tire tread, so you can get to where you’re going with peace of mind:

Tire safety: Why tread matters

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A tire’s tread pattern channels away water and maximizes the tire’s contact with the road. As a tire wears, its grooves become shallow and displace less water. When tread depth drops below 4/32″, a vehicle takes longer to stop on wet roads and risks hydroplaning—losing contact with the road.

To illustrate tire safety and the impact of worn tires, AAA measured the stopping distance of new all-season tires and the same tires worn to 4/32″, as they decelerated from 60 to 0 mph on a wet road. Here’s what we found:

  • Vehicles with worn tires went an average 87 feet beyond those with new tires before stopping—more than the length of a semi-trailer truck.
  • Vehicles with worn tires were still traveling nearly 40 mph at the point when those with new tires had come to a stop.
738 U.S. traffic fatalities in 2017 were attributed to tire problems, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Tire safety: Know your tire types

Tire safety: How to conduct a monthly inspection

Devote five minutes each month to tire safety by checking these three things:

Tread depth: Insert a quarter upside-down into a tread groove. If you can see the top of Washington’s head, the tread depth is less than 4/32″—and it’s time to shop for new tires.

Here are six visible signs that it’s time for new tires.

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Condition: Look for damage and unusual tread wear, both of which can be a sign of under- or over-inflation, poor wheel alignment or a problem with tire balance or the car’s suspension.

Inflation pressure: Check tire pressure after the car has been parked long enough for the tires to cool. You’ll find the recommended pressure in your vehicle’s owners manual.

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