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Check your Tires
a few easy steps
by Rick Smith

With driving safety depending on the condition of your tires, you'd have every reason to invest in a fancy tire gauge. But, look in your pocket - you might already have the tire gauge you need.

Got a Lincoln penny? Chances are you do, since the U.S. Mint has been cranking these out since 1909. Because a simple Lincoln head penny is the perfect size, using one will make it easy to determine when to buy new tires.

It only takes a few steps to check your tire depth:

  • Pinch a Lincoln-head penny, from the base, between your thumb and forefinger, so that the top of Lincoln's head and the words "In God We Trust" are showing.

  • Place the top of Lincoln's head into one of the tire tread grooves -- try to measure in the lowest point within the tread.

  • If any part of Lincoln's head is obscured by the tread, you're all set -- you have a legal and safe amount of tread. However, if you can see above Lincoln's head or any of the "In God We Trust" letters above his head, then you are ready for a new tire.

  • Check your tires in several tread locations. Be sure to check both inner, outer and middle grooves of each tire, because tires can wear differently on each side, due to improper wheel alignment and/or low inflation.

    This penny trick works because the distance between the rim and Lincoln's head is 1/16 of an inch -- the minimum required tread depth. When your tire tread is lower than 1/16 of an inch, your vehicle can have handling problems in adverse conditions (rain, sleet, snow). In short, bald tires are dangerous and could even get you a ticket in some states.

    While checking tire tread depth is a critical technique to insure tire safety and performance, there are several others:

  • Measure tire inflation pressure on a monthly basis

  • Maintain tire pressure at manufacturer's recommendation

  • Rotate your tires every 5,000 miles

  • Check your tires visually for wear or damage

    In the past, there were only mechanical inflation gauges, but now there are many digital gauges that range from one to ten dollars in cost. While I dearly love my circular racing tire gauge, these digital gauges are simpler to operate, much less expensive and more accurate. Many are so inexpensive that they don't have replaceable batteries, but have a five to ten year life-span.

    So, all it takes is a little time and not much more than pocket change to pump up your car's tire safety

    Dated: January 28, 2003

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