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What are Bald Tires?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Bald tires are tires which have been so worn down that they have almost no tread. Since tread is what helps tires grip the road, bald tires can be extremely dangerous. Ideally, tires should be replaced before they are truly bald, for optimal safety. Driving with good tires is also easier, and you may notice a marked improvement in vehicle handling after you replace worn tires.

Tires will gradually wear down over the course of routine use. Some things will cause tires to wear down more quickly, such as aggressive driving or steering and alignment problems. The United States Department of Transportation recommends that drivers check their tires every month and before a long trip to ensure that the tire tread depth is safe. In addition, motorists should use a pressure gauge to check the inflation level of their tires, as underinflated tires are dangerous, especially if they have low tread as well.

As a general rule, tires are usable until the tire tread depth reaches 1/16 of an inch (.15 centimeters). In the United States, consumers can use a penny to assess tire safety; insert a penny between the treads of the tire, with Lincoln's head pointing down. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head, replace the tire. Penny coins in many other nations can be used in much the same way. Most tire manufacturers also embed tread wear indicators, which will become visible when a tire needs to be replaced.

The term “bald tires” is very apt, as a truly bald tire really does look bald. The treads on the tire will appear as faint ghosts, rather than strongly marked patterns, and the tire may have a slightly faded, gray look. In a car in good condition, tires should wear evenly, and if you have one bald tire, the tire on the other side of the car should be bald as well. If only one tire appears to be balding, it is an indicator that your car may not be aligned properly, or that someone replaced only one tire at some point, rather than two, as is standard.

Bald tires are dangerous for a number of reasons. In the first place, the limited tread reduces traction for the car, which can be very dangerous in wet or icy driving conditions. Bald tires are also more likely to fail, especially at high speed, since they are worn and stressed. Tire blowouts are generally not enjoyable, and they can be deadly in a high speed driving environment.

In addition to daily wear and tear, some things can accelerate the rate of balding. High speed driving tends to be hard on tires, for example, as does improper inflation, which will also cause uneven wear. Hard cornering may generate uneven wear patterns, and one of the leading causes is improper alignment. Alignment can be checked at an auto repair shop, while driving habits will need to be modified or unlearned if you want to prolong the life of your tires.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon330839 — On Apr 18, 2013

I have been driving on one bald tire and I must say its very scary. I feel my car going to one side and very hard to control on wet, slippery roads. Don't be dumb. Check your tires, and if they don't meet the requirements just replace them. It can save your life and those precious passengers.

By anon329910 — On Apr 12, 2013

In the Philippines (during rainy season) I have seen and ridden in vehicles with really bald tires with no problems. If there are puddles on the road or highway, they slow down a bit.

I asked the driver if he ran his tires down a lot and if they were a problem as bald as they were. He said that he changes them when the cords come out so they don't pop and leave him stranded. I'd venture to say that driver error is most likely the problem. Being aware is half the issue.

I watch the puddles on the road as my tires approach the wear indicators. Festivas hydroplane even on good treads.

By anon276443 — On Jun 24, 2012

Can bald tires cause a smoke/burning smell?

By anon257865 — On Mar 29, 2012

Can you get a ticket if you have bald tires?

By liveoak — On May 13, 2011

@anon39160- Most tire dealers will tell you that bald tires are dangerous. I asked my local tire dealer about driving a lot of miles on bald tires and he said it is not a good idea at all. He said you should get them replaced with used or new tires as soon as you possibly can.

Bald tires can blow out when you are on the highway, and cause bad traction on rain and ice. It is just safer to replace them than to keep driving them until something happens.

By anon39160 — On Jul 30, 2009

Can a bald tire be still good for 10,000 miles?

Someone (of authority he thinks) told my granddaughter that. She has a bald tire

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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