Is 5mm tread on car tyres still good to drive on?

By Adam White

Driving with insufficient tread on your tyres is not only a safety issue but also a legal one. Failure to drive with tyres with sufficient tread can incur a fine of up to £2,500 plus three penalty points - for each tyre affected. Checking your tyres regularly will mean you don't end up making a costly error.

What exactly is tyre tread?

Tyre tread is the pattern on the main central face of the tyre that keeps the tyre in contact with the road. A worn tread will offer reduced grip on the road.

What level should tyre tread be at?

The legal minimum for tread is 1.6mm, which must be the measurement across three-quarters of the width and the entire circumference of the tyre. Most new car tyres start with a tread of 8mm. Tread levels above the minimum are still good to drive on, although you must still regularly check for tears or cracks in the sidewall and any other damage to the tyre.

Our qualified fitters believe that once a tread reaches 3mm you should be changing tyres based on tread depth. Tests show that once a tyre is worn to 3mm and below, stopping distances are dramatically affected. This means a vehicle is more likely to struggle, particularly in wet weather and may be more prone to losing grip or aquaplaning.

So, while a 5mm tread is OK to drive on, it is important to check the tread regularly because the closer it gets to 3mm, the more dangerous it becomes.

How do you check tyre tread depth?

There are several ways to check depth. One of the simplest involves the 20p test. Insert a 20p coin into the tread grooves on your tyre. If you cannot see the outer band of the tyre, your tread is likely to be OK to drive on. If you can see the outer band of the 20p piece, however, it is likely that your tread is too low and should be looked at by qualified fitters. Remember to use the 20p test in at least three places around the tyre.

Most tyres, including those from well-known brands including Pirelli, Falken and Bridgestone, have tread depth indicators (wear bars) on them. These are found at points around the tyre and are moulded into the tread grooves. If the tyre tread has become flush with these bars, you should change them as it is likely they fall below the recommended 3mm depth.

You can also check tyre tread by using a tyre tread depth gauge, which is inexpensive and specially designed for the job.

How often should I check tyre tread?

It is recommended that you should check the tread, along with tyre pressure, every two weeks. Once a month is the absolute minimum for this check. You should also check it before undertaking a long journey. Keep your eyes open for the main signs of tyre tread wear, which include visible tears or cracks in the sidewall of the tyre, any bulges or exposed structural wire.

What are the consequences of driving with low tyre tread?

Driving on tyres with insufficient tread can have a significant impact on the safety of your vehicle. It can mean your car has longer braking distances, particularly in wet conditions, struggles to gain traction on icy roads and is more likely to experience a puncture or sudden blowout. Maintaining a good tyre tread depth is just one of several regular checks to undertake to help you get the most out of your tyres.

Aside from the performance issues, as we already mentioned, driving with a tread depth below 1.6mm is illegal. If you suffer an accident which can be traced back to illegal or balding tyres, it may invalidate your insurance.

To prevent excessive tread wear, avoid driving at high speeds, excess loads, or with over- or under-inflated tyres and misaligned wheels.

Book a tyre check with the local garage you can trust

You can book a free tyre check with Protyre. Simply search online for your nearest garage and book a check with one of our experienced tyre professionals. We have more 150 garages across the UK, stocking a range of tyres for all budgets, including brands such as Pirelli, Sumitomo, Bridgestone and Falken.

Find your closest Protyre garage

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About the author

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By Adam White
Adam looks to create engaging and informative content across the website that provides consumers with expert advice on MOTs, servicing, vehicle maintenance and tyre care. As a motorsport enthusiast, Adam enjoys documenting the Protyre Motorsport team’s involvement in major motorsport events across the UK.
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