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Ditch the penny and use a quarter: AAA urges stricter tire wear guidelines

(KOMO Photo)

AAA says its time to change the way many of us check to see if we need new tires.

Based on newly-released results of its wet road skid tests, AAA says sticking a penny in the tread and checking Abe Lincoln's head as a guideline might give a false sense of security. That suggests the current recommendation for when to replace our tires might be too forgiving.

The skid tests compared braking and stopping distance between vehicles with brand new all-weather tires, against those with tires worn down to 4/32" of tread.

The worn tires repeatedly took more than 85 feet longer than the new tires to stop after stepping on the brakes.

Here's the clincher: based on current tire industry recommendations those worn tires are still considered to be in the safe zone.

"The industry standard has always been- when your tire gets down to 2/32" of an inch- or the space on a penny between the top of the penny and Lincoln's head- is when it's time to change," said AAA spokeswoman Jennifer Cook.

AAA's worn tires had 1/16" more tread than industry guidelines and state laws and regulations frequently recommend. Even then, the car with the worn tires repeatedly skidded the distance of a semi-truck, striking a manikin in the road, before coming to a stop.

AAA's advice? Instead of using the age-old "penny" test - where your tread is considered okay unless you can see the very top of Lincoln's head- use a quarter. And as soon as you can see the top of Washington's head, plan a trip to the tire store.

And even with adequate tread on your tires keep a good distance between you and the vehicle in front of you - especialy when the road is wet and slick.

AAA's new worn tire skit tests also found that price makes no difference in how well worn tires performance- so don't shop for new tires based on price alone.

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