Note: This article is intended to enlighten consumers to relevant terms and sales tactics. It is not legal advice. If you have legal issues and need to speak with someone about the laws in your state, please contact a licensed attorney. 

Any driver in Washington State has had to wonder about tire legalities at least once in their lifetime, but most likely much more than just once. When looking into tires, it is important to know the difference between the legal limit and the manufacturer recommendations for tire wear.

First off, in Washington State, there is a legal tire tread limit of 2/32 of an inch – or about the distance between the edge of a penny and Abe Lincoln’s head. If you can’t see the top of Abe’s head, you’re usually ok for tire tread, by state law, as taken from the “any two major tread grooves at three locations equally spaced around the circumference”.

One of the major differences between Washington’s RCW’s and the recommended guidelines from the manufacturers is where the measurement is taken from.

“A tread depth of less than 2/32 of an inch measured in any two major tread grooves at three locations equally spaced around the circumference of the tire, or for those tires with tread wear indicators…” as stated in RCW 46.37.425 of the Washington State Legislative Codes.

In Washington, that distance is legally from the tire’s two main tread grooves, whereas manufacturers recommend from the lowest tread point, even secondary tread grooves. You should also check for inner layers of rubber that indicate tire wear or the wear bars.

“If you can see all of [Pres. Lincoln’s head], you should buy a new tire,” states the RMA’s tire brochure. “Built in tread wear indicators, or wear bars, will appear on the tire when tread is down to 2/32 of an inch.”

Now, if your tire dealer tells you that your tires are under the ‘legal limit’ make sure that you talk to them about that, as not only are some tire dealers paid on commission (meaning they try to up-sell you to get more money in their pockets), but legal limits are different between states.

There may also be confusion between ‘legal limit’ and ‘manufacturer recommendation’.

The RCW actually states nothing about the tire being bald or bare of tread at non-tread areas, either, so long as the main two treads have the 2/32’s of an inch, you’re set. As long as you aren’t showing wear bars, part of your tire could (technically) be bald, so long as your tire’s treads have the 2/32 of an inch.

Of course, no one wants a partially bald tire, so monthly inspections of your tires will help you figure out if you are running low on tread overall, not just at the main grooves.

As I found out this week, while my tires still pass the state’s legal limit, but the outer edge is starting to go bald (seems I need an alignment, too). As per state laws, I’m good to go, but the recommendations from the manufacturers says differently.

For those who don’t quite have the money up front to pay for tires, check out other opportunities to ensure that you have safe tires for the road, such as working out a deal with your tire provider, financing for tires, used tires still in good repair, or rent-to-own tires (such as from RNR in Puyallup).

Another great way to ensure that your tires are safe is to just talk to the local tire dealer – after a quick conversation about tires from my local Discount Tires, I was given a quote for some Kumho’s (my fave) for less than online prices.

Local is better!

While most of our monthly checks are on our main treads of currently attached tires, don’t forget to check that spare – you never know when you’ll need it and you don’t want to be stuck with out a pressurized or working spare when your main tire gets toasted.

For more information, check out the Rubber Manufacturer Associations free guides about tire wear and care, many of which are free for digital download.

Be Tire Smart, Tire Safety Brochure
Tire Care and Safety Booklet

For more information about Washington State RCW’s concerning tires, head to RCW 46.37.425.