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My tires are starting to burn out at nearly the drop of a hat, so it's time to start looking at tire wear. I've never had to replace tires due to wear before, so this is foreign territory for me. After reading this Ive been looking for wearbars (which i can't find) and did the penny test.

My front tires (front wheel drive car) barely pass the penny test in the deep center ridges of the tire, but when you do the test towards the edge of the tire, they fail miserably.

My rear tires are much better, center tread easily passes the test, and the tread as you get to the outer edge of the tire fails pretty bad.

Am I doing the test right, and is it time to go get some new tires?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Yes you are doing the test right. For inspection purposes in my state the minimum tread depth is 2/32, as long as you have at least that much tread in two consecutive grooves it will pass. Based on your information they would pass inspection.

If it were my car I would at a minimum replace the front tires now and the rear tires very soon. The other thing you need to address is the uneven wear most likely caused by tire pressure too low. The outsides of your tires are wearing faster than the insides and the most likely cause is under-inflation.

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I ended up finding the wear bars and they were flush with the surface of the tire, so i got them replaced this morning. Then they found that (after breaking off a stud) that my axles are disintigrating, my steering linkage is almost done for, and something that holds oil to the back of the breaks were torn. Bad day for cars. Thanks for the help! –  Chris Jun 23 '12 at 19:19
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Are you sure you can trust them? When taking your car in, your first reaction should be to distrust anybody who finds a lot more wrong with your car than what you took it in for. This doesn't mean they're definitely wrong or trying to cheat you, but at best you've got a 50/50 chance... Either have them show you the problem and explain it very clearly, or take it somewhere else for a second opinion. –  R.. Jun 24 '12 at 12:41
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