What’s a tread?

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Tire tread provides traction for a vehicle and differs in pattern and depth depending on the tire’s use. Tread wear reduces traction, and some specialized treads are used for off-road or racing purposes. Heavy-duty vehicles may have metal track segments in their tires.

Tire tread is the coated or blocked pattern on the surface of a tire that provides traction for the tire. Often referred to as a caterpillar track, the tread is found on any automobile tire. The tread pattern differs with different tires and different cars, but the use is the same.

Found on the surfaces of the wheel that come in contact with the ground, tire tread is often patterned in lines or blocks, and can be many inches or centimeters deep. The tread allows rain, snow, mud or anything else to pass through the tire without the car losing traction.

The tracks are cut deep to allow substances to pass through them without interfering with the movement of the wheels, and then back out again. They are essential to prevent hydroplaning and prevent some cars from getting stuck in snow or mud. Some tires, known as slicks, are made with little or no tread and are used strictly for racing on dry surfaces.

Normal street tires on standard vehicles are equipped with similar treads from car to car and from tire to tire. These are to combat the everyday elements of rain or snow. Other tire tracks, such as those found in mud or ATV tires, are much deeper and farther apart. These specialized treads allow for easy movement through thick mud and off-road conditions. The knobby patterns of these treads allow the tire to sink into the mud and eject it without sticking.

Although not always used off-road, motorcycles and mountain bikes are equipped with tread similar to that of a truck or ATV. This increased tread capacity is used to provide better traction for a vehicle that is much lighter and more susceptible to loss of stability. The smaller surface area provided on these larger tread tires causes the tread to wear more quickly.

Through the miles of driving, the tire tread will diminish as the surface area wears away from excessive contact with the road. With less surface area, the treads became shallower, allowing them to provide less traction. An easy way to determine when to change or reheat your tires is when the tread reaches a height of less than a penny. At this point, new tires can be installed on the car, or the old tires can be upgraded through a process called retreading.

Many heavy duty or military vehicles have metal track segments inside their tires. These reinforced treads allow extra movement for a vehicle too heavy to benefit from a normal size tire tread.

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