The Rising Price of the Penny Test

Ever heard of the penny test? Place a penny with Lincoln’s profile upside-down in the tread. If the tread covers the top of Lincoln’s head, you have at least 1/16 of an inch of tread, the minimum safe tread depth. If you see Lincoln’s entire profile, you’d better get new tires, pronto.

And, this year, getting new tires is going to cost you a pretty penny! Oil, natural rubber, and the other raw materials used to make tires have all skyrocketed. As a result, earlier this year, tire manufacturers announced price hikes of 5-8%.

Goodyear was the first tire company to announce a February 2017 price increase of up to 8% on both its consumer and commercial brands. Michelin, Bridgestone and Yokohama, among others, all followed suit. The Transportation Research Board says 200 million replacement tires are purchased each year at a cost of $20 billion. That’s a whole lot of pennies!


And for our industry, the cost of tires has far-reaching impact. Fleet managers examine all sorts of variables to try to maximize the life of their tires while minimizing the cost of shipping. Wheels and tires play a huge role in fuel economy. It’s called ‘rolling resistance’ – the amount of energy it takes to get your vehicle moving after each green light and the power it takes to keep those wheels turning on the road. That’s why, in general, smaller tires are better for city traffic and larger ones are ideal for highway miles. Since most vehicles perform a combination of both, it’s a balancing act – rolling resistance depends on the size of the tire, the type of tire, the tread on the tire, and the air pressure, too.

Of course, no matter a vehicle’s tire package, regular vehicle maintenance is the key to extending tire longevity. Reminds me of a story about my Uncle Ernie in New York City. He knew a lot about cars and trucks, but longevity wasn’t his strong suit – at least when it came to relationships!

One day, Uncle Ernie and his cantankerous ex-wife (who shall remain nameless) were sitting at the breakfast table.

As Uncle Ernie perused the ads in the morning paper, he looked up and said, “Here is a great sale on tires!”

His wife replied, “What do you want tires for? You don’t even have a car.”

He came back with, “Well, it’s not like I complain when you go out and buy a new bra!”

Turned out those tires weren’t such a bargain after all. As comedian Lewis Grizzard says: “Instead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and just give her a house.” Or a new set of tires.

Fuel for Thought,