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Knowledge of the vehicle's lateral handling limits is important for vehicle control systems which aim to enhance vehicle handling and passenger safety. This paper presents a model-based estimation method that utilizes pneumatic trail information in steering torque to identify a vehicle's lateral handling limits, which are defined by the tire slip angle and peak lateral force limits. This method uses measurements available on many current production vehicles. Most importantly, it takes advantage of the early friction information encoded in the tire pneumatic trail. Pneumatic trail decreases as a function of the tire parameters even in the linear handling region, enabling early detection of the limits before they are reached. Experimental results on an independent front steering steer-by-wire research vehicle demonstrate the observer's ability to provide accurate real-time estimates of tire slip angle up to the limits of handling. Testing conditions include maneuvers performed on dry, flat paved road, as well as on lower-friction, dry gravel.