Expert advice: Used car tyres? Probably not such a great idea

used car tyres
Used car tyres can be sold with dangerously worn tread compared to new tyres (Picture iStock/Fertnig)

We’re hearing from our friends in the tyre industry that they’re expecting cash-strapped drivers to buy increasing numbers of used car tyres. Of course, it’s related to increases in the cost of living: motoring costs are as badly affected as food when it comes to inflation.

And buying used (sometimes called part-worn) tyres is one way people might think they can save money.

Like a visit to the dentist, no one relishes forking out to replace the rubber on their car. But I think there are several reasons why buying used tyres isn’t a brilliant idea.

What are used car tyres?

That’s actually part of the problem. If you buy a used tyre, you don’t know exactly what you’re dealing with or where it’s come from. Some used car tyres are imported from foreign countries such as Germany where tyre regulations are tougher than they are here.

The majority of the five million sold in the UK every year come from breakers’ yards. But wherever they’re from, it’s impossible to know their history. The used tyre might have had a lifetime of neglect and been run woefully underinflated. This in turn could have damaged its internal structure causing the tyre to fail suddenly when you least expect it.

Used tyres might not save you much money

Part-worn tyres are cheaper than brand new examples. But when you look at cost per millimetre of tread, it’s a different matter. Brand new tyres come with 8mm of tread. Suppose you buy one for £90, that’s £14.06 per millimetre of usable tread (the legal minimum is 1.6mm).

If you buy a part-worn tyre with 5mm of tread left on it, you’ll have to pay less than £47.80 for it to give you the same millimetres of tread per pound as the new tyre. And even if you manage to find one that’s significantly cheaper than a new tyre, you won’t know how the tyre’s been used – or abused.

On top of that, you’ll be very lucky to find two identical part-worn tyres. That means if you’re replacing more than one tyre, you’ll end up with either mismatched tread depths or mismatched makes of tyre.

You don’t know how used tyres might have been stored (Picture iStock/Deepblue4you)

Regulations around used tyres is limited

One tyre expert we know calls the used tyre trade the Wild West of the tyre industry. That’s because there’s hardly any regulation around part-worn tyres. By law they must be structurally intact. That means no lumps, bulges or bits of wire showing.

They must have at least 2mm of tread and they must have the word PART-WORN permanently marked on them. And that’s about it. There’s no legal requirement for them to have been x-rayed to establish whether they’re structurally sound.

This lack of regulation means that when charity TyreSafe conducted research into the part-worn tyre market, it found that 94 per cent were being sold in an illegal state. Its research also revealed that 93 per cent of the 278 part-worn tyre retailers it visited didn’t obey the rules. And 22 per cent of the used tyres inspected were 10 years or older.

Used tyres aren’t as safe

In addition to a used tyre possibly failing unexpectedly, fitting one is adding something to your car that simply isn’t as safe as a new tyre.

The British Tyre Manufacturers’ Association claims that the braking distance in the wet of a tyre with just 1.6mm of tread from 50mph to standstill is almost 12 metres longer than the equivalent new tyre.

I do understand the temptation to buy used tyres but I honestly don’t think it’s worthwhile succumbing to it.

By John Price, a member of Green Flag’s automotive technical support team

One comment on “Expert advice: Used car tyres? Probably not such a great idea

  1. Eric Hayman 25/05/2022 9:44 PM

    “Regulations around used tyres is limited”. No! “Regulations around used tyres ARE limited” !!! If whoever wrote this makes such a simple mistake in English grammar, what else is wrong in this article? Would you buy a used tyre from the writer?!!

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